The Sports Industry Lacks Female Coaches

Women in coaching roles

Within Australian sport research, there is a lack of information about women in elite coaching roles. This highlights the need for discussion and further studies that break down the disparity between male and female coaches and why this exists in the industry.

In the Australian team of accredited coaches at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, only 9% of these were women. The 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games only saw a slight increase in these numbers with 13% of the coaching team being females. Evidently, a significant lack of female representation in high level coaching positions still exists. 

Gender roles

The history of gender roles in society has some explanation for the lack of female coaches over the past few decades. It is thought that fewer women have the opportunity to work with elite coaching teams because of their stereotypical “household” role that limits them from travelling away with sporting teams or working out of office hours. Women are often given lower-level coaching roles which financially build the foundations of sporting clubs to develop elite athletes. As a consequence, they lack the opportunity to train top tier athletes and are not chosen as coaches for major events.

Another influencing factor on female coaching involvement is the history of male dominance in sport. For as long as structured sport has been running, male athletes have had higher participation rates and salaries. However, as women’s sport has expanded over recent years, coaching roles for women have not developed in the same way. 

Women Coaches
More women coaches are needed in sport

Representation of Female Coaches in Current Statistics

Female coaching in athletics for the past three decades remains under 2%, and although low, this is the highest number recorded. The number of directors is represented by a male to female ratio of 5:1, where Ascota (2006) noted that when a female director was introduced into a division of school sports female coaches went up 20%. Within female coaching positions, 56.7% of women are in an assistant coaching job and although this is a higher number, there are considerably less women in the head coach role. 

Coaching styles

Male and female coaches have varying skill sets and qualities that they offer to athletes, and neither is more beneficial than the other. A study in the Journal of Sport Behaviour found that athletes respond similarly to male and female coaching styles, so there is no reason for there to be disparity in the number of male vs female coaches. Research about what athletes most value in a coach demonstrates four common attributes:

  1. Remaining calm
  2. Care and encouragement
  3. Knowledge about the sport
  4. Involving the team in decision making

Becky Hammon. NBA Coach

Male dominance in Sport

External barriers

There are a variety of external and internal factors/barriers that create a male dominant industry.

Some of the external factors include:

  • Unequal assumption of competence: There is a stigma around male and female coaching, where male coaches are supposedly more competent, while female coaches have to ‘prove themselves’ as capable.
  • Hiring from a principle of similarity: Homologous reproduction is the idea where people in power will hire similar people. This is evident when looking at the number of female directors in sport compared to the female coaches.
  • Lack of female mentors: A mentor is someone who provides guidance and facilitates networking to their mentee. The lack of women in powerful positions means there is also a lack of female mentors to help other women in their careers, and getting into coaching roles.

Internal barriers

There are also internal barriers of female coaches preventing them from accomplishing at higher levels.

Some of the internal barriers include:

  • Lack of assertiveness: Women often feel the need to be liked as highly important, this can interfere with the ability to negotiate, definitely rules and manage conflict in a team setting, which can reduce the conditions they work under.
  • Inhibition in promotion of accomplishments: Women are more likely to associate success as a team rather than something they did well, and when given praise they will deflect it. As well as the belief that success is not praise but rather results which should speak for themselves.
  • High stress of balancing work and life: Coaching can often require long hours including training, games and traveling to different places. Many stated that to balance work and family time became difficult especially for women during childbearing years. this has resulted in many females remaining in assistant positions and not aiming for high roles to help stay at home. A study by Mercier (2000) showed that traditional working is a mal job and looking after family is a female job, this opinion is often something that affects the outlook women have.

Barriers, externally and internally, impact women in sporting roles, strategies and solutions need to be implemented to address these barriers to increase the presence of women in sport.

There is a long history of stigma and misrepresentation of females in the sport/fitness industry which limits the opportunities for women to take on high-level coaching roles.

For females to become established as valuable figures in sport coaching, change needs to be made by large corporate institutions before reaching teams at an individual level.