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This Girl Can Coach, Can’t She?

By sports coach UK Research Consultant Michael Hopkinson

Mindful of International Women’s Day on 8 March, here’s a little game for you. The quotes below are from an international-level female whose role includes preparing one of the world’s top teams for their biggest games. The question is: Is she a coach, or not?

“You gotta make sure that the players won't be exhausted after a long day of matches. There are different styles of coaching. [I’m] more casual and friendly, so the atmosphere was lighter in general. No matter what kind of relationship you have with the players, as long as it gets things done, then it's fine.

When you get every other problem out of the way, so the players are able to perform their best during the tournament, and they do well in the end – there'll be a huge sense of pride, because you're part of what made it happen.”

Sounds like a coach to me – she makes sure the players are physically and mentally prepared, she recognises different coaching styles and she takes satisfaction when the end goal is achieved.

So would you call her a coach?

If you would, would you change your mind if I said Tiffani “Oling” Lim works for Titan Gaming Organisation, one of the largest eSports organisations in the world?

If you’re unfamiliar with eSports, it’s the video gaming phenomenon sweeping across the world. Organised, computer game competitions played by professional, fully sponsored teams in front of 40,000 plus fans in football stadiums. The top players can earn more than £1 million per year.

Now, I’m not going to get into the whole 'eSports isn’t a sport' debate; you can read more about that here, but this fast-growing industry is apparently starting to recognise the value of coaches and their ability to motivate and improve individuals and teams.

Interesting food for thought for the ‘what is coaching?’ debate. Given the context, some might say she’s not a coach, but what she’s providing definitely sounds like coaching. And you know what they say, if it looks like coaching and it smells like coaching…..

Anyway, I also think this is an interesting situation as far as the female coaching workforce is concerned. This growing, multi-million dollar, global industry - which considers itself a sport - is starting to see the value of coaching, but has a very small number of active coaches.

It’s therefore not beyond the realms of possibility that the next big eSports boom is the growth of a coaching workforce from scratch, as teams realise that coaching can help them win the huge riches on offer. So will it follow the same path as the sports we are familiar with closer to home, characterised by a coaching workforce comprised mainly of white males? Or will it be more diverse, maybe even providing us with some tips to apply to our own coaching systems?

At first glance, we might suggest the former. A US study found that 69% of eSports consumers (playing or watching) are male, with 29% female – almost exactly the same gender split as the UK coaching workforce.

Before we get too down in the dumps, just remember that those statistics are not surprising. eSports is mainly played by men and advertising certainly focuses on that demographic. If we dig a little deeper, things aren’t quite as clear-cut as they first seem.

The study notes that female representation was 15% just one year before, that’s an increase of almost 100% in one year - quite staggering when we’re now talking about a worldwide eSports consumer audience of 70 million!

And female representation is only going to continue to grow, according to leading players in the industry. Ralf Reichert, Managing Director of the world's largest independent eSports brand, ESL, says barriers preventing womens’ participation in real-world sports do not exist in eSports. He therefore sees no reason why women can’t compete with and surpass men in any eSports role – including player and coach.

So, if the physical barriers we know exist for women in coaching may not be relevant in a virtual coaching world, could eSports be home to a new coaching workforce with high female representation at all levels?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but it should be an interesting watch.

Game on.