Who should teams practice against?

An NCAA committee issued a position statement calling for a ban on the use of male practice players in women’s intercollegiate athletics and Division III is voting to severly restrict it at the upcoming NCAA convention. The proposal being considered does not eliminate the practice, but limits it to one practice per week. The proposal also would limit the number of male practice players in team sports to no more than half of the number required to field a starting women’s team (for example, only two male practice players would be permitted in a sport with five starting players).

Vassar coach Barb Bausch, who is in her 11th season as a Division III women’s basketball head coach, wrote the following opinion piece:

Citing the spirit of Title IX as their reasoning, an NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics recently criticized a little known, but common practice in women’s sports — using male players during practice sessions to emulate larger opponents.

Barb BauschWith all due respect, I must disagree with the committee.

I know from personal experience, as a former player and someone who has coached females in basketball for 20 years now, that practicing against stronger and bigger players, whether they’re men or women, is an effective tool for getting better.

As a coach, I always try to make practice more competitive than what the opponent can give. At the high school level, I encouraged my teams to seek out the best competition they could find for pickup games, male or female. When we had to compete against two 6-foot-6 female athletes on the same team, we found a guy that tall so we could have a sense of what 6-6 was like. It makes sense to use the overload principle to prepare a team for all possibilities. That is what good coaches do.

As a college coach, I seek out anyone who is quicker, stronger and faster to practice against before we face our opponents. Generally, these tend to be male undergraduates. When a player learns that she can make a move against that type of speed or strength, she never forgets it. It’s not only the starters who practice against the guys — the whole team does. What this does is help the level of play within the team become more equal.

As an educated professional who has dedicated her career to the advancement of women’s opportunities in life through sport, I find it hard to accept a committee telling me what is best for the women I coach. I, as well as many others in this profession, have worked hard and sought out education and experiences from so many points of view to give our best to the student-athletes we have the good fortune to coach. It would be their loss and the loss of all those in which they come in contact if they could not benefit from our knowledge and well thought out choices that we make for the women we coach. It would be beneficial, however, if there was more help in finding solutions to raise the percentage of women coaching women and men in sport and in securing women in administrative positions.