Emma Hayes, head coach of the national power Southern Methodist University women’s soccer team, says that the Womens’ World Cup will help tackle disparities in education for women that exist between men and women.
“There are huge disparities in sports from year to year that can create tremendous cultural inequalities in our educational system, which has to do with money, expectations, gender equality, inclusion and bullying. That’s the whole theme,” Hayes said.
One particularly shocking disparity Hayes pointed to is the lack of women’s soccer experience in high school and even college. “I’ve been very fortunate to get support throughout my education at high school and college levels and other female coaches can’t. I’ve been lucky,” she said.
“From high school to college, there are no female coaches, not very many girls go into coaching that are also interested in pursuing athletics. I had a very supportive high school coach, my college coach was also great, and you just get so used to being told you can’t do something because it’s a man’s world or it’s a business in which men dominate.”
Her definition of equality in sports includes more than her own success as a female coach, however. It also means creating opportunities for women and girls, both on and off the field.
“It’s a matter of rights for women. Everyone has to be treated equally, you don’t just draw the lines. You don’t just judge people by their gender but you can evaluate people for their characteristics that may be applied in different roles, whether it’s gender-neutral or being able to manage a field with two or more coaches, or to manage 18 women on the soccer team or to manage a team of boys playing sports, it’s so interesting. I’m seeing a really clear curve between sports like soccer and my college and elsewhere. That’s very different than my high school where the question was ‘how to get girls involved in sports’ and not about being treated equally.”
However, Hayes said the role of women’s sports is to continue to make athletes like her feel valued and respected.
“Women are great athletes and proud athletes because they are motivated and excited about their abilities and what they do, but that isn’t always the approach that we take from male coaches. They’re on pedestals and often are encouraged and celebrated to perform to the highest level because that’s an expectation, but that isn’t always the case for women in sports.”
And Hayes supports the Womens’ World Cup as a way to address that disparity.
“Sport is an incredible way to bring people together. We celebrate the differences between people in every sport, which is another reason for my interest in soccer. But it also brings people together around the pursuit of a common objective of being well-balanced as individuals,” she said.
“We want our players to graduate from college football to college soccer. We want them to be proud of what they are doing and be able to continue pursuing opportunities to accomplish what they’re passionate about. It’s important to ensure that gender roles don’t dictate what is exciting for them and being a good athlete is not just for men. For women to be well-rounded we need a wide variety of sports, we need diversity across the board so young girls have options for their athletic career.”