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Master of Science in Exercise and Sport Studies

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Philosophy of ESS Graduate Program

Since the passage of Title IX, the number of participants, sport opportunities and programs for girls and women has grown dramatically. Over more than three decades, programs at the intercollegiate athletic level for women have generally thrived as well. However, the percentage of women who serve as head coaches and administrators for these programs has precipitously declined. In 1972 more than 90 percent of women's collegiate athletic programs were headed and coached by women. By 2005, these positions were filled predominantly by men, while women headed only 2 percent of the men's teams. The situation is worse at the administrative level: one in 10 athletic programs have no women administrators at all. Recent longitudinal data on women's coaching in the workplace produced by Vivian Acosta and Linda Carpenter over the past 30 years corroborates this social fact.

To address such inequities, Smith College, one of the largest undergraduate women's colleges in the country, decided in 1985 to focus its master's program in exercise and sport studies on training intercollegiate coaches of women's teams. This was in keeping with the college's mission to provide women with educational opportunities that lay the foundation for them to excel and take leadership roles in any occupation, particularly those in which they have been underrepresented.

The college already had many resources in place to address this need: an extensive library, a dedicated faculty, a highly qualified and diverse student population, and extensive computer and technological resources, all on a beautiful 143-acre campus. The current program offers a marvelous physical plant for sport and athletics that includes excellent outdoor and indoor facilities, a committed faculty in the Department of Exercise and Sport Studies and coaches in the Department of Athletics. The Department of Exercise and Sport Studies over the years has developed a rich curriculum that addresses the pedagogical and motor learning techniques critical for quality instruction, the sociocultural issues encountered in coaching, the biophysical knowledge-base to properly train athletes, and the practical experience relevant to engage coaches broadly in the field of exercise, sport studies and athletics.

Since Smith has 14 intercollegiate teams, the program's primary goal is to place candidates as assistant coaches at the college. With Smith's membership in the Five College Consortium and its location in the Pioneer Valley, some graduate candidates may be placed at nearby institutions to gain professional experience and be exposed to a diverse group of coaches who use a variety of approaches toward their sports.

By combining multiple theoretical approaches and scientific information about exercise and sports with practical experiences encompassing all aspects of coaching, the program produces graduates who are ideally suited to work as head coaches of women's intercollegiate teams. For the most part, candidates who have been willing to relocate, without restriction to a particular geographical area, have been successful in finding head coaching positions. Already more than 90 percent of graduates are now serving, or have served, as head coaches at numerous institutions across the country, from Division I to Division III. Follow-up evaluations with alumnae and their athletic directors affirm the relevance of the theoretical and practical preparation gained through the program.