Story by Lilian Zhu
Illustration by David Sohn
Without a female coach, it can be difficult for female athletes to find proper support specific to girls’ health issues. Recognizing that female athletes have different health issues from their male counterparts is the first step in understanding why having a female coach is important for girls. Almost all of the head coaches at SPHS are male. Consequently, female athletes are treated with the build of a male athlete and lack the proper attention needed to keep their bodies physically fit and keep their minds healthy.
Only three out of the 12 girls sports teams at SPHS have a female head coach. Currently, water polo, cross country, track, and badminton all share the same male coach for both the girls and boys teams. The girls basketball and softball teams have separate coaches from the boys team, but are still male. At this time, girls golf, and soccer do not even have a coach.
Playing under intense pressure, these female athletes focus intensely on their weight and, according to research, are more prone to develop eating disorders and disordered eating, like fasting, skipping meals and extreme dieting. Additionally, girls face many sports- related health issues including iron deficiencies and conditions like amenorrhea, where they can lose their menstrual periods due to high energy performance, low body fat, and stress. These conditions can result in poor bone density, increasing risk of injuries and are extremely detrimental to athletic performance.
Oftentimes male coaches of female teams don’t realize or fail to address these specific health issues that don’t present themselves as regularly with male athletes. In high-intensity sports such as soccer, basketball, and cross country, where athletes are forced to exert high levels of energy, a lack of knowledge or resources to maintain health can be detrimental to the athlete’s wellbeing.
This isn’t to say that girls cannot be as athletic as boys, but an acknowledgement and awareness of issues like amenorrhea, increased injury risk, and eating disorders can easily be overlooked by male coaches. Yearly concussion meetings are mandatory, yet girls are not provided specific information regarding the prevention of female specific health issues.
The best way to meet these needs is by hiring female trainers and coaches to educate girls on how to stay healthy and take care of their bodies. Despite hiring a male health trainer, girls may find it hard to talk about health issues that are more prevalent to girls because they feel male coaches won’t be understanding or might be embarrassed.
“Male coaches just don’t understand, especially in high intensity sports, the effects that over-training has on female athletes both mentally and physically,” an anonymous student said. “The constant pressure can easily lead to eating disorders or amenorrhea and without a female coach there’s nobody to tell you that in reality that isn’t healthy.”
Four-year cross country runner, senior Lindsay Michels, expressed her concern that male coaches are less aware of womens health needs.
“There have been many cases in professional running in which coaches have forced women to starve or overwork themselves,” Michels said. “Although this extends beyond just male coaches being unaware of women’s health needs and into plain abuse, it is not a coach’s job to judge what a woman’s body is capable of or what it needs to function at its best. That’s up to the athlete.”
Without specialized health support for female athletes, many find themselves in vulnerable or dangerous health conditions and don’t get the attention to be physically healthy. Girls will begin to normalize these health issues and grow to accept them, harming their health in the future without learning how to take care of their bodies.
Editors note: This is an opinion piece. Since first publishing, a new coach has been hired for the girls soccer team.