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CU helps close gender gap in women's soccer coaching

Jasmine White is a volunteer assistant coach with the University of Colorado women's soccer team. She is an apprentice coach of the Real Colorado club program.

BOULDER, Colo. — A familiar voice echoes across the wide open Prentup Field in Boulder. In the midst of women's calls for a pass or a wide-open look, her calm yet sturdy voice can be heard above the pack. She's quickly earned their attention and respect.

"I think it's important to have that in your staff and especially have someone that speaks the same language and has bought into your culture," CU Women's Soccer Head Coach Danny Sanchez said.

Jasmine White is the newest addition to the CU Women's Soccer staff. A local standout athlete from Grandview High School, who went on to play Division I soccer at the University of Long Island Post, returned home recently to pursue her dreams of coaching. As a volunteer assistant on Sanchez's staff, she's currently the only female coach on the Buffs' sidelines.

"I think it's important that they have a coach that looks like them, talks like them, so that they can see she's been through it and this is someone I can go to and I can trust because her journey has been parallel to mine," she said.

Any volunteer selection may seem like a small victory, but it's quite a big step toward closing the gender gap in a women's sport. According to the University of Minnesota, in 2018, only 26.2% of Division I NCAA women’s soccer teams were coached by women.  

"I realized that I never had a female coach all through my 20-some years of playing, so the opportunity to relate to players, and say I've done this, this is my experience, and I can talk to them in a different way," White said. "Being a female, we just have a different relationship than some of the male coaches have with them. We can be held to such high expectations, but I can meet them where they're at because I can relate so closely to their experience."

Junior defender Hannah Sharts had the unique experience of playing for UCLA prior to transferring to CU. The UCLA staff is an anomaly in itself. Head Coach Amanda Cromwell made the deliberate decision to hire only women on her staff. Sharts knew how powerful that was, and how a small hire like White could make a big difference in the grand scheme.

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"I think it's huge on a national and global scale. It's inspiring for little girls to see women in powerful positions like that," Sharts said. "It definitely gives them hope that they can do whatever they want and the opportunities for women in sports are growing."

Sanchez said he always believes in the practice of hiring and promoting women, but this particular hire was not a diversity pick.

"It's not like she's a token hire. We wanted someone who knows the game, has a passion for the game, that's going to buy into the culture, and she checked all of the boxes," he said. "She has a passion to want to learn. So when she's at training, she's constantly asking questions of how we do things, and so I think the sky's the limit for her. She's demanding of her club players, but even here, she gives us great insight into the personalities of the players because it wasn't that long ago that she was a Division I women's soccer player."

White is currently an apprentice coach for Real Colorado, a top developmental academy.

"Being a part of a program when they're youth, you learn to care about the player first, you learn to get into their interests," she said. "Then watching them grow into their journey and being here, it's cool because you know where they started, you know some of the battles they've overcome, and you're here to watch them blossom and play at such a high level and play against some of the top competition in the entire country."

While soccer is her top priority, White is passionate about mentoring at all levels. Her full-time job is with a career counseling program in Denver Public Schools.

"I don't think you can be a good coach or mentor unless you've had good coaches and mentors in your life," she said. "For me, I'm just really passionate about youth making positive adult interactions so they can feel supported in the decisions they're making. I learn more from our youth than I even give to them. As a coach, while I'm trying to give, the players are giving so much back to me."

The road through CU has led other women toward head coaching jobs in the past. Most recently, Kelly Labor Brown left Sanchez's staff to take on the head coaching role at Regis University. Sanchez said if White chooses this career path over mentoring, the sky is the limit.

"If you get to the University of Colorado, if you get to the Pac-12, and if you get this on your resume, with the connections we have, if you really want it, it can happen."

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