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A Mother's Day Manifesto

Most women in my rugby circle retire from whatever rugby role they are doing once they decide to have children. There are a few that continue playing or coaching. I think out of the current full-time female referees in my area, only one has children.

Texas referee


Women coaches and referees frequently cite life-work balance as their reason for leaving rugby. When talented women leave, colleagues often shrug and write it off as a choice they made to have children. It’s true, children are a choice. But why must that choice be either a family or a career? Why do we assume that women who make that choice are less committed to their coaching or referee careers? This is tantamount to blaming women, and as Nicole LaVoi, Director at The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, has said, "Blaming women coaches and referees for choosing motherhood is gender bias."


 

No one knows quite what they are getting into when having children. It’s hard to fathom how they change every part of your life. They simultaneously expand and shrink your life, and all the planning you did pre-children about the ways they’d integrate seamlessly into your rugby life is laughable.


My two children grew up on the sidelines. From September through November and March through May, our family weekends were spent at rugby games, practices, and trips. For all the wonderful people rugby brought into my kids’ lives, it also took me out of their lives for long periods of time. The guilt was crushing. I recall thinking, "What am I doing? How can I spend more time with other people’s children than my own?"


As a mother, I was always aware that my players were someone else’s daughters, and as such, it was hard not to feel a responsibility for these "other daughters," which meant an extra demand to care for my players' emotional lives. It was simultaneously a wonderful privilege and an exhausting demand. An expectation that my male assistant coaches and colleagues did not face. Whether we have children or not, there are expectations that female coaches will nurture players and create teams where players feel unconditionally supported. We are all some version of "mommy."


We live in a time when there are greater opportunities for women in the coaching and refereeing ranks, yet the "ranks" continue to provide no support or accommodation for women who assume the lion’s share of responsibility for childcare. There is no doubt that men love their children as much as women and juggle demanding schedules, but there is an unspoken cultural agreement that women will assume the majority of childcare. Men are encouraged to pursue their sports dreams at any cost, while women with similar dreams are told to "manage it all." Women can’t manage it all and sadly have learned to have no expectation of support from their sport's governing bodies and, often, their own female colleagues. What women can expect is to be compared to men in terms of commitment – and to be found wanting.



I had to step away from elite level coaching because we needed consistent childcare to help cover for my absence during extended tours and coaching didn't (and doesn't) pay enough to cover those costs and we couldn't afford to do it without that support. I believe that decision resulted in the impression that I was not "committed" enough to rugby.

USWNT Coach


Sports research is clear: there is a "motherhood penalty" women coaches face when they choose to have families. We don’t penalize men who choose to have families. We assume the women in their lives will manage those families for them, allowing men to be thoroughly committed to their coaching or referee careers. We hold women to a different standard. Even our own colleagues can be blind to the bias. It’s important to take the perspective of women coaches with children; in doing so, you are better able to see the bias in the system as opposed to a product of the "choice" that a woman made.


What we know about gender bias is that the loss of talented women coaches who must choose between their families and their careers will ultimately benefit men.


So, what would support look like for coaches with childcare responsibilities look like?


  • Paid maternity leave

  • Funding available for family travel and childcare

  • Family-friendly calendars and events

  • Scheduling accommodation

  • Encouraging coaches and referees to have a life balance. Leaving one's family for extended periods of time is not a fair "commitment test"


As in any industry, we must support talented people. We cannot afford to lose talented, committed female coaches and referees because of the untenable choices they must make between rugby and family. Rugby could become the first sport to take up this critical equity issue and become a model for other sports. This summer, WRCRA will be working with the Tucker Center at the University of Minnesota to explore this question. We aren’t sure where this journey will lead us but we’re committed.

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