Women coaching women: does it matter?

“Women remain significantly under-represented in the coaching profession.”

And this is a big deal why exactly?

Just this: a recent research paper and literature review contends women coaches transfer their knowledge to their charges in a different style from men and that the way in which they do it may benefit female athletes better.

Furthermore, without positive role models to show that it’s possible for women to coach, athletes may choose other careers, continuing a cycle of male-dominated coaching.

That stark statement  about the under-representation of female coaches comes from a recent honours thesis by Heather Ambery.

Ambery is a graduate in the program of Bachelor of Recreation and Sports Studies with a concentration in Sport Management from the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

While Ambery concentrated on team sports, it’s probably not much of a stretch to suggest the same situation exists for women runners as well.

And although Ambery focused her research on Canada, she wrote: “It is unfortunate that the status of female coaches has seen very little progress in Canada and that this trend is also reflected in other developed countries like the USA, England, and Australia. While the number of female athletes has increased substantially in recent years, the number of female coaches has not followed a similar upward trend.”

Ambery contends that despite efforts of the Coaching Association of Canada, there has been very little change in the number of female head coaches at an elite level from 1997 to 2011.

“In Canada, the number of elite level team female head coaches has hovered between 10 and 20 per cent for the past 15 years. These percentages are very low when compared to the ratio of female athlete participants in elite level sport.

“For example, at the Olympic Games in 2004, women won 5o per cent of Canada’s medals and had 53 per cent of the top eight finishers; however, only nine of the 86 coaches (10 per cent) were female.  The same trend was found at the 2006 Olympics when women accounted for 67 per cent of all medals and women were only 15 per cent of accredited coaches.”

So why does it matter?

The style of coaching between men and women differs, for example. Ambury argues that woman coaches empathize better with their athletes, are less likely to choose favourites, and are more open to their athletes and favour consensus.

Ambery suggests the very example of a strong woman in a position of authority – someone who has experienced success – will inspire other women.

She writes: “Women must be present in the workplace to lead and act as models for other like-minded individuals. Having living proof of someone who has succeeded in a certain career makes women feel as though it is possible to reach these same achievements.”

Equally, if not more important, is the fact that if no female coaches exist to demonstrate coaching is an acceptable career, then women athletes are less likely to pursue that as option. In turn, that creates a cycle where fewer women become coaches because they’re not exposed to female coaches in their training.

Notes Ambery: “When female athletes are coached year after year by a male, the socially accepted notion that coaching is a position for men is only reinforced…the lack of female role models in coaching and athletic leadership sends a disturbing message to female athletes about their own likely professional opportunities.”

Ambery recommends that to help increase the number of women involved in the coaching profession, more, improved mentoring programs should be in place to assist them; female coaches should actively encourage athletes to consider coaching as a profession; and that salaries for women coaches should be increased to send the message that coaching is a legitimate profession.



About subthree

A multiple award-winning journalist, I'm currently a contributing editor with both Canadian Running and Canadian Cycling magazines. My articles have appeared in Explore, Canadian Geographic, enRoute, The National Post, The Globe and Mail, and many other magazines and newspapers. Formerly a competitive cross-country mountain biker, I switched to running in 2006. I've run seven marathons, qualifying for Boston five times (and which I've run once). Generally, I've placed or won in my age group in races, in distances ranging from five and 10 kms to half and full marathons. I've also taught spin classes at a number of leading Eastern Canadian gyms. Sub-three was a 2012 #Runchat finalist for Best Overall Blog.
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2 Responses to Women coaching women: does it matter?

  1. SeeAlliRun says:

    I had a female cross country coach when I was in University. But even at the University level, most of the other head coaches were male. The downside of having a female head coach? The boundaries between coach and friend were sometimes crossed. Of course, this is completely personality driven and wasn’t helped by the fact that our coach was only a few years older than most of the girls on the team.

    • subthree says:

      By coincidence, I happen to be reading a novel about track cyclists, both females, who have a male coach and their relationship forms a good part of the story.

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