Changing the game

Changing the game

We talk to women coaches about gender inequality in sports, particularly in the profession of coaching.

Coaching boys football

With Liverpool having recently played host to the ICCE Global Coaching Conference, we thought it was a great opportunity to take a look at the role of women in coaching and try to uncover the reasons why women are still under-represented in the profession.

Women account for just 30% of the coaching workforce, this drops to 12% when it comes to highly qualified coaches.

According to UK Coaching, it isn’t that women don’t want to coach, but rather that culturally, sport is still regarded as a gendered activity which strongly favours men. A self-perpetuating cycle, the low visibility of women in coaching only reinforces the perception that sport is a male-dominated activity and working in sport is not promoted as an attractive proposition for women.

Faye BrysonFaye Bryson, footballer for Everton Ladies FC, coach and student of Physical Education at LJMU, shares her views and experiences as a female football coach in a male dominated sport.

She believes the lack of women in coaching is down to people underestimating women’s sporting knowledge and that women tend to get pigeon holed into more ‘nurturing’ coaching roles such as working with children or other females rather than being responsible for male players. Women can more often be found in grassroots coaching rather than elite positions for some of the same reasons. Often women lack the professional qualifications in coaching to enable them to climb the ladder, which also contributes to the low number of elite female coaches.

Faye has her FA level 2 football coaching qualification and is well on her way to achieving a degree in Physical Education at LJMU. So does she think having qualifications provides the confidence and credibility to progress to higher levels of coaching?

“Having a degree behind me in Physical Education definitely gives me a boost of confidence for the future and definitely having more coaching qualifications will help me to gain high levels of sporting roles/jobs.”

Faye has broken through the confidence barrier with her qualifications and experience, but sometimes women don’t get the same start in sport that others do. Women’s low representation in coaching and sports in general often comes down to the lack of encouragement, opportunities and the perception of sports that young girls encounter. Faye wouldn’t argue with this. She believes the key to encouraging more young girls into sport and potentially into considering coaching as a career is through promoting positive action in schools. She thinks schools should organise girls-only sport taster sessions, offer girls-only teams, and give away tickets to women’s sports events to provide opportunities for girls to meet female sports stars.

To Faye, female role models are key to encouraging girls into sport. She was inspired to get into football by Rachel Yankey, who played for Arsenal FC and the England national team. Interestingly, Yankey started playing football as the only girl in a boys' team. At the age of eight she shaved her hair off and pretended to be a boy called ‘Ray’ so she could join. When asked about this in an interview for BT Sport, Rachel responded: “Thing is, no-one cared I was a girl on the football pitch because I was good. Kids see one thing – and that’s winning.”

So will there be a day when we are all as enlightened as Yankey’s first teammates? When girls and women don’t have to try so hard to be accepted in the sports world? We asked Faye if she thought attitudes towards women in coaching were changing:

“I feel like people’s attitudes towards women coaching sports are changing as more and more women are proving that it can be done and the opportunities for women in coaching are increasing but are still a long way from equal rights.”

Amy WhiteheadAmy Whitehead is Principal Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Physical Education Psychology at LJMU, a women's basketball coach and sport psychologist. We asked her for some insight into this subject.

Amy believes history and culture plays its part when it comes to women being under-represented in coaching:

“Historically women did not participate as much in sport compared to males. Men have played and been involved in sport for much longer than females and therefore, I think this stems from historical and cultural reasons. However, female coaches are increasing and hopefully one day this won’t even be an issue.”

"Male dominated sports like football do have males dominating the coaching but I think a lot of this comes from the deep rooted cultural aspects of the sport.”

Amy thinks opportunities for girls to engage in sport at an early age is down to each individual’s environment. She admits she was lucky to have had great PE teachers, parents who encouraged her to pursue sport, and opportunities to be coached by both male and females – so she never saw gender as an issue. However, she acknowledges that girls who lacked the experiences she had can result in them not enjoying sport. She feels that providing both males and females with the same opportunities, support and encouragement is the key to resolving this, appreciating that this is easier said than done.

When it comes to sexism in sports, the women we spoke with have all experienced sexist attitudes themselves at one time or another, particularly in the more male-dominated sports. Even sportswomen at the elite levels, such as Marion Bartoli and Serena Williams, are subjected to sexist comments, with the media judging the athletes on their appearance rather than their talent or success. We asked Amy if she could see a time when women in sport will be normalised.

“Unfortunately, there are always going to be people in the world who are ignorant and narrow minded. However, I do hope that over time the media will become less so and as a society we accept women for their ability and achievements in the sport, rather than their appearance. I think Serena is doing a great job of trying to normalise this by embracing her athleticism and promoting it constantly on social media. It is also evident how this is being supported through social media by other athletes and the general population promoting this type of athleticism via social media…the statement “strong is the new sexy” is being promoted a lot, which is great to see.”

It was Serena who played a role in inspiring Amy into a career in sport.

“Coming from a very disadvantaged background and experiencing a lot a racism and adversity, she has demonstrated how it doesn’t matter where you begin and what is thrown at you along the way. As long as you remain motivated, driven and resilient you can achieve whatever you want to. She is the epitome of hard work, and the fact she is still performing now after winning so many tournaments is outstanding.”

Being a lecturer in sports coaching and a coach of women herself, does Amy see herself as a role model?

“Definitely, it’s so important to me that I provide a positive experience for other girls and women in sport. So many girls and women have had negative experiences within sport and that has put them off engaging. Within my current coaching role at the LJMU women’s basketball team I am making sure that the women not only develop technically, tactically and physically but they are also motivated to be there, they enjoy it and they encourage others to come along and take part, regardless of their ability. In my role as a sport psychologist, I think it’s important for me to work in male dominated environments in order to break through these stereotypes, by sharing these experiences with my students, I hope that they too can see that they can work in any sport they want to and will go on to do so.”

Campaigns such as Reach, which is run by UK Coaching, are trying to encourage women into coaching and to continue to support them once they are coaching. It is hoped that the positive aspects of coaching can attract more women, such as the notion of helping people to get and stay active, the social rewards of coaching, and the thought of giving back to the community or to the sport they love. Plus, coaching gives women the opportunity to become role models themselves; to encourage other females into their sport.

If you’re inspired by Faye and Amy and want to be involved in shaping the sportspeople of the future, why not take a look at the Sport Coaching, Physical Education, Sport Development or Sport Psychology courses on offer at LJMU.

Check out #CoverTheAthlete to watch a video that shows the difference between male and female sports coverage. And read an interview with Rachel Yankey talking about the lack of female coaches in elite football.

Did you know?

  • It was only in 1971 that the FA lifted the 50 year ban on women's football

  • The 2012 Olympic Final at Wembley Stadium between the US and Japan women's football teams attracted over 83,000 fans

  • Women’s sport receives only 0.5% of the sports world's total sponsorship income

  • Players in the US women's national soccer team are seeking equal pay to their male counterparts

  • Just 5% of sports media coverage features women

  • Women's football in the UK during World War One drew crowds of 53,000 even after the war had ended

  • Former FIFA President Sepp Blatter suggested that women footballers should "wear tighter shorts and low cut create a more female aesthetic" and attract more male fans
So, are things changing for women in sports? Leave your comment below.


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