Connor Sports and the WPBA: Building Relationships to Empower Female Athletes and Coaches

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Sports have the ability to teach life skills necessary for success after the final buzzer of a player’s career sounds. A study conducted in 2010 found that an increase in female sports participation leads to an increase in women’s labor force participation, especially in previously male-dominated occupations1. This increase is especially seen in the business world where more than four out of five executive businesswomen report having played sports while growing up, and the vast majority attribute part of their success to the lessons they learned on the playing field2. While women’s participation in sports has lead to the growth of women in the business world, the same increase has not been seen in the coaching field.

Over the past forty-three years there has been a steep decline in collegiate women coaches. Forty-three years ago, 90 percent of all women's teams had female coaches3. Today, that number has been cut almost in half, with only 40 percent of women’s teams having a female coach3. In comparison, females coach only two percent of men’s collegiate teams. The expansion of female sports has given women the opportunity to be athletes and potentially to coach on a higher level, but these same coaching opportunities are also available to male coaches.

The drought of female coaches starts before college ball. Girls’ high school basketball teams are coached predominately by males. This instills a belief in girls that male coaches are more qualified than female coaches, so they want, or prefer, a male coach. “A lot of female basketball players will say, “I want to be coached by a guy”, said Adia Barnes, assistant of University of Washington’s Women’s Basketball Team, I ask the players, “ What would you think, if you went into a job interview at Microsoft and they said, “We only want to hire a guy?” It’s not a fair precedent to set.”

The mentality of wanting a male coach is derived partly from the lack of exposure to female roles models and leaders in coaching positions. If young female athletes are not being exposed to same-sex role models, the likelihood of women pursuing a male dominated profession is going to decrease. Changing the paradigm held by young female athletes and empowering women to become coaches requires two things to happen. First, more experienced, credentialed women become involved the hiring process, and secondly, young female athletes need a greater awareness of women in coaching roles.

The first step requires empowering and mentoring more women into positions of head coaches and athletic directors. Coach Barnes believes the decline in female coaches is partly attributable to those making the hiring decisions, “Male athletic directors are hiring male head coaches, who are hiring male assistant coaches. This could be helped if more major programs hired female athletic directors who would bring in female head and assistant coaches”. Females should have more input in the hiring process and the program development.

As more women establish higher profile athletic roles, young female athletes will have stronger coaching mentors who will instill an awareness of male-female parity of coaching skills.

Interacting with and being exposed to female coaches will hopefully prompt young female athletes to view coaching as a possible career path. Research shows that having same-sex role models inspires others to pursue similar achievements and it’s been shown that female athletes who were coached by women are more likely to pursue a career in coaching4.

Coaches and female athletes cannot instill this change on their own, collaboration is needed from outside organizations and the Women’s Professional Basketball Alumni (WBPA) recognizes that. The WPBA is trying to cultivate these changes and opportunities for female athletes by building a network for retired women professional athletes and coaches that are transitioning from a professional basketball career to a more mainstream work environment. Part of this transition involves retired professional female athletes and coaches acting as role models for young female basketball players.

The coach-athlete relationship builds a bridge of non-competitive rivalry for women to mentor and support each other. Retired or current players and coaches and younger generations of potential female coaches now have a forum where they can connect and discuss the possibilities of professional and collegiate coaching careers. This exposure helps eradicate the belief that the coaching office is for men and connects young players with mentors who can help pave a path to a career off the court and in the coach’s office; ultimately, leading to women who are successful players and coaches.

“We (the WPBA) want women to have the power to be super successful while they are playing and after the game” WPBA founder Rushia Brown said.

As collegiate players finish their senior years and professional players are retiring, the need for more women advocating for young female players is increasingly critical. Women basketball players, past and present need to be role models for each other. This professional camaraderie is essential to the prospect of highly skilled female college athletes becoming higher profile professional coaches and more powerful decision makers in women’s athletics.

Connor Sports Igniting Change with the WPBA

Connor Sports sees the building of non-competitive relationships between past and present women athletes as critical to establishing mentoring and supporting connections in women’s basketball. In an effort to build these relationships, Connor Sports partnered with the WPBA to host the WPBA Championship Weekend April 4- 6 in Tampa, FL.

Over 50 retired WNBA players, executives and referees participated in a weekend compromised of events indented to bridge the gap between the past, the present and the future of women's basketball. The weekend included a free basketball camp for 150 middle and high school students that was ran by current and past professional coaches and players. The camp was followed by a Lady Legends Celebrity Basketball Game, which featured many of the superstars of the NCAA and pioneers of the WNBA.

These collaborative events create empowering and mentoring relationships in women’s basketball. Both events expose younger players to older generations of the game, allowing different generations to interact with each other as colleagues and role models. Connor Sports was honored to help foster these connections and looks forward to continuing their work with the WPBA to expand the reach of women’s basketball.  




1 Betsey Stevenson, Beyond the Classroom: Using Title IX to Measure the Return to High School Sports 23-24 (Nat’l Bureau of Econ. Research, Working Paper No. 15728, 2010).

2 Women’s Sports Foundation, Women’s Sports and Physical Activity Facts and Statistics 14 (2007), available at

3Acosta, R. V., & Carpenter, L.J. (2012). Women in intercollegiate sport: A longitudinal, national study thirty five year update. Retrieved from

4 Everhart, C.B., & Chelladurai, P. (1998). Gender differences in preferences for coaching as an occupation: The role of self-efficacy, valence, and perceived barriers. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 69, 188-200.

LaVoi, N. M. (2013). The decline of women coaches in collegiate athletics: A report on select NCAA Division-I FBS institutions, 2012-13. Minneapolis: the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. 

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