Physical Activity, Organized Youth Sport & Youth Obesity

2 10 2009

soda machineSome and colleagues and I are working on research pertaining to what is known (and mostly not known) about the role of youth sports in obesity prevention. Last week Toben Nelson, University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, presented some of our work at the monthly Tucker Table. You can view his PowerPoint and see a small video clip. This work has made me think critically about how youth sports may not be the healthiest places for some children–including the ubiquitous presence of unhealthy snacks which I wrote about in an earlier blog. While physical activity and active living may help prevent childhood obesity, healthy eating is the other half of the equation. To highlight the relationship between physical activity and the presence of unhealthy food, this Village Voice post and picture showing how NYC playgrounds house soda machines says it all (via AN).

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How NOT to use Social Media….

29 09 2009

Since I still have social media on the brain this week, and have been reading the discussion about social media and its impact on women’s sport on The Tucker Center blog…Thanks to ASC, I came across this story on SportsAgentBlog.com about how not to use Twitter. This is precisely how social media can be detrimental to athletes. While this example involves a male college football player, it won’t be too long before we have an example of a female athlete getting into hot water over an inappropriate Tweet about her coach. Wait for it…..





Weekend Gender Observations

21 09 2009

Notre Dame Football3This past weekend I traveled back to Notre Dame (ND) for the Michigan State football game. I go back every other year to catch a game and see former colleagues. While I was there I observed a few things I had to share related to how females are marginalized and gender is (re)produced in subtle and not to subtle ways. Here are the Top 5:

1. On Friday morning I played golf at the beautiful links style ND Warren Golf Course. When I worked at ND I would decide to golf after work and show up at the course and be assigned a tee time with a group that had room for one more. Mostly I played with all men. As we stood on the tee box, I would invariable get “advice” from one or more of the men on how to play, how to hit a drive etc….They would tee off first, and then we’d go up to the “Ladies Tees” where I would hit. When I play frequnetly I can hit a 200 yard drive which often surpasses some of the mens’ drives. After that I didn’t get any more advice. I wondered, do men give other men advice on the first tee? Why do men feel compelled to give females paternalistic advice on how to play golf when they have no idea how skilled she may or may not be?

2. One of the traditions of ND football is the Friday night pep rally. While at the pep rally, a distinguished alum and former NFL player was challenging the crowd to cheer loudly for the Irish. He said he was told to keep it “PC”. He told the crowd they should stand the whole game to show support. He then told the players to be tough and not let Michigan State control the game in “their house.” He said if the players wanted to be weak and soft he told them, “You should go to school across the street” (meaning attend the all-women’s sister school St. Mary’s College). To my surprise, a few people in the crowd booed him.

3. While wandering around campus I came across the 2008-09 ND men’s & women’s basketball schedule posters (see picture). 2008-09 nd posters Given the research on portrayals of female athletes we have conducted in the Tucker Center, I noticed immediately that ALL the male athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court. Some of the female athletes were in uniform, in action, and on the court but the dominant image was the “team shot.” These two posters convey very different messages about athletic competence.

4. On my way home I was checking Facebook and email on my phone when I saw a Facebook post that read: “Eagirls v. New Orleans“…meaning the Eagles were playing the New Orleans Saints. This person felt the Eagles were not playing well, which meant they were playing like girls.

5. Last but not least and related to #1 above…I wandered into an airport book store to find a new book to read on the way home. I came across a book written by man titled, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man. I was curious so I picked it up. I’d encourage you to take a look at the table of contents, depending on your perspective you’ll find it infuriating, entertaining or informative.

I think these example speak for themselves. Comments?





Why Mothers Coach

10 05 2009

iStock__mom coach soccer_XSmallIn a study where we interviewed mothers who were also youth sport coaches, we wanted to know why they were coaching. A majority of the time the primary focus, including my recent posts on female youth sport coaches, is on the barriers that limit or prevent mothers, and females in general, from coaching. So, in honor of all the mothers everywhere who spend their time and energy coaching their own and other people’s children—Happy Mother’s Day and thank you!

A major reason many mothers coach is because it provides time for them to spend with their child(ren). One mom said, “You know it gave us another chance to spend time together in a different way other than just being at home or being in a social situation, and so I really enjoyed it and she did, too. Even though she was the coach’s daughter it worked out.”

Mothers in our study coached because they saw a need for female coaches and good coaches in general, and felt coaching provided an outlet to share their experience, passion for sport and sport knowledge with their children. Mothers discussed the importance of providing positive role models—particularly for girls—and felt coaching was fun and rewarding.

Thanks to the many women—mothers and non-mothers alike—who coach our children and youth! You are the missing piece of the youth sport puzzle.





The “success” of Twitter in promoting women’s sports: ‘Show me the money!’

5 05 2009

tweet-birdThere seems to be much discussion over Twitter and how it might be “the answer” to successfully marketing and promoting women’s sports. Jayda Evans (Seattle Times columnist & Twitter-er) wrote about it, the Women’s Professional Soccer League is using it, and Megan Hueter, Co-founder of Women Talk Sports, has two recent blogs about the importance of social media for women’s sport (A recent blog is about Twitter and an earlier blog was about Facebook). I responded to Megan’s blog, and she responded back (scroll down on her blog about Facebook to see our exchange). I enjoyed this dialogue and have been thinking about this issue ever since.

I get that social media is a platform to market women’s sports in a saturated market, and it is accessible, current, relevant, provides athlete-generated content etc…I got it. I love social media, really I do, so this is not a critique of social media or those that love it, promote it, and live for it. I have a Blog (obviously), a Facebook page, am connected to colleagues through LinkedIn, and recently conquered my Twitter fascination. However, even with my love for social media I’m reluctant to make claims about the effectiveness of it in promoting female athletes and women’s sports. It is the researcher in me—I’m critical and skeptical until I see the proof (i.e., empirical data).

I have seen ZERO research that demonstrates if, and how, social media tangibly and effectively promotes and markets women’s sports. I queried one of our very smart graduate students who is immersed in this research, and she didn’t know of any either. We will stand corrected if it exists. Just because everyone is all atwitter about Twitter doesn’t mean it “works” or will “save” women’s sports.
twitter-image1Here is what we generally DO know about Twitter and sport:
1. Twitter exists and is rapidly growing in popularity
2. Some people, but not many (~5% of the population), are currently using Twitter
3. Some professional athletes are included in that 5%
4. Many professional sport leagues have a Twitter presence

Here is the $1,000,000 question: Has Twitter lead to an increase in—attendance, ticket sales, merchandise sales, sponsorships, media coverage in mainstream sport media, number of teams in women’s professional leagues, or any measurable interest in or consumption of women’s sports? Right now, Twitter is a good listening tool and provides a way to listen to brand champions of women’s sport (i.e., the core, loyal consumer). But other than that, show me the data. It might be doing some good, but has anyone thought about the flip side?…. that social media might not be good for female athletes or women’s sports? So how might Twitter and other social media (including those not invented yet) be “bad” you ask? Well here are a few things to ponder.

It is a well known fact that female athletes receive only 6-8% of coverage in traditional sport media. This statistic has remained consistent over the last 20 years, despite increases in girls and women participation in sport. When female athletes are covered in traditional sport media, they are often portrayed in ways that marginalize or minimize athletic competence and highlight sexy, hetero, feminine aspects of the female body or identity.

A perfect example of this is the March 23, 2009 ESPN magazine cover of pregnant WNBA Rookie of the Year Candace Parker in which the opening sentence discusses that Parker “…is beautiful. Breathtaking, really, with flawless skin, endless legs and a C cup…” If you want a thorough, and I think well done, sociological critique of this article read this blog which appears in Contexts. I did a little mini investigation after I saw the Parker cover and found: In five years (2004- March 2009) females athletes have appeared on 5 of 168 ESPN covers (3.6%…less than the average) and when they do….well see for yourself.espn-mag-women-covers-5-yrs

While social media is changing the role of sport journalists, sport media scholar Marie Hardin argues this is both good an bad. I add it is good if it changes coverage patterns of female athletes, but I would add it is bad if it becomes expected that female athletes have to be partially or largely responsible for promoting themselves as well-rounded “girls next door” through social media as a way to “save” their leagues or bolster their own “brand”. Why isn’t it just enough for Candace Parker to play basketball to the best of her abilities? The NBA doesn’t ask Kobe Bryant to be more than a great basketball player do they?

Could it be possible that social media, including Twitter, is just another means to replicate the ways in which traditional sport media marginalizes and sexualizes female athletes? Twitter’s existence does nothing to challenge the status quo or existing structural inequalities between men’s and women’s sports…especially since it is an “opt in” platform.

Another point to ponder: How are female athletes and professional leagues presenting themselves on Twitter? Stay tuned for results on cutting edge research two of our graduate students are just completing on this very question—this is cool stuff! In the meantime, I’ll give you one example that occurred on the 2009 WNBA draft day which caught my eye and highlights my previous point. I saved three (of many) Tweets written by draftees, the WNBA, and other attendees who were collectively discussing “how we look and what to wear” rather than “how we play” on Draft Day 2009. 2wnbadraft-day

What everyone should do who cares about this issue and the cause of women’s sport, is think less about hyping social media and more about how social media can be used to create real social change and lead to sustainability (meaning…show me not only the data, but the $$$$) of women’s professional sport leagues…and more importantly, how can we prove and measure “success”?





What Makes an Effective Coach?….It’s NOT Gender!

9 04 2009

Ok, ok so there were two male head coaches vying for the NCAA-I Women’s Basketball Championship in 2009—the first time since 1988. Kudos to Geno Auriemma and Jeff Walz, obviously they are effective coaches. Why was this media worthy? The media’s coverage and the public interest in this phenomenon seemed disproportionate and rooted in three major beliefs (and probably more, so please weigh in!). First, is it that we are shocked that is has been SO long—over 20 years!—since males have coached two teams to the national championship in the most visible, well attended and popular sports in women’s collegiate athletics (even though men are the majority of coaches in this sport and level)? Or second…is it that we are surprised that at least one female coach has trained her team into the championship for the past 21 of 28 years (click here to see the breakdown)? Did you know that in the history of the NCAA-I Women’s Basketball Tournament that 75% of the winning teams were coached by female head coaches? Or third, are we celebrating the fact that despite the dearth of female collegiate coaches and the host of social, personal and structural barriers they face, females have managed to thrive in women’s basketball? Or… is it a mix of all three? Whichever way you lean, the bigger questions are—why are people surprised, and why is this newsworthy? I think the disproportionate attention reveals some deep seeded beliefs about male and female coaches and their abilities.

One writer on the NCAA.com blog quickly made the link between two male coaches in the final and why female athletes prefer male coaches. That is a BIG leap and is problematic on many levels as fellow Women Talk Sports blogger Megan Hueter points out. I am also reminded of the Women’s Sport Foundation position paper that refutes myths and commonly held assumptions about the female athlete “preference” for male coaches. I won’t recap all the main points which discuss in short, the effects of rarely seeing females in positions of power in all contexts, the belief that male coaches are more competent, and homophobia. I encourage you to read it.

In the end, after UConn and Auriemma cut down the nets, I am certain of a few things. I’m certain that the reason why all the women’s basketball teams in the last 28 years have ended up playing for a national championship is that they had EFFECTIVE coaches—which has nothing to do with the gender of the coach. I’m also certain the players on those teams were talented. I hope, sooner rather than later, that we can move away from talking about the gender of the coach and turn our primary attention to the characteristics that make a coach effective.