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You can't be what you can't see

By Ashley Bruce, sports coach UK Coaching Advisor

"You can't be what you can't see", an insightful quote from well known tennis coach, Judy Murray at the recent Women in Sport conference held on 8 October 2014 at the University of Stirling.

The conference was opened by Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games, Sport, Equalities and Pensioners’ Rights in Scotland. She spoke passionately about the success of female athletes at the recent Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and encouraged everyone involved in sport to harness the enthusiasm created and build upon this to create a lasting legacy. In addition, Ms. Robison expressed her personal ambitions to achieve gender equality across the breadth of roles available in sport. This led to the mention of the ‘Women in Sport’ group established by the Minister in 2013 and chaired by Baroness Sue Campbell. The group were tasked with creating a set of recommendations across five areas to improve and increase opportunities. I have recently been fortunate enough to be involved in the coaching arm of this group. As a consequence, I organised and delivered a consultation with female performance coaches on 30 Sept 2014, the outcomes of which will help inform the future work of sports coach UK, sportscotland and our partners (a summary report will be circulated in the near future).


In the video clip above, you will hear how the Minister speaks about the importance of women in coaching. She refers to them as an ‘untapped resource’ which must be utilised. A couple of stark statistics were also mentioned during her speech which only goes to show that this is merely the start of a long journey:

  • only 7% of sports media is on women’s sport
  • 0.4% of commercial investment goes to women only sport

Next up was Judy Murray who is always a pleasure to listen to with many interesting stories to tell about her tennis coaching career and her role as a high profile mum. This time around she also briefly mentioned when asked about her more recent adventures on Strictly Come Dancing. To quote; “My last performance really was crap, I need you to vote to save me Scotland!” which goes to show she isn’t super human after all! Amusing as it was listening to her stories, she had a couple of critical messages which have stuck in my head......

Firstly, as the quote at the beginning of this blog says, ‘you can't be what you can't see’. She is alluding to the fact that unless more women in sport are given profile and recognition, whether it be in coaching, leadership or success on stage then other females will not realise the positions which are available for taking. Something I think we can all agree on!

Secondly, she was keen to make it clear that two of the biggest opportunities she received in her coaching career were put to her by a fellow female. The take away message from this was unmistakable – we all need to actively promote and encourage our female friends to be confident and seize opportunities with both hands.

The third and final session I want to share with you was ‘Showing sexism the red card’ delivered by Anna Signeul, national coach of the Scottish women’s football team who has taken the team from strength to strength in recent years. She is also a key member of the Women in Sport group from a coaching perspective. Anna shared with the audience her experience as a footballer who completed her coaching qualification whilst still playing in the highest league in Swedish female football.

What I found slightly amusing was Anna sharing the story of how as she embarked on her coaching career she didn't seem to experience any of the barriers such as time, cost, or confidence which have been documented in the recent ‘Women and qualifications research’. It was only when she reached the more senior, high performance area did it strike her that the biggest barrier to her next step forward was the fact that she was female. This astounded and surprised Anna, as it did me when you consider that Sweden is already light years ahead of the UK in terms of gender equality. It was at this stage she decided to leave Sweden and begin a new journey and challenge in Scotland.

Similar to Judy Murray, Anna felt that the profiling and recognition of successful females in sport was vital and how everyone (men included!) need to pull together to gain progression.

To conclude, I am going to leave you with the key points of a slide which Anna showed the audience because it has strong, positive and inspirational pieces of advice which I feel we could all benefit from.

Be Your Own Coach

  • Believe in yourself and your ability
  • Be positive
  • Have an open mind set
  • Be brave and dare to be different
  • Set targets
  • Be resilient
  • Seek opportunities
  • Surround yourself with people that give you energy

These simple messages if taken on board could help females in sport reach new heights.

The messages aren’t rocket science but I think it is a good time to take a step back and consider where we are both personally and professionally, especially as the business planning process heats up. Not to mention (dare I say it!) the fast approaching festive period! Be brave and dare to be different might be something I consider when choosing my outfit for the Christmas party


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