Meghan Cooke Carcagno knew she wanted to be a coach for as long as she can remember. Her father was a coach. Growing up, she was surrounded by the things found in a coach's home - water bottles, clipboards, whistles.
"My dad was our high school basketball coach," Cooke Carcagno said. "I grew up in a locker room. There were always water bottles in my house, my mom was always washing towels and there were clipboards everywhere. Whistles everywhere."
So, when the time came to move from being an athlete to coaching, the transition seemed natural, if unexpectedly sooner than Cooke Carcagno wanted.
Just after being cut from the 2008 U.S. women's Olympic team, she was offered and accepted a job at the University of Wisconsin. Given her background as an athlete and the daughter of a career coach, it was a perfect fit for Cooke Carcagno.
"Having a parent that was a coach made it acceptable to be a coach," she said. "You grow up and you hear in families that you've got to be a doctor, you've got to be a lawyer. For me (coaching) was teaching outside, and that was always appealing to me."
The choice has taken from Lake Mendota in Wisconsin to Duke University and her first career head coaching position. In first campaign at Duke last year, Cooke Carcagno made a name for herself and her team by earning bid to Duke's first ever NCAA Championship.
But it was also an eye-opening experience.
When she got to the NCAA's, she found that there were only six other women head coaches among the 22 Division I schools competing. It raised two questions for her; why was that the case, and why wasn't anyone asking why that was the case?
"The million-dollar question is why isn't anyone asking the question?" she said. "It's really a male dominated arena. And I think it's a challenge."
The reasons, or more to the point, the answers, to Cooke Carcagno's question are layered.
Female Coaches in Rowing by the Numbers
According to the experts, research, and coaches interviewed, there are several factors - they include family and parenting concerns, the number of actual jobs that exist, and the fact that the best head coaching positions do not become available that often.
While rowing is a sport with multiple opportunities for women athletes because of the size of the teams, and is relied upon by universities that have large men’s football programs to offset Title IX gender equality numbers, the number of programs is actually small compared to other sports like basketball, lacrosse, soccer, or track and field.
According to NCAA data, there were 1114 basketball head coaching positions last year. There were 150 in women's rowing.
Gender Among Rowing Coaches by the Numbers
To begin to evaluate if women are fairly represented in collegiate women's rowing overall, a good place to start is the NCAA data, which shows that over the past decade the ratio of men to women head coaches across all the NCAA women's divisions have remained consistent at just about 33 percent.
Of the 150 head women's rowing coaching positions listed for the 2015-2016 season, 99 were men and 49 women. The ratio was about the same for the 2007-2008 season, the first season with available comparative figures, at 93 to 52.
At the assistant coach level, the numbers are reversed; there is an abundance of women who work, or have worked, as assistant collegiate rowing coaches compared to men. The NCAA data base shows that during the 2015-2016 season there were 213 women working as assistant coaches compared to 96 men.
While those figures do not scream injustice, academics who study and teach women in sports issues say the data, in some ways, is misleading and that rowing is "doing poorly" compared to other collegiate women's sports.
Giddings: Better Data is Needed Amy Giddings's resume includes years of coaching at the club, scholastic and collegiate levels, as well as a graduate degree in Sport and Recreation Administration and a Ph.D. in Sport Psychology. She currently serves as Associate Clinical Professor and Program Director of Sport Coaching Leadership at Drexel University, where she teaches and writes about the role of women in coaching.
Giddings feels there are two problems in trying to define opportunities for women in coaching: a lack of available data beyond collegiate numbers, and a lack of research that tries to understand the challenges women coaches face and cause some to leave the profession.
"I think that we lack overall data," Giddings said. "What you are looking at is collegiate data. Usually, people look at mostly Division I and sometimes II and III while taking an assessment of gender equality in coaching," she said.
"We don't have any data for rowing at any of the other levels. We have this club model that is growing significantly, but we don't have any data in terms of who is coaching those people, what are their educational backgrounds, what gender are they, what age are they. We don't have any of those demographics so we can't really even say what the big picture is. We only see the collegiate side."
She said there is also a lack of data that shows why women who were coaching rowing left those jobs compared to other women's sports.
Rowing Receives a Barely Passing Grade
To gain perspective on the numbers of head coaching positions filled by women in other collegiate women's sports, Giddings refers to research conducted by Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi, co-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.
That research, based on studies across all three NCAA divisions, shows that rowing did not compare well to other women's sports, receiving an overall D grade in their statistical report card.
From LaVoi's report (which you can read here: Head Coaches of Women's Collegiate Teams: A Report on Select NCAA Division-I Institutions 2015-2016), broken down by Sport:
LaVoi's report focuses on the overall situation in women's coaching and the major point of her conclusions is that overall opportunities for women in coaching has decreased by 40 percent since the passage of Title IX.
Addressing rowing specifically, LaVoi agrees that two big limiting issues are the actual number of positions available, and the low turnover rate.
"There really aren't many women coaches in the big programs," LaVoi said. "We have record number of women participating in rowing, but we don't see that translating into women coaching in rowing, and that's a little concerning."
One factor in ratio of women's coaches is the actual number of rowing programs compared to other sports. "There is very little turnover in rowing because there aren't many rowing programs, unlike basketball where nearly every school has a basketball team," she said. "When people have those positions they aren't going to give them up, because there aren't many opportunities."
Coaching and Family: A "False Narrative"
In addition, for women in coaching across all sports one hindrance is the belief that coaching is not a good profession for women who want to raise families, something she calls a "false narrative."
LaVoi said that in schools that have supportive administrations and athletic directors, coaching is actually a good family career choice for both women and men.
"The thing about women and coaching and families is something I hear a lot about," LaVoi said. "That's kind of a dominant narrative - it's hard to coach and have families. That is partially true because women are still the primary care takers of children and do most of the domestic labor," she said.
But LaVoi is hoping that she can "shift the narrative around on that," and believes that coaching is a far better family choice than a high-level position in the corporate world, "where you are never going to bring your kids in the board room, to your office, on trips," she said. "So in the big scope of things, coaching can be very family-friendly if you have a culture and an athletic director around that. You can be more flexible. You can bring your kids to work. You can bring your kids around the team," she said.
"That is what I would like to start talking about for women. The more we say that women can't coach and have a family, what's going to happen? They are not going to go into coaching."
"I've had a lot of young women tell me, I don't think I can have a family and coach. Well, the reason they say that is because everyone keeps saying it. If the narrative was, hey, coaching is a great career for you to have a family, and here's all the benefits of that, then they would think differently about it."
Hearing from Current Female Coaches
Of the women who are in coaching who were interviewed for this story, none felt they were being shut out, or that their opportunities were limited.
"Right now, I'm just trying to learn the ropes and see if this is something I want to continue with," said two-time U.S. Olympian Adrienne Martelli, who recently retired from competitive rowing following the summer Olympics in Rio and is now an assistant women's coach at Northeastern University.
"I haven't thought that much about it. I feel proud to be a woman representing our sport in coaching. I know that there are not very many head female coaches. There are a lot of programs that have coaches who have been established for a very long time. And, hopefully we'll see more and more head female coaches as more and more programs build up and those positions become available," Martelli said.
"Right now, I'm the only female coach in the boathouse. But I feel excited to be representing."
Kristine O'Brien, another former national athlete who left the national team following the 2016 Olympic cycle, is now coaching at the University of Virginia and doesn't believe her gender is a hindrance in any potential career in coaching. "In taking on this job and talking to other people, I'm being told 'good for you, we need more women in coaching,'" O'Brien said.
"I haven't heard, or even thought, how it would be easier for a male (to advance in coaching.) I don't feel like I'm at a disadvantage because I'm a woman, and if coaching is something I want to do and something I aspire to do, I can work towards it.
"There are women who are head coaches and are very successful," she said. "Some of the top program in the U.S. - Radcliffe, Washington, Princeton - are some that stand out to me. The head coaching positions are predominantly male, but I don't feel when I'm thinking about doing this for a long time that I couldn't because I'm a woman."
Princeton's Lori Dauphiny has held her position for the past 21 seasons and has never felt held back by gender in either her ability to coach or the university's support of her as a head coach.
"I started the fall of 1989 and I've been pretty fortunate," Dauphiny said. "Princeton, although they admitted women later than many universities did, made a great effort toward making it work.
"By the time I came to Princeton, the women's program was embraced by the administration and the coaching staff at the boathouse, and I've always felt welcome as a female coach in a male dominated profession. I give much credit to my environment. There was some inequity, absolutely, but I felt welcome and a part of something special and big and didn't feel I had to claw my way to receive recognition," said Dauphiny.
Understanding the overall numbers, she said, "is a tricky question, really. I don't think it's because women aren't hired. I've had plenty of assistant coaches that have gone on to become head coaches and some that have left being head coaches because they wanted to do something else.
"I think they were finding their jobs rewarding, but they were juggling raising a family, or there were other issues. Maybe they were forced to move because their mates were relocated in their jobs.
"I think one thing that is interesting about our sport is that while women's rowing has blossomed, in general in those more established programs the turnover hasn't been great," Dauphiny said.
Going into her second season at Duke, Cooke Carcagno is not concerned with how her experience compares to her male colleagues. She is confident in what she brings to her coaching and what other women bring to the sport when they move from the boat to the launch.
"At the end of the day, I have to be who I am and I can't worry about who I'm not," she said. "I think a lot of people, like my colleagues out in the field, think, geez, this guy has been coaching for 30 years and he's going to know how to do this better than me.
"And then I think with the other part of my head, he's never been a female collegiate athlete," Cooke Carcagno said. "I know what that feels like. He's never walked past a male football locker room and then walked past our locker room and thought, hmmm, that looks different. I know what that feels like. I've set world records and done all these things in sport and I know what that feels like."
That does not mean she is not aware that there are different challenges faced by women in coaching.
"It's just different," she said. "Like, I'm a mom with two little tiny kids and we're at regattas and we're traveling all the time and I go to work at 6 am and I get home at 6 pm, so that's a really big challenge.
"Some days I do it because I love it. And some days I do it because it pays the bills, and some days I do it because if I don't do it, who will. If not me, who?"
For more reading on the subject, see this article published in the NCAA's Champion Magazine titled "Where are the Women."
See also row2k.com feature, published Jan. 16th about Rio Olympic cycle U.S. national team athletes who have joined the coaching ranks.
See also row2k.com feature, published Jan. 16th about Rio Olympic cycle U.S. national team athletes who have joined the coaching ranks.
Editor's note: the original article included a sentence as well as a direct quote that there were only four female DI coaches at the 2016 NCAA Championships; row2k corrected both at 11:45am Monday; we regret the error.