MSc Sport Coaching student Leah Weaver shares her experience as a female football coach in a male-dominated sport and her hopes that more women will consider coaching as a career option
Women account for 30% of the workforce in the sport coaching profession, a figure which drops to 12% for highly qualified coaches. Many organisations such as Sports Coach UK and campaigns such as This Girl Can are keen to address this imbalance and encourage more women into careers in sport coaching.
Leah Weaver’s talent for coaching was recognised at an early age: she was first employed by Everton Football Club at 14 after her coaching skills were spotted while undertaking her BTEC Sports Diploma, and delivered ‘mini kicker’ sessions for 4-8 year olds as part of the club’s ‘Everton in the community’ activities. She has since been employed in a variety of roles coaching school-aged children, including children with special educational needs, in various schools across Merseyside.
While studying at LJMU Leah has also taken her coaching skills to Namibia, where she volunteered as a team leader as part of the UK Sport initiative International Development through Excellence and Leadership in Sport (IDEALS) Project. Six students went with her and undertook grassroots coaching in disadvantaged townships, developing activities including HIV/Aids awareness-raising through sports participation, using the ball to represent a virus during a carefully constructed game.
“Children were playing football with a bag of rice in a sock; this was considered organised sport in Namibia and they were benefiting so much from it. In the UK we can sometimes be restricted by court hire charges or health and safety regulations but in Namibia it was accessible to all – we can learn a lot from that”
For Leah, the trips to Namibia have really demonstrated how sport can enhance lives. She’s dedicated to her voluntary role as head coach for the LJMU women’s football team and expects the same dedication from the team; to support her coaching and MSc Sport Coaching studies, she works 6pm-3am in a call centre five days a week.
Leah noticed areas where the women needed to improve and introduced additional training such as a fitness session. Due to the busy schedules of members of the team, the training sessions were introduced at 9-10pm on a Monday evening, when many of us would be winding down at home for the evening.
The late evening sessions have clearly paid off as while Leah has been coaching the women’s football team at LJMU they have gone from strength to strength: the first team made it to the final of the British Universities and College Sport (BUCS) cup for the first time and in 2013-14 the LJMU second team won their league. This success is undoubtedly down to the commitment demonstrated by the women on the team, something which Leah emphasises is her preference over skill, and her sheer talent and dedication as a coach.
Leah would like to encourage more women into coaching and remarks, “In my whole time coaching women’s football in the university leagues, I’ve never actually met another female football coach. It’s always been males coaching the female teams. There should be more of a balance”.
Driven by the desire to positively influence lives through sport, whether it be through learning teamwork or decision-making skills through sport, Leah hopes to raise awareness of public health issues and improving overall health and fitness levels in individuals.
This is the key thing she will be looking at gaining from her coaching career when she completes her PhD, which she plans to undertake in 2017.
“I’m hopeful that more females will get involved with sports that are currently male-dominated – whether it be coaching them or participating in them. The televising of the women’s super league was a step forward but we still have much more progress to make”
Leah is passionate about what she does, and it shows in the results she achieves both academically and on the field. We are sure that she will continue to make a positive difference to the lives of others through her sport coaching activities and hope that she can inspire more women to considering coaching careers.
Find out more about sport coaching courses in the School of Sport Studies, Leisure and Nutrition.