‘Man up,' ladies!

Female coaches can learn from male counterparts when it comes to applying for jobs

By Muffet McGraw
Head Coach, University of Notre Dame

Women are notoriously bad at applying for jobs. I read somewhere that a woman thinks she needs to be a perfect fit for a job before she will apply. If a job advertisement lists five qualifications, a woman will apply only if she meets all five. A man, meanwhile, will apply if he meets half.

I’ve had guys who coach fifth- and sixth-grade Catholic Youth Organization teams apply for assistant coaching jobs when the requirements clearly state that recruiting experience or previous college coaching experience is needed. Men have more confidence in themselves and just assume they can handle it, learn it or fake it till they figure it out. Conversely, women follow the rules and think, “Well, I don’t have what they are looking for.”

That’s a problem when there are so few women in leadership positions or the person doing the hiring only looks at the resumes they receive. Most AD’s have a short list for when the football or men’s basketball coach resigns. If not, they contact a search firm or they get on the phone and make some calls. When a women’s team coaching job opens, some AD’s will make the calls, but others wait for someone to contact them or for the resumes to filter in.   

Why do women think we need everything to be exactly right before we make decisions? We overthink things. We look at it from every angle. We ask our friends their opinions. We are incredibly loyal. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by leaving a job we like. We don’t want our boss or our team to think we aren’t happy here, or worse, that we don’t like them personally. And by the time we finally make a decision … the job is filled.

We were raised to sit back and wait to be asked. We were never told that competition is good and it’s OK to be assertive. This is how we talk to our friends.

“I’m sure you will get the job.”

“I know how talented you are.”

“Of course you should apply; you’ll be the best hire.”

Why don’t we talk to ourselves that same way? We take rejection and failure personally. We internalize and go from I can’t, to I’m not good enough, to I’m going to retreat into my comfort zone and find something else I am good at. Our job as coaches is to get our players out of their comfort zone, but how can we teach them to do that if we don’t do the same?

Boys are expected to be boys — to take risks, to jump in with both feet, to go for it. Boys learn early that failing is a part of growing up. All you have to do is get up, brush yourself off, and get back in the game. Guys go for it and think, “What’s the worst that can happen? I don’t get the job.” Then they rationalize why it didn’t happen and move on, ready to apply for the next one.

Men go after jobs with a competitive mindset and a confident manner, which on the surface makes them look like the better candidate. Men are more aggressive. They network.  They do a better job of looking through their contact list to see who can help them get a job by making a call on their behalf. It could be someone they met briefly, worked with 10 years ago, or is a friend of a  guy who coaches on the men’s staff. Men will make the call and ask for help.

Women are generally just as qualified, but we are hesitant to ask for help to get the job. Why? Because if we have to ask, it means we aren’t capable. We need to learn how to network like men do.

We need to be more like men, take more risks, and jump in with both feet. “Leap and the net will appear” sounds scary, but taking risks and failing is how you build confidence. We have to fail first and figure out how to do it better next time in order to grow. You have a choice whether to learn from your mistakes and move on or beat yourself up and never take another risk. Learn how to let things go!

Women never seem to think they are ready. A head coaching job opens and you wonder if you are ready. An assistant job opens and you aren’t sure if it’s the perfect spot for you. Our first thought is, Am I good enough?

When the Notre Dame job opened I wasn’t going to apply. My husband goaded me into it. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get an interview, let alone the job. And if I got the job there would be a whole list of other things to worry about. I kept asking myself, Am I ready? What if I fail? You don’t know what will happen if you apply, but of this I am certain — if you don’t apply you never will know what may have been.

It’s the same thing when our contracts are up. We dread having to negotiate. Men, by the way, are armed and ready. We know we haven’t been perfect, and since we strive for perfection we feel we fell short. Here’s how women think:

Yes, we won a lot of games, BUT we didn’t win a few games that we really should have.

Yes, my team got better, we were competitive in the league, BUT we got upset in the conference tournament.

Yes, we had good team chemistry and the team enjoyed the experience, BUT there was that one kid who transferred.    

Women find it hard to take credit for our own accomplishments. We need to get better at it.  We are cautious about talking about ourselves at all because we were raised to be team players who always deflect praise. We were taught that humility is a trait admired in women. We don’t talk about our success, lest we be accused of bragging.

We have to walk a fine line between being aggressive, that’s a compliment for men not women; assertive, without appearing bossy; and confident, without being perceived as arrogant.

We have to appear humble, be a team player, not make waves, and go quietly about our business.

We don’t ask for more. We make do with what we have been given, even though we know it isn’t enough.

Is it any wonder that women, in comparison to men, make 80 cents on the dollar? And black and Hispanic women, in comparison to white men, make an appalling 67 and 58 cents on the dollar respectively? If we don’t fight for ourselves, who will? Who is going to role-model to our players that women deserve to be treated equally. The reason we have such a big wage gap in the U.S. is because women undervalue ourselves while men probably overvalue themselves.   

We can’t be afraid to ask questions. If we don’t, we may never know if we are being undervalued and underpaid. We expect to be treated well, but when we aren’t we say nothing.  We walk the fine line of being assertive but nice, intense but compassionate, competitive but sportsmanlike, celebrating the victories but not too loudly, confident without appearing arrogant or (yikes) a b!tch, putting up with sexism and homophobia, and being a victim of the wage gap. Staying silent when you know you should speak up is exhausting.    

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. We women? We call that optimism.    

Welcome to our world!

#  #  #

The Champions Series features articles written for the WBCA by member coaches whose teams have won national championships.

Release Date: 
Tuesday, September 17, 2019