Frequently Asked Questions
Do women really want to be coaches and spend all that time away from home?
Are there any coaches who want to spend a lot of time away from home? Coaching at the high performance level requires extended travel and long absences that can cause stress in any family situation. It's a major consideration for all coaches - female or male.
Although it is generally assumed that women play the primary role in the care of children, this is not true in all families. And not all women coaches have young children. Even if they do, coaching can still be a priority for them. After all, men with families are able to make coaching a priority. We are seeing more female high performance athletes with young children who are combining an athletic career that requires extended time away with raising a family. Women athletes and coaches are able to establish their personal priorities and pursue their chosen career. Not creating programs and policies that support women to develop as high performance coaches based on an assumption that they will not want to leave their families behind is short sighted.
In the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching (April 2008), women coaches from all levels of the spectrum made a number of recommendations to author Sheila Robertson that sport organizations, with the financial support of Sport Canada and the provincial/territorial governments, must take to develop and support women coaches.
Establish a mentorship program that helps women coaches to see the path they need to follow in order to get club, provincial, and high performance positions (Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching, November 2001).
Pair young coaches with senior counterparts to discuss career issues.
Provide coaching staff with child care.
Ensure that women coaches maintain contact and remain involved with their sport organization during maternity leave.
Permit “ramping down” to shorter hours, with flexibility to tend to family matters.
Provide babysitting services during major competitions and training camps.
Support babies accompanying their coach mothers to practices, competitions, and training camps, with appropriate child care provided.
Encourage young women athletes to consider coaching, support them with mentorship, and be up front about the issues they will face, in particular child care.
Provide financial incentives to make a coaching career feasible.
Create and promote opportunities for women coaches.
Find better avenues to bring more young women into coaching.
Promote the benefits that high performance sport offers the greater community.
End the divisive mentality that pits government against government, be it federal, provincial/territorial, or municipal.
Offer flexible arrival and departure times.
Limit active coaching time to 20 hours a week so that coaches can work on their NCCP certification and handle their administrative responsibilities.
Change the traditional structure and hold mid-day practices.
Guarantee that coaches are qualified, well organized, and paid commensurate with their skill level.
Support organizations that support their coaches.
Provide coaches with travel credits.
Run coaching clinics with female course conductors.
Introduce business training to the NCCP.
Publicize the WiC programs to a much greater extent, in particular the grants and scholarships that are available.
Develop and market a seminar that addresses the emotional and practical issues faced by women coaches who return to work.
Tell the stories of women coaches to show that it is acceptable to have children and coach.
Provide coaches with the opportunity to interact with other coaches at symposiums and clinics.
Why should women who coach be treated differently from men who coach?
The simple answer is that what is happening today is not working to increase the number of women in coaching or to motivate those who do coach to stay involved. Does anyone really believe that women prefer to have less recognition, less power, less money, and fewer choices than male coaches do? The combination of discriminatory practices in sport and women's position in society as a whole means women are disadvantaged in the sport system. We need policies and programs that can change the system. Continuing to do the same things and expecting a change in the status quo is often offered as a definition of insanity. If we want the status quo to change, then a different approach is needed and that approach includes creating programs that are designed specifically to fit with women's experiences.
To achieve a fair system, special measures are sometimes needed to provide equal access for women and men to participate in sport and to hold positions of responsibility. Equal access doesn't exist today and some catching up has to be supported to create it. In Canada, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation provide a legal basis for programs that are specifically designed to change the status quo position of women or other under-represented populations.
If there is ever to be a real change in the number of women in coaching and in how they are involved, we need to move beyond thinking that women are the problem or that men are the problem. We need to understand that the structure of sport is not neutral, that organizations are structured through an invisible gender-biased view of reality, and that individual solutions will not result in sustainable changes for women in coaching and leadership roles in sport.
If we ignore or deny the need for organizational structures that coordinate work and family in such a way that males and females could easily participate in both and if we assume that the ideals we have set up are gender-neutral, then we cannot fashion real solutions. We must be willing to examine the deepest assumptions we hold when we describe the process and the skills of coaching.
Why should we be trying to increase the number of women coaches?
First, women represent an untapped resource in many sports. Although female athletes constitute as much as 50 per cent (and sometimes more) of the membership of many national teams, the percentage of women who coach at that level is significantly lower. With so many women having a successful high performance competitive experience, the fact that so few enter coaching means there is a huge loss of knowledge and potential coaching expertise for any sport.
Second, it is well documented that women have different life and leadership experiences, values, and attitudes. One of the reasons that corporations have focused on advancing women into leadership roles is to ensure that they have a full range of perspectives available to confront business challenges. Sport, too, should be more active in tapping into the experience and expertise that women can bring to coaching.
In addition to increasing the number of women coaches, we should examine our current models of coaching. Accepted ideas about leadership are changing. The traditional view of leadership was founded on male-oriented values of rationality (everything must be based on reason), competition (only the strong survive), and independence (every man for himself). These assumptions have shaped the culture of many of our organizations, including sport. When we simply try to fit women into this existing leadership (coaching) model, they often are isolated, receive little support, have limited opportunities, and do not stay around, thereby perpetuating the prevailing thinking that women "cannot take the pressure."
We need to look at sport and coaching differently. We need to ask some hard questions and then develop models of coaching that can accommodate both men and women.
Why is it so important to increase the number of women coaching with national teams?
The lack of women coaches at the national team level means that knowledge, expertise, and perspective are being lost. The low numbers translate into a lack of role models for female athletes. These factors work to maintain the under-representation of women in the coaching ranks. The low numbers also reinforce existing assumptions about the lack of interest women have in coaching at this level.
The national team level is a highly visible level of sport and what happens there is often mirrored at other levels. Therefore, if there is a focused effort to increase the number of women coaching with national teams, it will have positive repercussions throughout sport.
Does it really matter if the coach is a man or a woman? Shouldn't we just hire the best coach for the job?
"Best" is a word that can get us into a lot of trouble. How we define the word varies according to our own experience, values, and attitudes. There are also commonly held assumptions about what makes an effective leader. These assumptions are changing, as are society's ideas about which qualities make the best leader or coach.
Of course we want the best coaches working with our teams and clubs. They are the ones who have the most appropriate experience, skills, qualifications, values, and attitudes for the particular coaching context.
Where is it written that female athletes must be coached by female coaches?
There is obviously no rule that states female athletes must be coached by female coaches. Coaches who have worked with both genders will say that they coach girls and women differently than they coach boys and men. Why is that? The life experiences of girls and women are different from those of boys and men; it is generally accepted that females have a different psychological makeup. If we agree that effective coaching is as much about mental preparation as it is about physical preparation, then the need to understand how an athlete mentally approaches her sport is evident. Growing up as a female provides a coach with a unique understanding of the thinking and feeling processes that girls and women bring to competitive sport and can be a significant advantage. And so, women coaching girls and women can be a very positive experience.
Does this mean that men cannot coach women? Of course not. There are many successful women's programs coached by men.
Given the lack of women coaches, it is to be expected that many women's and girls' teams will be coached by men. However, it's important not to make the leap in logic that the best coach will always be a man.
What's the point of women-only programs? Don't they just put women in positions for which they are not really ready?
It hardly makes sense to create a program designed to help a person fail. Neither does it make sense to implement programs to develop coaches for roles for which they are already prepared. So yes, the women-only programs that have been initiated to provide a measure of catch-up do encourage applications from women coaches who might be considered "not yet ready" for higher coaching positions. These programs provide mentored experiences and professional development activities that enable women to accelerate their coaching development.
National sport organizations use the established program criteria in their internal selection process to choose candidates who have the capacity to develop and contribute at a high performance level.
To achieve a fair system, special measures are sometimes needed to provide equal access for women and men to participate in sport and to hold positions of responsibility. Equal access doesn't exist today and some catching up has to be supported to create it. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and human rights legislation recognize this need and provide a legal basis for programs that are specifically designed to change the status quo position of women or other under-represented populations.
Women entering the coaching ranks will eventually work their way up. Why bother with special catch-up programs when change will happen naturally and in its own time?
There is little evidence that the wait-and-see approach has ever produced any significant change. This approach is based on the assumption that the status quo is equally beneficial to male and female coaches. We can test this assumption from two points of view.
In a person-centred perspective, women's limited representation is attributed to internal factors. Women are assumed (by themselves or others) to lack the proper training, motivation, and skills to pursue a career in coaching. Using this perspective, we study the lack of women in coaching by delineating the assumed internal factors and the impact on hiring, promotion, and career development. Then, we either demonstrate that women and men do not, in fact, differ in their abilities, or we show women how to acquire the necessary attitudes, skills, and motivation to succeed.
We assume that women must change to fit the coaching profession. The structures of sport organizations are taken as givens, into which everyone - both men and women - must fit. Men, because of their socialization, generally fit better than women do. Women, if they want to participate, must change to fit the system.
We conclude that we are currently doing all that can be done to increase the number of women in national- and international-level coaching positions. We take every opportunity to prove that men and women do not differ in their abilities to coach, if they are in similar roles. We identify the competencies required to become a successful high performance coach. We provide programs that accelerate the learning process. And yet, there has been no appreciable difference in the number of women coaching at this level - despite several years of focused effort. Some women do succeed, and this fact allows us to conclude that there's nothing wrong with the system and that most women do not want to coach at a national team level. Are these conclusions sound?
From an organization-centred perspective, we would argue that organizational structures and systems shape people's behaviour and result in the differences in the ways men and women participate in or contribute to an organization. Women are more likely to be found in positions of low opportunity and low power and are likely to be proportionately under-represented in decision-making. This point of view focuses on changing the organization itself, rather than the women (or men) in it. Changes made within the organization will yield behavioural change in both women and men.
When applied to sport, we might find that women are not present in a substantive way in decision-making structures and, therefore, the organization's structures and systems may not fully incorporate women's perspectives.
As we continue to rethink leadership, values, and the coaching profession, the attributes and characteristics of the traditional masculine model of leadership most certainly need to be re-evaluated and altered. The emerging form of leadership will be characterized by empowering oneself; enabling other coaches, colleagues, and one's athletes; fostering self-confidence; and developing an organizational vision that embodies the goals, needs, and values of both leaders and followers, of girls and boys and women and men. This will require, without a doubt, that organizations adopt new values and act in new ways.
Why don't more female high performance athletes become coaches once they stop competing?
Good question. There is a significant amount of high performance competitive experience being lost to coaching because former national team athletes choose other professions.
A lack of role models may be one reason that female national team members do not go into coaching. If you have always had male coaches, it is hard to imagine yourself in that role.
Perhaps the absence of specific programs that recruit national team members for coaching may be another reason. Certainly, specifically designed programs can have a positive impact.
Athletes who have had problems in their competitive career, whether it was a poor relationship with a coach, conflict with a sport organization, or lack of financial support, may be reluctant to stay involved in such an environment. Struggling for many years in a financially impoverished situation may not be the motivation for an athlete to pursue a coaching career; financial rewards, for the most part, do not match the demands or expectations of the position. The general lack of value placed on the coaching profession and the resultant salaries and working conditions may also have a negative impact.
Whatever the reason, it is a question that deserves more study.
We don't have enough programs for coaches as it is. Why should valuable resources be directed at such a small part of the coaching population?
Cost is the eternal argument used against change. If fairness and justice are held hostage to financial considerations, they are never achieved. Full-equity programs require financial resources. Cost concerns often mask a zero-sum argument that assumes that more funds going to women and women's programs means fewer funds for men and men's programs. This need not be true. Over time, increased women's participation results in a stronger financial base for an organization as a whole.
There is also a cost of inequity. Failure to bring women into coaching ignores a large, untapped pool of talent.
Using cost as an excuse leads us into the old chicken-and-egg dilemma. If we don't break the cycle somewhere, the situation will never change.
Aren't special programs for women coaches really just discrimination reversed?
When people talk about "reverse discrimination," what they are saying is that the status quo is fine for now and that change will come naturally and slowly over time. Their fear is that speeding up the process will take opportunities away from those currently benefiting from the system. To target certain groups and offer them special measures is the proven way to eliminate imbalances supported by outdated traditions. Those currently receiving the benefits must learn to share the existing resources and programs. Since we are seeking a sport system in which all persons have opportunities to participate, it is women and other currently marginalized groups who need assistance.
I don't want to be part of a special program; I want to be treated the same as a man and make it in the same way.
Participating in a coaching program should always be a personal choice. Special programs are one means of moving beyond individual solutions. If each woman coach has to find her own solution - what a lot of effort! And individual solutions do not solve social problems. Without a broader vision, individual solutions keep us rooted where we are - rather than advancing us toward any significant change. A broader vision and structural solutions about how women can coach and have a family are the only ways to effect long-term change and provide increased support.
The underlying issues related to increasing the representation of women in coaching are deeply rooted in the culture of sport and individual sport organizations. Only an integrated initiative aiming at systematic change - with widespread commitment and shared accountability for action and results - will enable sport and athletes to truly benefit from the talents of women coaches.