What you need to know:
There have always been more male than female coaches at all levels of sport. Men tend to dominate the coaching space, and more so now than ever before. In New Zealand in 2018, of their top teams sports for both men and women, there were only 2 female coaches. (Caldwell) Hadiee Tiffen was the coach of the White Ferns, the national women’s cricket team, and Janine Southby was the coach of the Silver Ferns, the national women’s netball team. Now, in 2020, Southby has been replaced by Noeline Taurua, and Tiffen has been replaced by Robert Carter. When you look up ‘New Zealand coaches’, the first result is a list of 52 people, 5 of whom are women. This is all to show a clear lack of female coaches in the professional level, and this is not just in New Zealand. When Title IX was passed in the US in 1972, while the number of female athletes rose, the number of female coaches of women’s university sport teams dropped from 90% to 43% by 2014. (Flanagan)
This is not just professional sport either, this trend is visible in school-age sport as well. A coach for school kids in basketball, baseball, softball and soccer from between 2006 to 2011, has only had 3 women coach along side him. He also says that there were very few women coaches on the opposite bench, stating ‘it may well have been less than three’. (Cook)
This lack of female coaches for both female and male teams causes further, deeper, ingrained issues. When girls grow up without female coaches, they don’t see coaching as a viable career option for their future, (Caldwell) creating an unhealthy cycle. For many kids, some of their first role models are their coaches. When girls don’t have female coaches, girls tend to grow up without female role models. It has also been proven that girls benefit from having same-sex role models more than boys do. (Flanagan) Girls often internalize the idea that ‘leadership is for men’ after never having women coaching them. It also leads to girls drop out of sport, as they connect to female coaches better, and good coaches keep kids in sport.
When girls grow up without having female coaches, they tend to lack confidence with leadership in the future. It leads to women not wanting, or believing themselves capable of leadership in other aspects of life.
My Changemaker Interview:
I interviewed Nicole Geeves, the first female coach of a men’s premier league hockey team in Tasmania. She talks about the stigma around girls coaching, and how she got into coaching.
A: What got you started coaching hockey?
N: It was just an opportunity during my younger state years, it was always a component that we had to be involved in some sort of development of the younger age groups. I was heavily involved in coaching club underage teams, then it just sort of naturally progressed into coaching more senior teams, more school based teams, and then it lead into the actual men’s team.
A: What led you to doing this (coaching men’s league)?
N: It was just an opportunity that got presented to me, our club didn’t have an actual men’s coach in that role, I had taken a couple of sessions the year prior, and the team enjoyed those sessions I conducted, and because there wasn’t a coach in the role for the following year, the club approached me and asked if that was something I would be interested in doing, which after some consideration I decided to take on the role.
A: What makes you want to continue to coach?
N: I think the game is always evolving, and it’s something that I really enjoy seeing, the different styles of play and how different teams and countries are playing, and adopting different strategies, and I guess from my point of view that means that my coaching has to continuously keep changing and evolving and I think that’s something that I enjoy doing is changing or pushing the boundaries and barriers of things and seeing where it can take teams.
A: Were there any challenges in the process, and if there were, how did you get past them?
N: I guess, obviously, one of the biggest ones was the gender difference. So, I think there’s a perceived expectation that females were going to be easier on the male athletes. Maybe expectations weren’t going to be that great. To start with, just trying to get the men on that level, that I am here, and I am going to be hard, I am going to be hard and challenge you. I guess, again, just getting rid of that female-male balance where I was just their coach, and I think to begin with just getting community perceptions to identify that a female can do the same role as a male in a male sport.
My Response: What can we do?
Creating confidence in women and girls is extremely important, and one of the easiest ways of doing this is to have female coaches from a young age from sport. But, in order to have female coaches, we need to get girls into coaching.
We can do this by encouraging girls to take coaching opportunities within school or club sport, and having coaches teach girls how to coach as well as play.
This can be done by teaching girls about female coaches of high level team sports and by encouraging each of the girls and women’s teams to have either a female coach or assistant coach.
This will be accomplished by telling girls that they can coach, and it is not just a job for men.
How will you help?
I’m eager to find out what this issue is like in your community. In the comments, please respond with how many female coaches you know of in your favourite sport, either at your level, or at a professional level. I would also like to encourage any girls in sport reading this to think about starting to coach, and to break the cycle.
Caldwell, Oliva. Lack of women in coaching detrimental to sport, says professer. 6 June 2018. Document. 11 April 2020.
Cook, Bob. Lack of Presence For Female Coaches Extend to Kids’ Games. 28 November 2018. Document. 9 April 2020.
Flanagan, Linda. The Field Where Men Still Call the Shots. 28 July 2017. Document. 10 April 2020.