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Women in Coaching Panel Event

On April 28 I attended a panel discussion hosted by Leeds Beckett University at Headingley Carnegie Stadium. The topic of conversation was 'The Lives and Careers of Women as Sports Coaches' and the panel comprised of women coaches from grass root to high performance level who were more than qualified to speak on matters.

Dr Leanne Norman, Senior Research Fellow in Coaching at Leeds Beckett University introduced the panel which was expertly hosted by Shelley Alexander, the BBC's editorial lead on women's sport. 

The panel included Marieanne Spacey, Assistant Manager of the England Women's Football Team, Paula Dunn, Head Coach of the Great Britain Paralympic Athletics Team and Salma Bi, award winning cricketer, founder of a coaching organisation that promotes women's cricket and the first British Asian woman to play County Cricket.

Throughout the evening the panellists discussed their various career pathways and personal journeys and the hot topic of the night was how to continue to improve the diversity of the coaching workforce within the UK.

Paula spoke about how she fell into coaching after agreeing to help out for 6 weeks, before realising that 6 years later she was hooked. Marieanne, however, had a clear plan and went straight into coaching after retiring from a successful playing career. She did feel though that she would have been able to offer much more if she had taken some more personal time post-retirement and engaged in some formal coach education.

All three women had a wealth of experience to share around operating in a male dominated environment. Paula was often the only female at the track as both an athlete and now still is as a coach, whilst also being the only female on the board which she sits. Paula spoke passionately about the confidence required to be in that kind of environment.

Support and opportunity were obviously more of an issue for Salma though and she seemed incredibly open to the label 'role model' and the pressures and responsibilities that come with the title. Being a trailblazer herself she was keen to provide young cricketers with the opportunities and high level of coaching that she lacked as a youngster, whilst also increasing her social impact and continuing to set new challenges.

With football being predominantly a male associated sport, and Marieanne being the Assistant to England women's Head Coach, Mark Sampson, Marieanne acknowledged the value of being a female coach with female athletes as she can empathise on a variety of levels. She did however make reference to the fear that some women encounter due to being in a male dominated environment and the need for more women's only courses within sport to build confidence.

The following quotes provide just a snap shot of the evening but were certainly eye opening and thought provoking for me:

"Those men on my pro-licence course could actually be inspiring to be me" - Marieanne Spacey. Perspective given with reference to her position as an Assistant Coach of a National side.

"If more women can see my pathway and it gives them encouragement to get involved then that is great" - Paula Dunn

"If you ever get the chance to sit on a board and make it more diverse then seize the opportunity, it's very rewarding!" - Shelley Alexander

For me, the evening could quite easily have tipped towards becoming a pity party about how hard done by and underrepresented women are within the coaching profession. However, the panel struck the perfect balance of being both realistic and also the limitations that most women face both internally and externally when it comes to coaching. 

If you missed the event AND the live tweets from the Reach account then the full panel discussion can be watched on the Leeds Beckett University YouTube. However, if you are more of a listener, the event will be on air on Thursday 12 May at 6pm on BBC Radio Leeds 92.4fm, DAB and online.

Stacey Francis, sports coach UK, Communications and Press Officer


If you've been inspired by this event and want to get involved in coaching but don't know where or how to start, check out sports coach UK’s Reach campaign. You'll find hints and tips as well as case studies about women who are succeeding in coaching.


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