With the rapid growth of women’s sport in the UK from grassroots to professional level, more women should consider coaching.
I have been involved in playing different sports since I was a young child. And apart from when I played club and county netball, where there were more women involved in the coaching than men—although two men did coach at my netball club—I have generally always had coaches that were men. The sport that I play competitively, badminton, is a mixed gender sport. Men and women train together and compete in the same university, club, and county teams, although there are opportunities for men and women to compete on their own. Yet, even in a sport that caters for mixed-gendered training sessions and disciplines, I have had fewer coaches that were women than men.
With the rapid growth of women’s sport in the UK from grassroot to professional level, more women should consider getting into coaching as women are less visible in coaching positions than me, especially within Head Coach positions of professional sports teams.
sportscotland and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (WSFF) published a report in 2006 that stated that both organisations recognised the importance that female coaches play in developing both female and male athletes. The report also stated that an increased number of female coaches often meant higher female participation in sport, especially when sport has been viewed as a male-dominated area for a long time.
Since the report was published, sportscotland were in the process of developing a pilot programme in five sports that were aimed at developing and progressing 100 female coaches between 2008 and 2011.
Over a decade since sportscotland and WSSF’s report, UK Coaching published their findings on the relationship between gender and coaching, amongst other factors, in 2018. This report found that there were 1.7million active men in coaching and 1.4million active women in coaching. UK Coaching’s findings also identified regional differences in gendered participation in coaching, with higher rates of female coaches in London compared to the North East of England.
UK Coaching found that there were discourse differences between how male and female coaches are viewed. The report found that the most common job title for female coaches was “helper” and the most common job title for male coaches was a “coach”. Is the discourse surrounding male and female coaches preventing greater participation of women in coaching and the greater visibility of women in coaching positions?
Whilst issues with discourse surrounding the positions that women hold in traditionally male-dominated areas may impact a woman’s decision not to be involved in coaching, other gender essentialisms have also been affirmed in findings related to gendered modes of coaching.
UK Coaching found that women were better at coaching pre-school and young children compared to men. However, the gender essentialisms that have described women as motherly, nurturing, and as primary emotional caregivers are positively implied in this report, rather than being used as factors that limit a woman’s potential to penetrate into a male-dominated area. Female coaches may be more skilled at bringing younger people into sport, whilst a male-style of coaching may be more suited to older or professional athletes. Yet, one cannot generalise, and often whether a child continues a sport, comes down to a number of factors: cost, enjoyment, available time, and coaching styles. It’s not just the gender of the coach that factors into that decision and whether a child wants to continue playing a sport into their adolescence and young adulthood is often a case-by-case situation.
However, the drop-off of girls in sport from primary school age to adolescence is dramatic. Matthew Weaver reported in The Guardian that over one million girls in the UK lose interest in sport for fear of being judged and that their lack of confidence prevents them from taking part in sport when they become teenagers. Would more of these young girls continue to participate in sport if more women were involved in coaching and could help provide guidance and confidence in young girls that being involved in sport is not something to be worried about or fear being judged?
How many young girls, that are now adults, stopped participating in sport because they didn’t have a role model that they could relate to when they were growing up? I can’t help but image the sheer numbers.
Yet, with the growth of professional women’s sport and its increased visibility in the UK, more women and girls are feeling empowered that they have a place within sport. However, many professional women’s sports teams are headed by male coaches, such as the Red Roses whose head coach is Simon Middleton and the Arsenal women’s team who’s coached by Jonas Eidevall.
Even in racket sports, where there has traditionally been a more equal split between men’s and women’s participation, many female professional tennis and badminton players have male-dominated coaching teams. For example, Emma Raducanu has had a string of male coaches from Andrew Richardson who worked with her up until her winning of the 2021 US Open, then Torben Beltz, followed by Dmitry Tunsunov. Scottish badminton player Kirsty Gilmour is also coached by two men: Ingo Kindervater and Robert Blair.
Whilst there are also vast examples of women coaching professional women’s sports teams, the visibility of women in coaching positions is not growing at the same rate as women’s participation in sport, despite a small gap between the number of women who are actively coaching compared to men according to UK Coaching.
In England, there has been a steady increase in women’s participation in sport and fitness between 2016–2021. There are a number of possible factors that may have influenced this growth, ranging from but not limited to the greater education on the importance of exercise to a person’s physical and mental health, changes in attitudes to exercise and the de-stigmatisation of women going to the gym and playing sport, online and in-person sport and fitness communities exclusive to women and non-binary people, and greater visibility of women in sport at international and club levels.
The importance of being able to see someone who you may relate to in an ambitious position, means that you’re more likely to strive for that position, or continue your participation in a sport you already enjoy. The value of women in coaching and its relationship to women and girls’ participation in sport should not be overlooked and I would greatly encourage more women to become involved in coaching.