In observance of Women’s History Month, The Daily launches a series aimed at telling the stories of female athletes, coaches and teams at the University from the perspective of the female sports writers on staff. Daily sports editor Paige Voeffray continues the series with this story.
Mark Rosen is a man living in a woman’s world. When he started his career, he was faced with a choice: stick to what was familiar and coach men’s sports, or venture to the women’s game. Choosing the latter, he has seen first-hand the struggles female college athletes face: Lack of crowds, lack of funding and lack of respect.
Many others would have stuck with the men.
But Rosen grew fond of coaching women. He’s been the Michigan women’s volleyball coach for 19 seasons now.
“I think they’re way more coachable,” said Rosen. “They’re way more willing to listen. There are some personality differences that I think are really unique that I really like the side of women’s personalities. They really take to heart wanting feedback and wanting to get better.
“I think you spend more time with women trying to convince them that they’re better than they think they are, and guys you spend more time convincing them they’re not as good as they think they are.”
Before his tenure as a coach, Rosen never would have dreamed of being a women’s volleyball coach, let alone a volleyball coach at all.
After growing up an avid hockey player in Anchorage, Alaska, Rosen knew that he wanted to coach when his playing days were over. Throughout high school and the beginning of college, Rosen realized that his hobby of playing volleyball was something much more than that. So, he took his talents to California State University at Northridge to try his hand as a Division I varsity men’s volleyball player.
Combining his desire to be a coach and natural volleyball IQ, Rosen became a student of the game and, after 26 years of coaching, it has surely paid off.
Rosen’s first coaching experience was back where it all began — his former high school. He never worried that he wouldn’t understand the different playing styles or how to coach women, because he was too busy simply trying to learn how to coach, period.
As Rosen eventually left high school volleyball to pursue a coaching career at a more competitive level, he never ventured to the men’s game. In part, it has to do with the number of programs — there are over 1,000 NCAA women’s volleyball teams, while the men have yet to break 100. But even though Rosen was a player himself, there’s something about the women’s game that speaks to him.
“I like the women’s game more because it’s more rally oriented and more defensively oriented, whereas the men’s is more just raw power,” Rosen said. “I don’t even like watching the guys’ games. … It’s entertaining, but to me it’s not as tactically intriguing because it’s just more physical — set the best player, he gets up and gets a kill, rally over.
“In the women’s game, I think there’s way more tactics and way more adjustments you can make and things you can do to tactically be involved in the game.”
The style of play is truly the only difference Rosen sees between the men’s and women’s games. In fact, he believes thinking of them differently is a problem of its own.
At the end of the day, his athletes want to compete and win. He disregards the characterization that there will be more drama, and that social lives are more important than the sport just because they’re women. Rosen was a player himself, and he can recall plenty of drama and “guys that wanted to beat the heck out of each other” on his team.
It’s not specific to women’s sports. It’s specific to being an athlete.
Just because Rosen views men’s and women’s sports the same, doesn’t mean everyone does. Rosen has had a front row seat to the struggles women’s sports have been through, but he credits those that came before him for why his volleyball team is at the level it is today.
He recalls softball coach Carol Hutchins, before she was the winningest coach in NCAA softball history, when she held a second job as the athletic director’s assistant. Sure, she was the head softball coach at a huge public school, but she would spend her evenings raking her own fields while she watched an entire grounds crew take care of the baseball field. But the dues she paid paved the way for the next generation.
He recalls Bev Plocki applied for three gymnastics coaching jobs. One for a Division III school, one for a Division II school and the other at Michigan. She didn’t get the other jobs and has been the Wolverines’ coach for 29 seasons. It is suspected she was offered the job because they thought she wouldn’t make waves, but instead they got a coach who hasn’t been afraid to speak her mind and has been a champion for women athletes.
With the introduction of Title IX, women’s programs began establishing themselves across the country. Progress was slow, but it was happening. As each new generation sees powerful women athletes, the stigma surrounding them will disappear. Rosen still has friends that are shocked to hear how much time his athletes spend in the weight room, on the track and with a dietician.
His athletes are all in and are committed to being the best, and it’s time people started seeing that.
“My mom is a super competitive person, but she couldn’t be an athlete because there was no opportunity for her. I didn’t look at her when I was a kid as, ‘Hey there’s my mom, the athlete and competitive person,’ ” Rosen said. “Well then there’s my wife (associate head volleyball coach Leisa Rosen), who was an All-American, she was a scholarship athlete, she was a Big Ten Player of the Year, she was the Ohio State Athlete of the Year, she’s in the Hall of Fame.
“My kids are so much more in tune with and proud of her athletic career than mine. … They’ll brag about Leisa, and think about how cool that is that we have two guys that see their mom as an athlete.”
Women’s sports have come so far in such a short amount of time, and Rosen only sees their success increasing in the future.
“The men’s sports have had a 75-year head start. Michigan really didn’t take women’s athletics seriously really until the mid-80s, maybe the late-80s. They’ve only been really committed to it for 30-40 years versus the men side’s been (committed for) 150 years,” Rosen said. “Are we catching up and are we making moves? I absolutely think so.
“It’s so exciting to see where volleyball’s going and I try to project ahead and think, ‘What about 25 years from now? What will it be like?’ I honestly believe there will be pro leagues, I honestly believe there will be more and more sold-out venues and we will be making revenue. That’s totally conceivable to me. (Men’s athletics) just had a head start.”
The future of volleyball is still unknown, just as the future of women’s sports is unknown. But if Rosen has any control of the future, change is coming. He sees dedicated fans that are hooked on volleyball, he sees packed arenas for games and he sees an increase in quality female coaches.
But most importantly, he sees a future without stigma surrounding women’s athletics.