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Women nurture.....but it’s not just for kids

By Sarah Cohen, sports coach UK, Diversity and Inclusion Lead Officer

This blog comes with a bit of a health warning. When talking about women in sport and coaching we have to generalise but at the same time I completely recognise that everyone is an individual. Please excuse the following generalisations, I do accept that not all women are like this..........

Women are genetically predisposed to nurture, generally speaking. Within society today women are still the main carer for their children. In the workplace, this is exemplified in teaching. If you look at any primary school in this country the vast majority of teaching staff are female, especially in the lower ages – male teaching staff are more likely to be employed in the Key Stage 2 years (from Year 3 to year 6). When looking at high schools, the spread of male and female teachers usually evens out, maybe even leans more towards male teachers outnumbering female staff. Men tend to teach the older children.

I am not stepping into the teacher/coach debate – that is for another blog but coaching in this respect is not dissimilar. According to sports coach UK, 31% of the coaching population of 1.1million people is made up of women. Where do these women primarily coach – you’ve got it – at participation/grassroots level and primarily coaching children. Women can’t seem to shake off the perception that they should be coaching/leading/nurturing children. Yes, there are some incredibly brilliant female coaches (see Anna Mayes, Amanda Reddin & Jenny Archer) but there are not enough – why is that?

Some may argue the coaching environment is not welcoming to women, especially at a higher level: sport is still a very male dominated environment, the majority of coaches are male, the majority of tutors and trainers that educate coaches are male and also the majority of governing bodies of sport boards are male dominated. Female coaching role models are few and far between. Finally, coming back to the ‘nurture’ arguement, women may feel conflicted choosing between the option to spend evenings and weekends coaching over spending time with their children and family. These are all factors that don’t necessarily welcome women into coaching as a career option.

A recent review of women attending coaching qualifications through 1st4Sport Qualifications shows that the percentage of women taking level 1 and level 2 coaching qualifications remains steady at around 15% (also indicating that the vast majority (85%) of qualified coaches are men). The figure drops away to 9% of female coaches taking a level 3 qualification. Currently, a more qualified coach coaches more high-performing athletes and players. Apart from the odd exception, these performers are young adults. Therefore, the coaching qualification a person has, on the whole, directly relates to the level and age of player they coach.

Furthermore, why do women primarily coach children? Ah yes, the ‘nurturing’ debate. Well nurturing is important at the elite end too. A head of high-performance coaching for a national governing body, he (of course!) explained to methat when coaching an elite performer the performer and the coach have come along a journey of developing technical skills and knowledge. Also important though aresoft skills to support the performer, prepare them mentally and, dare I say it....nurture them!!

Come on then! Let’s get moving. Cycling and Handball are two sports that are starting to value women as coaches. They are an untapped resource: 51% of the population! The EU is looking at promoting a target for all Governing Bodies of Sport to have 40% of their coaching workforce to be made up of women which will take time to reach but it’s a target worth aspiring to. All coaches need to be aware of the barriers facing women in coaching and be supportive of their development. Making your coaching environments more welcoming will lead to more incredibly talented female coaches wanting to move up the ranks. Women do nurture, but we must recognise these skills can be just as useful with your high-performance athletes as with the children at grass roots clubs. They have the skills they just need the right opportunities and welcome!

Further reading:

Developing Female Coaches



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