Less pay and more instability – To produce more female coaches, NWSL must better incentivize all coaches

The women’s college game is the ideal pathway for future pro managers, but right now it’s too tempting to stay put

When Jill Ellis announced she was stepping down as U.S. women’s national team manager in July, she was asked if she would like to see a woman replace her.

“Of course,” she said. “I think there are a lot of qualified females.”

But of those qualified females Ellis mentioned, all but one coaches outside of NWSL, the league in which every national team player currently resides. 

There is currently just one full-time woman head coach in the nine-team NWSL, Laura Harvey of the Utah Royals. The season before there were three women head coaches in the league, but in 2017 there was again just one.

Ellis says that a lack of female head coaches is an issue that begins at the grassroots level.

“I definitely think we need more candidates to even pull from,” Ellis said last week. “That should be not just our federation’s initiative on that part, which I know they’re working on, but it should be at every level, whether it’s high school, whether it’s club soccer.

“I think there needs to be more of a push.”

Last year, U.S. Soccer rolled out its Grassroots Coaching Pathway initiative, a program that makes coaching training more accessible.

It’s far too early to know if that program will produce meaningful results but even if it does, will the next generation of female coaches even want to progress beyond the college ranks?

It seems strange but the paucity of female coaches in NWSL may not be down to a lack of candidates, but rather a lack of incentive for them to progress up the coaching ladder in the United States.

Ellis, herself a former UCLA coach, knows that the current women’s soccer infrastructure in the U.S. doesn’t sufficiently incentivize coaches who want to jump from the college game to the pros.

“I was a college coach and so there is a comfort level there in terms of security,” Eliis said. “It’s a shortened season and typically it’s a better-paying job potentially than where we are yet with our pro league – you hope that changes.

“Why would a female college coach leave to go into a position that’s maybe less stable, maybe less paying? It’s sometimes a big leap.”

Penn State head coach Erica Dambach, another leading candidate to take over from Ellis, is a perfect example of the current conundrum. Dambach, a former USWNT assistant, likely could have moved into the pro ranks by now, but instead has been in her current position since 2007.

Moving from college to the pros should be a goal for players and coaches in this country. The pro game, with more pressure, more talent, more fans and more exposure is a crucible that, in theory, will produce better coaches. 

It’s one reason why Harvey is in a category of her own when it comes to USWNT candidates.

“You want to see more qualified women’s coaches in the women’s game definitely,” said USWNT defender Becky Sauerbrunn, who also plays under Harvey in Utah. 

“I think Laura is an excellent coach and she’s proven time and time again with whatever team’s she’s on that she likes to play good soccer and I think we need more coaches like her.”

There may not be many more like her, though, unless the NWSL continues to grow.

“We in NWSL deserve the best coaches,” Sauerbrunn said,” and so I’d like to absolutely see more female coaches coming through the ranks.”

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