Local Coach Working to Empower Female Athletes, Fellow Coaches

DES MOINES, Iowa -- It was another big day for Iowa women’s basketball. Both Head Coach Lisa Bluder and senior Megan Gustafson won the Naismith awards for national coach of the year and player of the year, respectively. This is the first time an Iowa coach won the Naismith award since 1993, and the first time ever a Hawkeye player is taking home the hardware.

It’s just another award that’s capping off an incredible season for the Hawkeye women; a season that is getting attention from fans and the media across the country. But this talk of women sports is far from the norm, and one local coach is working to change that.

“We’ve made so much progress with women in sports. I think back to when I was in high school,” former Iowa State track and field athlete Erica Douglas said. “I couldn’t run in the Drake Relays. We had to run the prelims at Ankeny High School while boys got to run it at Drake Stadium.” But there’s still a long way to go.

“We have more girls playing sports today, but then they turn on the TV to see that and they don’t see the representation of themselves,” Douglas said.

That’s just one of the many reasons why current coach Erica Douglas founded “She Plays,” a nonprofit out of central Iowa aimed to encourage, educate, and empower female athletes.

According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls are twice as likely to drop out of sports by the time they are 14 years old. This is something Douglas is working to change.

“That could be because they don’t have a role model. They don’t have somebody they can connect to or see that has done it before,” Douglas said. “All girls really want is someone to say ‘I see you. I’ve been there, and you’ll be OK.’”

Ankeny eighth-grader Hannah Baier couldn’t agree more.

“Totally, because it makes you believe you can do it, even if it feels like at the time you can’t,” Baier said.

Douglas believes the change can start in the youngest of athletes, by showing them the power of women in sports.

“My 8-year-old son, his basketball coach is a mom,” Douglas said. “He doesn’t look at it as anything different. He’s like, ‘Coach Lisa tells me I need to get my elbow here,’ and, ‘Coach Lisa says I need to do this,’ and it’s awesome because it’s just his coach and nothing different.”

The disparity of female coaches coaching female sports doesn’t help. For example, at Iowa State, only two of their 10 women's sports are coached by women. But Douglas stresses it isn’t about replacing men but rather making room for the women as well.

“Some of my greatest mentors and friends to this day are guys who coached me or guys who I coach with,” Douglas said. “So it’s just better when we’re all at the table.”

Douglas is holding a conference in Iowa specifically for women coaches this August to grow the confidence in current and future coaches in the state.

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