Female athletes are game but what about the coaches?

By: Michael Cadelina

Those researching the inequities in Australian sport find it frustrating that both female athletes and coaches are facing many problems, despite their performance.

As athletes, females may perform as well as or even better than males in some sport but at many levels of their career they lack the same resources and recognition to male athletes.

This could be from lacking support networks compared to men or even down to waiting for the boys to finish their go in the locker room because of lack of women’s facilities.

Looking at the research, however, it extends shockingly further than simple locker room conflicts and a lack of facilities.

“To the female coming into coaching too, it’s a bit of a foreign space and you will find that it’s traditionally male dominated role and they don’t have the same networks or just haven’t had time to establish that same learning network” Dr Julia Walsh said.

Dr Julia Walsh is the senior lecturer in sport coaching at Deakin university and is currently undertaking research which looks at the challenges faced by women in leadership positions, particularly sport coaching.

Studies in the U.S. show that “Female athletes tended to be more acceptable of the male coaches’
mentality than that of the female coaches’ mentality”,

Yet the same studies show that “the bond shared with the female coach is what helped motivate
and encourage performance”.

Swans Youth Academy coach talking to young athletes

To make matters worse, many Australian female athletes also deal with a far more deeply ingrained issue that affects their ability to make ends meet.

Due to women’s sport not being as lucrative as men’s sporting teams at the same level, female athletes have to have a source of income other than their sport since the sport is not enough to maintain their standard of living compared to, for example, men in the NRL who in 2014 earned an average $20,000 match fee compared to a women’s team at the same level earning $500 for the match.

This can affect their training due to fatigue and stress as Brisbane Lions AFLW’s draft pick, Kalinda Howarth has experienced.

“It was very tiring and draining. Both my work and my training standards slacked off a little bit due to fatigue. There was virtually no time to see family or friends or any down time to just relax”, Kalinda said.

Kalinda’s days usually start at 6:30am working on recovery in the morning from the previous night’s training and then works the usual 9am to 5pm at the Gold Coast. She would then travel to Brisbane to train and arrive home by 10pm, usually getting to bed by 11-11:30pm.

If this is the case with many female athletes, this may be a potential obstacle for female athletes with career aspirations in the coaching field.

Pictured: Kalinda Howarth

It’s especially disappointing despite the many advantages that female coaches can provide for female athletes which is a fairly contrasting experience.

The same studies in the U.S. looked at the experience female coaches provided with their athletes saying that “Female high school and college basketball players ranked the coaching qualities of “relating well to athletes” and understanding athletes’ feelings” as two of the top three desirable characteristics, and female coaches rated significantly higher than male coaches in demonstrating these qualities”.

This can provide a more empathetic approach and support for female athletes, especially those aspiring to be coaches as they can work around needs that are unique to female athletes themselves such as having a second job and maternity needs.

“A female coach would be more understanding of the day to day struggle and be able to relate a lot more. Sometimes it’s hard to train on your menstrual cycle and women might not feel comfortable telling a man that. I think having more females it would be a much more comfortable environment however in female sport it is all about finding the right people” Kalinda Howarth says.

If a better experience for the female athlete is for female coaches being able to cater to their needs, then why aren’t there more?

Syndey Swans Youth Girls Academy being coached at training

Consider the fact that in the AFLW, there are 8 head coaches with only 2 of them being women.

At elite levels such as Olympics and the Commonwealth games, 85% of coaches were men and the remaining 15% were women.

In female dominated elite sport such as gymnastics, are we really making the most of our athletes with this gender gap with coaches?

It does not help when there are voices out there downplaying women’s sport as a “joke” which the conservative online news website, XYZ, claimed.

“Watching women chase a football around a field was like watching women chase a football around a field. It reminded me of being back in school and lounging on the side of the school oval as the girls did their physical education lesson. They were pretty useless at the physical education bit but we weren’t watching for their athletic prowess” XYZ journalist, Adam Piggott said.

This lack of supportive voices from the other side of the argument makes it worse for female athletes and potentially their further career progression into coaching.

Support is the major cornerstone of female athletes having the ability to progress into coaching careers.

“Women need to understand that [becoming a coach] is a journey, this is where we are this is what you’ll see this is what you expect.  So, when they actually get into those coaching pathways they want to personalise it, they can externalise it, they can see the situation and they can situate themselves as a challenge rather than “I can’t do this””, Dr Julia Walsh says.

As disappointing as the above findings are, if we are able to provide support to our female athletes not just in the AFLW but in women’s sporting leagues in general, we can improve the career paths in the process.

This may be watching more women’s leagues or telling your colleagues about upcoming games and having them come along which can translate to more television viewership.

At a local level  you can get to know the coaches and the staff and help out any women’s teams at small levels.

As long as there is a support network there for female athletes, there’s possibly a chance that some of those female athletes can easily become coaches in the future.

Piece to camera: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1J_AvGBLZC1pFa0opUYDZCn3_Xo5Bud-R