In a profession dominated by men, female basketball coaches in Maine don’t always feel as though they have an adequate support system.
Women, who last year made up only 21 percent (28 of 133) of the state’s high school girls basketball head coaches, admit they sometimes lack confidence, face intimidation or don’t have easy access to other female coaches to discuss their particular issues.
Coaches across Maine have begun taking steps to join forces in an effort to eradicate some of those barriers and boost their numbers.
Last Sunday, University of Maine women’s head coach Amy Vachon hosted a virtual workshop for active, retired and aspiring female coaches. She was thrilled with the response.
“That excitement and knowing that this support system is out there really was inspiring,” she said.
More than 102 women signed up for the session, which was capped at 80 participants. The event was held during a Zoom video call, which was necessary because of health considerations in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was amazing,” Bowdoin College head coach Adrienne Shibles said.
“It was great to see so many women on the call who shared a passion for coaching basketball and I look forward to deepening those connections moving forward,” she added.
Vachon was joined on the call by a panel of Maine head coaches including Shibles and Husson University coach Kissy Walker along with high school coaches Lynne Hasson of South Portland, Karen Magnusson of Maranacook and Dawn Armandi of Falmouth.
After an introduction that included a short video, participants were split into five smaller groups to discuss the issues confronting female basketball coaches. The women talked about their experiences and how they might be able to overcome some of the obstacles that could be holding back female coaches in Maine.
“One of the big takeaways was that we are going to be a group where female basketball coaches can collaborate in an environment that feels safe and not intimidating,” Walker said.
The women freely shared ideas and experiences and participants sensed the urgency of joining forces. All are deeply concerned about the dynamic involving female basketball coaches in Maine.
“The decline in the amount of female coaches, not only in the state but the nation, is astounding,” Lynn Girouard, the former girls coach at Lewiston High School, said. “Hopefully, this will build some confidence and networking for all female coaches.”
Vachon said developing and maintaining confidence in pursuing coaching opportunities was among the topics that resonated with women during the session.
They also discussed stigmas involving female coaches, including the perception of a woman who is active and vocal on the sidelines as being somehow unruly when compared to male coaches who act similarly.
While there were many questions, including a lot that weren’t answered because of time and logistical constraints, there was one critical takeaway.
Maine’s female basketball coaches, and those involved in other sports, are committed to building the framework of a more structured organization whose members will be able to talk openly while advocating for women who wish to pursue the profession.
Vachon said she has been bombarded with emails from women from basketball and other sports who are looking for that kind of support. For now, this group’s focus will remain on basketball coaches.
“We definitely want to form something where it has some structure to it,” Vachon said. “We really do have a lot of ideas moving forward on how to best support coaches.”
Now that the conversation among Maine coaches and prospective coaches has begun in earnest, Shibles said the group hopes to begin implementing some of those ideas.
She also spoke about another key theme from the session in which she participated.
“Female role models make a critical difference in our lives as women,” the former Mount View High School standout said. “So many of us had a female coach who helped empower and inspire us.”
Former Bates College head coach Marsha Graef was instrumental in inspiring Shibles to consider a career in coaching or leadership.
Having laid the groundwork, another virtual workshop has been scheduled for next month.
“The amount of support from inspiring, intelligent, talented female coaches was wonderful,” Girouard said. “There are going to be great things that come from all of this.”