In August, the Women Ski Coaches Association (WSCA) set forth to balance the scales of gender equity in coaching. With Maria Stuber, head coach at the College of St. Scholastica (CSS) and former member of the Craftsbury Green Racing Project, at the helm, the WSCA strives to be “the voice and future of women in coaching.”
According to surveys conducted by the Tucker Center for Research on Women and Girls in Sport, since Title IV was passed in 1974, the number of female head coaches leading women’s sports teams at the collegiate level has dropped from 90% to just over 40%. The reason for this decline is complex and multifaceted, but the trend is pervasive. Some sports like Lacrosse, Field Hockey, and Equestrian have a relatively high percentage of teams led by women coaches, however, cross-country skiing checks out in the bottommost tier of sports with only 20% of Division I womens’ teams led by a female coach. As head coaches typically oversee both genders, this statistic is representative of the overall percentage of women coaches in leadership positions in Division I NCAA skiing.
Across all NCAA divisions, there are seven female head coaches: Cami Thompson Graves at Dartmouth College, Jana Weinberger at University of Colorado Boulder, Maria Stuber at the College of St. Scholastica, Tracy Cote at Colby College, Becky Woods at Bates College, and Eliska Albrigtsen at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Molly Peters at St. Michael’s College.
Above the collegiate level, Craftsbury’s Pepa Miloucheva stands as the lone female head coach of an elite team. This year, U.S. Ski and Snowboard hired a female national team coach for the development program, Bernie Nelson.
The grassroots mission of the WSCA is to change these statistics by empowering and connecting female coaches and serving as a voice for women in the sport.
“Develop, retain, and advance,” said Stuber to paraphrase the objectives of the WSCA. “Bringing in more women that want to be ski coaches, turning them into really successful ski coaches, keeping them in ski coaching, and helping them find really rewarding careers whether that means doing exactly what they want to do or working for people who are going to value them.
“We want to start this conversation by making the research and data available. We want to support each other and guide our large population of male allies in ways they can help.”
Stuber is pleased with the reach and impact of the WSCA launch and explained that its message has been met with overwhelmingly positive feedback.
“This might be the only ski thing I’ve ever been a part of in my career in skiing that has had unanimous positive support. There are a lot of people really excited about this project.”
At this point, the WSCA is funded primarily by a grant from the Oregon Nordic Ski Foundation and memberships for which there are two options. To ensure cost is not an obstacle for the stakeholder group, women coaches can join for just $20. The rest of the community, male or female, can show support by joining as an ally for $100. It is also possible to gift a membership. Currently, the WSCA has approximately 90 members. Stuber hopes to see this number rise steadily as awareness increases.
Of the current members, Stuber is excited to see how many are interested in not only signing up but also taking action in growing the organization.
“When you become a member you can check whether you want to be active or really active, essentially, and we have just a shocking amount of people who have said, ”Yes. I want to volunteer my time and take a leadership role in this organization.’”
Stuber emphasized that she is humbled and appreciative of the women who have expressed interest in being active in the WSCA and plans to utilize them once they have completed some of their urgent organizational tasks like forming a board and completing the 501c3 process.
Stuber has been the primary leader in launching the WSCA and remains the public face. Although, she has received ample support, encouragement, and advice from peers in taking the leap. When asked about their marketing, she credits Heather Mooney and Lina Hultin in designing a logo and creating a website. Mooney is a coach Bridger Ski Foundation in Bozeman, MT and Hultin is the co-director of the Montana Endurance Academy.
While immediately catching the eye as a snowflake, a closer look at the logo shows the branches are a circle of women. Stuber explained that the circle represents growth and that the women are reaching out to support one another.
Though in its nascent stages, the WSCA has already begun acting on its mission by sending two women, Stuber and Greta Anderson of Crested Butte Nordic, to attend the Female Ski Leaders of Tomorrow Symposium held at the Holmenkollen the second weekend in September. The trip was funded by a grant from Equinor who sponsored the event in partnership with the Norwegian Ski Federation. On the last day of the symposium, Stuber presented about the goals of the WSCA in front of 83 participants from 22 nations, all of whom are leaders in ski sport.
Her presentation followed remarks from FIS Secretary General Sarah Lewis who explained the actions FIS is taking toward promoting gender equity in snow sport coaching and leadership.
“To be able to show her the importance of grassroots change in addition to the top down mandated efforts that we are seeing was super powerful. I was just shaking with excitement afterwards and I got bombarded with people afterward coming up asking questions and other countries wanting to get involved. I also got to thank the Norwegian women who spearheaded this project and let them know that the ski leaders of tomorrow event helped give me the confidence to take action on launching the WSCA. Feedback from this presentation made me feel like this could be really big and grow into other sport disciplines and internationally.”
In alignment with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Gender Equity Review Project, FIS is undertaking a set of goals and initiatives to increase the number of women in leadership positions internationally. Some of these initiatives include mandating the election of women to FIS congress and committees and hiring women as technical officials to increase representation by 10% each year until the goal of 40% women is achieved in 2024. The FIS working group is also reviewing other areas of discrepancy between male and female athletes including the difference in race distances and exposure in media coverage. Effort is also being placed into balancing the statistics in participation by developing female athletes in sports that have been historically only contested by men including ski jumping, nordic combined, and freestyle skiing and snowboarding.
In addition to the Norway trip, three first year coaches attended the U.S. Ski and Snowboard National Cross Country Coaches Symposium September 29-30 in Park City, UT with support from the WSCA and U.S. Ski & Snowboard. (A video of the symposium can be purchased here.) The attendees were Stuber’s former CSS athlete Nicole Gilman who interned with the Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation this summer, Harvard University graduate Hannah Hardenbergh who will be coaching in Vail, CO this winter, and Julia Hayes who is a Montana State University graduate now coaching for the Bridger Ski Foundation.
Baldishol has a twenty year history working with the Norwegian Ski Federation in various capacities and spent six years coaching the junior national team. Early in her coaching career, which began at age 18, she was the sole woman participating in high level sport education meetings and courses, making her a pioneer for female coaches in Norway. Her presentation topics included “Development and the Role of the Coach for U14 Cross Country Skiers,” and “A Focus on Long Term Success: Norwegian Model for Under-20 and Under-23 Skier Development”.
LaVoi holds a PhD in Kinesiology and is the co-director of the Tucker Center where she researches “the structural and personal barriers experienced by female coaches, relational qualities of the coach-athlete relationship, the effect of parent and coach ‘background anger’ behaviors on youth athletes, the physical activity of underserved girls, and media representations of girls and women in sport.” She also serves on the board of directors for WeCoach, an organization promoting women coaches at all levels across all disciplines. LaVoi first presented on the development of physically active girls, followed the next day by an evidence-based presentation on the importance of women in coaching and leadership which aligned with the mission of the WSCA.
Stuber explained that the WSCA connected LaVoi with U.S. Ski & Snowboard and expressed gratitude for their efforts in bringing LaVoi to the symposium. She added that this demonstrates U.S. Ski & Snowboard’s support and partnership with the WSCA in addressing gender inequity in winter sport.
[Stay tuned for a separate article with takeaways from LaVoi’s presentation.]
The next steps in the WSCA action plan include creating opportunities for women to network at races and other events through the winter.
“I’d like to start working regionally to connect women coaches in our country. So if you’re coaching in the east, you’ve got a good handle on who else is coaching in the east, what their challenges are, what direction they want to go with their career. And so if there are young women coaches in any region, the veteran coaches know who they are and if they have specific coaching career goals.”
Because Stuber and the majority of supporting members have a busy schedule juggling coaching and travel through the fall and winter, the WSCA aims for sustainable progress in growth and development.
“It’s going to be a slower process. What we do this winter is going to be pretty simple. I’m confident, though, that we can get a lot done in a simple way.
“The outpouring of positive support that we’ve had for this makes me feel like this could grow into something huge and incredibly impactful, and that’s the piece that I think has to wait until next summer just because I really want to do it well.”
At this time, Stuber explained that the most impactful way to support the WSCA is to become a member and to share the mission of the organization with other contacts at all levels of the sport.
“There is so much energy around this topic right now and whether people are talking about it with our organization in mind or in their small communities and ski clubs, that’s really huge.”
The WSCA is also working on becoming a non-profit organization. Currently, former CSS athlete Kelsey Dickinson (USA Biathlon/CGRP) is assisting Stuber in working through the complex process of obtaining this designation, but the WSCA is also in search of a non-profit lawyer in the state of MN. Stuber sees this step as an essential piece in enabling the WSCA to remove financial barriers for women that seek professional development or networking opportunities.
“We need some time to become a non-profit. It’s a ton of work and we don’t have paid employees. There’s a lot to be done that is not directly mission related, and then there is a lot of mission related stuff that we want to jump on as quickly as we can, but we’ve got to get more funding before we can do a lot of what we want to do.”
For the time being, the WSCA aims to perpetuate the wave of conversation surrounding gender equity in skiing at the leadership level while recruiting additional supporting members.
“This conversation is the big thing that we’re going to accomplish this year. We’re going to get people talking about this, we’re going to use our voice to let people know how both men and women can be involved and how we as a multi-gendered ski community can start to equalize who’s coming into our coaching ranks and staying there in order to promote competence and excellence in this sport that we all love.”