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Judge coaches on their ability and effectiveness not on their gender

Performance Athletics Coach and Paralympic Specialist Alison O'Riordan discusses the challenges she's faced in a male dominated industry

"Coaches should be judged on their ability and effectiveness not on their gender.  The coach with the best skillset and experience for the job is the one that should be selected."

I became a coach for 2 main reasons. The first, because I love sport and the second because I like to help people enjoy and improve in sport.   As a result I get a kick from seeing athletes achieve and enjoying this experience

However, I was very surprised at how emotional I became when seeing an athlete I worked with on the podium at the 2004 Athens Paralympics (my first Paralympics).  The emotion was a combination of pride, happiness and relief.

This is my fourth Paralympic cycle having been fortunate to be part of the Athens, Beijing and London Paralympic Games. I have a small squad of athletes and we are working towards 2016 Rio Paralympic Games.  I feel this will be my last Games cycle.  I have recently secured a scholarship to complete my PhD and I am likely to develop a career in academia.

There were always very few females on international teams and you always felt a little left out or different.  One occasion that springs to mind - I came back from a training session to find all the male team staff had been invited out for dinner by the head coach.  The female staff were not invited.

Coaches should be judged on their ability and effectiveness not on their gender.  The coach with the best skillset and experience for the job is the one that should be selected.  However this will not happen if recruitment processes are not equitable and transparent, which is often the case.

There are a number of things that may impact on female coaches progressing in sport. Lack of opportunity is an obvious one but those female coaches that really
want to progress usually find a way.  However, these coaches are likely to be confident and research does state that female coaches do have less confidence in
their own coaching ability.  It is difficult to remain confident when the coaching pathway is unclear and mostly male dominated.

I coach athletes as individuals.  It is only recently when asked that I have become more aware of the demographics of the athletes I coach or have coached.

When at the Australian Iinstitute of Sport 80% of the athletes I coached were male.  Many of these athletes were adolescents and had left home to relocate to the AIS and to work with me.  Looking back I did at times have to play a more nurturing role with some of these athletes.   

I now have a 50/50 split of male/female athletes from a range of cultural backgrounds, with most of them adult athletes.  I don’t believe I adapt my coaching style according to gender.  I work with each individual athlete to understand how they operate and try to communicate in a way that they are able to achieve and enjoy their involvement. 

I like to think of myself as having empathy as a coach, being supportive in difficult situations and trying to find a positive solution.

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