Two decades after Title IX opened new athletic horizons for females by requiring equal gender treatment in college sports, girls as young as age 5 are picking up "soft sticks" to learn lacrosse.
They're swatting T-balls in kindergarten. And they dribble soccer balls long before they can cross a street by themselves.
But what many see as a flood of girls into youth sports has created a growing need for women coaches. But because many mothers come from a generation that rarely played organized sports, they don't feel confident coaching."A lot of women call up and volunteer their husbands," said JanellCoffman, a sports coordinator with the county Department of Recreation and Parks.
Coffman, also an assistant women's soccer coach at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County, is cheered because, although women coaches are few, more are applying to coach.
The problem is discussed in every sport but is acute in lacrosse, which has girls and boys versions, with the girls game growing especially rapidly. The skills are related but rules - and tactics - differ.
Kathy Black, a former college player and lacrosse official, coaches the Glenwood 9-10 Fireballs. As this season started, two girls teams in the Howard County lacrosse program lacked coaches."We called every parent," Black said. "Everyone said, 'I don't know the sport.' And I said, 'I'll give you all the information. I'll spend half a day with you. I'll do whatever it takes to get you up to speed.' I begged and pleaded. It really got to the point where we weren't going to have these teams."
At the last minute, two fathers agreed to coach.
Black said many parents fear their inexperience will hinder the kids from learning to play well enough to get a college scholarship. But these are recreation teams, she said, where the goal is to give children a chance to play. "If we don't step up and help, these programs will be gone," she said.
Another problem is that women are stretched thin between demands of work and family."They're mothers, and they're incredibly busy," Coffman said.
It's hard to coach one child's team, when it means you'll miss another's game, said Ellicott City's Renee Paugh, an NCAA basketball official who volunteers as a youth soccer and baseball coach.
Paugh, 37, is fairly typical in that she had no opportunity to play organized sports until she was in seventh grade. But she attended college on a basketball scholarship and played tennis and softball.
She never had a chance to play soccer but agreed to coach her 7-year-old daughter's team."There's definitely a shortage [of women coaches] in soccer," said Paugh, who enjoyed the sport so much she also tried playing on a women's team as well as coaching. "Because that's how they got me to do it."
Paugh said she was the only woman coaching in her daughter's division, and when she coaches her 9-year-old son's baseball team, she is as much a rarity.
But she feels that women coaches tend to be calmer, less prone to ranting, and that attitude influences spectators. She said an increased number of women coaches might diminish unsportsmanlike conduct on the part of parents.
Paugh laughed as she recalled an incident familiar to girls' coaches - telling the player who just had her ears pierced to remove her earrings for the game.
It might be tradition that makes recreation programs turn to fathers when asking for coaches, and that tradition might leave mothers feeling that perhaps they're not qualified to coach.
But Paugh has this advice for mothers: "Get involved in coaching so you don't have to bake."