This episode is a slightly different format, as I talk to a panel of game changers about a specific topic – and in this case it’s women in sports coaching.
Just 10% of accredited coaches at the Summer and Winter Olympics over the past decade have been female and we rarely see women in high profile coaching roles in our biggest sports.
This conversation explores why this is and what needs to change?
My guests for this episode were:
Having discussed their own experiences and journeys as women in sports coaching we explore the current gender balance in football, rugby and hockey in grassroots and elite coaching, and consider which sports are doing things well.
We discuss why having more women in coaching matters, what makes a ‘good’ coach and what’s preventing equality. Finally we consider what needs to change for the future and my guests share some fantastic advice for other female coaches.
Thank you to Sport England who support The Game Changers Podcast with a National Lottery award.
Find out more about The Game Changers podcast here: https://www.fearlesswomen.co.uk/thegamechangers
Hosted by Sue Anstiss
Produced by Sam Walker, What Goes On Media
A Fearless Women production
Hello and welcome to The Game Changers. I'm Sue Anstiss and this is the podcast where you'll hear from trailblazing women in sport who are knocking down barriers and challenging the status quo for women and girls everywhere.
What can we learn from their journeys as we explore some of the key issues around equality in sport and beyond?
I'd like to start with a big thank you to our partners Sport England, who support the Game Changers Podcast through a national lottery award.
This episode is a slightly different format as we’re talking to a panel of Gamechangers about a specific topic and in this case it’s women’s coaching. Just 10% of accredited coaches at the winter and summer Olympic Games over the last decade have been female, and we rarely see women in high profile coaching roles in our biggest sports. This conversation explores why this is and what needs to change.
My guests for this webinar are Kelly Lindsay, who's sporting director at Lewes FC, former head coach of the Afghanistan Women's National Team and the Moroccan Women's National team.
Giselle Mather, Director of Rugby at Ealing Trailfinders, and a former director of Rugby at Wasps Women who was also the first female level four rugby coach, in Britain.
Jess Freeman, community coach at Harlequins and a rugby coach at Dorking and Sarah Kelleher, former Irish hockey captain who is now a national coach for teams in England and Ireland.
I started off by asking Kelly to talk us through her coaching career.
Yeah, I feel very fortunate. I mean, I, I grew up at a place where I had lots of opportunity, uh, and hence because of that I started coaching at 13 years old and of course not at a professional level, but I think that really helps to start build that confidence and you volunteer and you're out on the pitch and you're around parents and players and you're learning the ecosystem. So through my whole playing career, I coached, at high school level, at club level and different camps and clinics. And so as I was transitioning out of being a professional athlete and knowing my career was coming to an end cause I had many, many injuries, so I was sort of already planning for the future, I started looking for my first sort of professional coaching job, if you will. And I'll say that that transition period's really difficult for players, as they go.
And probably the best advice I got at that time was a previous coach of mine said, play until you absolutely can't play anymore. And then transition into being a coach. And I think that really helped me because it is two different lifestyles and two different roles. And once I rolled into coaching, I coached at the university level in the US and then sort of my personality is to discover the world and culture. So I've taken myself internationally and, and really to, to learn for myself, how do you develop the game? How do you in different cultures? So that sort of led me to where I am today.
Fabulous, thank you. Thank you Kelly. I know we'll learn a little bit more about that whole athlete into coaching move too as we move through. Jess, do you want to share next?
Yeah, so I actually fell out of sport for a really long time, and messed around in the music industry for far too long. And I did the classic grassroot entry back in through my child. Joined the local rugby club. I come from a big rugby family obviously, and rugby was my background. Wanted him to enjoy that too. And no other parent was really around or stood up. Unfortunately they decided that a woman shouldn't be the person that was a head coach. So they asked one of the, the young guys in the colts who after one Saturday night didn't turn up on a Sunday morning. And so I took over and that, you know, the classic, you know, parent steps in, um, but then, really was inspired, really enjoyed just watching these little kids get so much out of a sport and what you can deliver.
So I decided to, uh, take my coaching a bit more seriously, take it a bit further, was inspired by Giselle, who we'll find out later, but, managed to get my coaching qualifications up to a level two and that's when I applied to come and join Harlequins, and join their community side of things so that actually I could go and be one of their only female coaches at the time. We do still have a few more, but we make sure that we can go out to that community and at that grassroots level, and make sure that there is a female coach on that visibility and, and in on that stage. Then from there I've got very heavily involved at Dorking Rugby Club where they asked me if I wanted to then go to the next level of coaching where I've become the assistant head coach for the women's team as we've gone into the national leagues. And then also they asked me to pull my boots back on, which has been fun and interesting.
<laugh>, thank you so much. Are they voluntary roles that you are doing there, Jess?
So for Dorking it's completely voluntary, although there is some elements of paid. When I get to the senior squad, we are very, very lucky. We have one director of rugby who sees men and women as parity, so we are treated the same and we have the same access in that role. And I am paid at Harlequins to coach across the community.
Excellent. Thank you. Thank you. Uh, Sarah, would you, I'm I'm trying to spit my two rugby, uh, sports there, so I'm putting you in the middle there.
I suppose my, my starting point for coaching was through my playing days. I think I had some great experiences of coaching, particularly in the school years, some of the teachers who really, really supported me to grow. And I really found my confidence and grew as a person, and found my voice and I just realised sport really helped me in that way. But they also had some really negative experience of coaching. And I became really fascinated by how do you create an where people can really flourish and be themselves and perform to their best. And actually I moved to the UK
and started playing with a really top side here and I, I think the coach's role was often as a facilitator as well. And when you get a group of people who are really empowered to be themselves and own the game, I think it was really fascinating around. And I went into talent development and worked in the England Pathway for 10 years and lead coach of the under eighteens and just to work with players and see them grow as people and players, whether they went on to be GB internationals or not was, there's a thrill to it and now obviously I'm working with the Irish, the Irish team and it's great to go full circle back home to Ireland to coach having played for Ireland previously as well. So it's definitely addictive, you know, you can't stay away from it, <laugh>.
I love that. Thank you. Thanks Sarah and Giselle, in terms of your background.
So I started off as a PE teacher. That was the way I was in and taught for 14 years and also had my playing career and when I finished playing to have my family, I really still wanted to be involved in, in sport similar to Sarah in having an absolute fascination for how people do things and performance and what makes one person do one thing and one person do another and how the teams bond and why do some groups go really well. All of that stuff just absolutely fascinates me, still does. And so I literally transitioned into coaching whilst I was having my family, um, which was quite interesting at certain times, the little ones on the pitch and doing various bits and bobs as you juggle life to make that happen. And then got opportunities in the women's game quite quickly, coached wasps, which you know, I ended up in a situation where you're coaching your peers and that's actually one of the hardest things to do.
At the time I didn't realise it, you know, straight off how actually difficult that is. But if you can, if you go through that, and a lot of coaches I think in particularly in the women's game, start with that and it is a, a really tough thing to do. And then got into the men's game via my accreditation stuff. When I was doing my level three, first off I met director of rugby of London, Irish Academy at the time, Toby Booth, who had no issues at all about the fact that I was female. He sat and listened to me chat rugby in our assessments and just went right, I want her to work in with our young players and the young players at the time are now have gone through the system and have played international rugby and what have you. So I was desperately privileged to work with athletes of that ilk. And then I've gone in the amateur game, the professional game, the men's game, the women's game, international game club game. I've worked right across the whole thing. So, I've now got a new challenge at Ealing Trailfinders. So really exciting times and still as passionate about it now as I was when I started.
Fantastic. That's lovely to hear, isn't it lovely to hear. And in terms of um, those numbers, obviously I started at the beginning, that's 10% in terms of Olympic and and winter Olympic sports, but I wonder if any of you have got, we were talking earlier about this kind of statistics of we feel there is that gender dis disparity and you can see that visually when you look across sports. But in terms of your sports, where that gender imbalances at the moment, either grassroots or at the professional level too, um, Sarah, I might come to you first of all cause I know that we had a bit of a conversation beforehand, but in terms of hockey, what does it look like?
Yeah, it's interesting cause when we were talking, we were saying actually it's hard to find these figures which is in itself worrying that they're just not there. And it shows that we do need to measure them to be able to know that we're shifting them. So while we've seen, you know, the unstoppable rise of women's sport, but we haven't seen that equate into coaching and therein lies is a problem that we do need to look into. So, so what you find in, in the world of hockey, it's seen more as a women's game in terms of participation. and yet that doesn't transfer into the coaching world. You'll see a grassroot level, a higher level, but as soon as you go into like elite performance, um, and I think the coach education pathway is often a good example of that.
So at the sort of fundamental level, you can have 75% of women and this is through some of the Irish hockey coach education, but as you get up to level two, that drops down to about 25%. Coaches are dropping out as it's going through that elite level. So there was an interesting piece of research looking at the top hockey teams premier club teams and there's 132 clubs across top six nations. So that's 132 lead coaches. And at the time it was looked at that was, there was 10 women head coaches and only one of those was a head coach of a men's side. So dunno what the, the stats for that are this season, but they're always in flux. So I think that's a, yeah, it's an interesting picture and you know, when I talk to organisations about, you know, we need to measure these things to make sure that we can then change the dial, I think that's an important piece for us to now start really looking at through the, through the process. Definitely interested to hear in other, in other sports.
Yeah. And interesting, I'm gonna come, we're gonna come in a minute to talk about the whole, the reasons why, without preempting latest conversation, but often it's because women haven't been seen to play in those sports, but that isn't the case in hockey, the women have been playing. So it isn't as if they haven't had experience of the game in order to coach, which it might be historically for rugby and football and cricket and so on. Kelly.
Yeah, I find, I mean obviously because I've sort of worked around the world have a lot of different perspective on it, but when it comes to actual statistics, I think it's really difficult to find them and like accurate ones that are up to date, often you find them three to five years back. But in the US college system there's the Tucker Centre out of the University of Minnesota and they've been doing this report. And I only bring that up because when I first got into coaching back in, I don't know, 2000, you know, they were reporting like nine or 10% of women were college coaches. But if you go back to 1972, there were 90% of women in coaching, uh, leading college teams. So it went from 90%, it went to 10% and now they're back up to about 40 to 47%.
And I just think it's interesting when you have somebody who's tracking it, the statistics, you see them grow because somebody's holding them accountable. And I think that's really important in the big scheme of how women will grow and diversity will grow. So we actually have to hold ourselves in, in organisations accountable. But in women's football, if you talk about the elite level, there's a couple things like UEFA licences, which is really the gold standard of coaching licences and you need them to coach in Europe and around the world, only 3% of all the U AFA licences are in a, in women in female coaches only 3%. And when you look at the UEFA Pro licence, which is the highest licence, I think it was 2015 or 2017 in that range, there were 67 women that had a UA F Pro, 9,400 men had the UEFA Pro.
And when you talk about opportunity in this, but now in sort of the elite women's game, I'd say in the top five leagues in the world you might, you might have one in every five coaches be a woman might, you're still at about 10 to 20%. But I think the most interesting fact in women's football right now is in the last World Cup 2019, 24 teams, nine were female coaches in the quarter finals, five of them were female coaches and in the final two were female coaches. So I think that that's really like this growth in this progression that when we give women enough time to be in the game and we professionalise the game and we professionalise the environment and give them the opportunity to grow through it, they're extremely successful, technically executive management, all the things that go along with it.
that's extraordinary, isn't it? And I think that is the, so important, isn't it? The, as we see that success, when I think of Serena, you know, even this summer, but almost celebrating that success that, that we're gonna come on to talk about role models in a moment. I don’t know, Jess Gisele, whether you've got thoughts in terms of, and I don't want specific numbers and statistics, but how much it is measured within rugby. And again, a bit of it's the anecdotal, isn't it? Look across the teams that are playing at the World Cup at the moment, et cetera. Grassroots. I'm interested too.
I mean it is interesting and I think it'd be really important in that, that message of saying we need to actually measure this now. Because I think the rise of women's rugby and where it's going is huge and the number of teams, girls teams and women's teams certainly across the leagues that I'm playing at, is growing enormously. I coach in a club where we have about five male coaches and now we have about five female coaches the players that I have, a lot of them are now going through their coaching qualifications. They've had kids, they've returned to the sport, their kids are now 5, 6, 7, and they're saying, well actually I can do this too. And so we are seeing more of our players that have then seen that visibility come through. And I'd love to see where that goes in sort of 10 years time because I just think it will hopefully and, and, and this whole year in this women of sport in this year, but certainly within rugby and the rugby World Cup, I'm hoping that actually we'll see from now.
Thank you. Giselle, what are your thoughts on that? In terms of the, the visibility, really,
I, I think from my perspective, just speaking from, my own personal experience, I, I qualified for my level four in 2008 and the next female that qualified for the level four was 2018. And that was, that was Joe Yap. So there was a 10 year gap, which is, is ridiculous, but what's happened now because of the explosion of women's sport and what have you, the R F U made a, an executive decision that they needed to support females to that level. So now we have several more, still not anywhere near enough, but definitely several more because of a targeted approach. Um, and the, uh, world Cup as as whole from world rugby put an in intern female coach in with every single side, which I think from a, theoretical point of view was a, a good idea. But from a practical point of view, you've got completely different experiences from those coaches.
So, for example, Whitney Hansen with the Black Ferns, she has actually now become the forwards coach and is is in control of, of what's going on from there. So she, she's had a fabulous experience from it, but other females that have gone out there are not really sure what their role is, have been sort of not marginalised, but it's been very, very difficult for them to contribute to the team and have been going out with a title of intern coach means that straight away you're making life quite difficult for them because you are almost saying, well, what's your experience compared to the male coaches that you're working with? So I think there's, there's lots for us to look at and learn from there. The idea is great, but the practicalities of it has got to be, I think, really thought through to make it real positive experience for people.
There's only one female head coach out in World Cup, Leslie Mackenzie with Japan, in the Premier Fifteens. Now there are head female coaches and more happening all the time and that is fantastic. But as the product grows, and it is a sensational product now, more male coaches wanna be involved, which is an interesting, dynamic that's coming along because initially it wasn't something that perhaps male coaches thought they wanted to be involved in. Now they really wanna be involved in it. So, how that will develop will will be very, very interesting.
Yeah, thank you. And that's exactly to Kelly's point about what happened with NCWA and the male coaches coming across into female sport when there was funding and money available and it became more profession obviously that 90% of women coaching women's team shifted, as we saw there too. So yeah, it is interesting to see that that change there. I guess a, a big question really, but why do you think it matters? Why does it matter that we've need more women in coaching? That’s a bit of a broad profound question, but in terms of women's sports specifically, also, why do you think it matters that we have more female coaches?
For me, I think it's to show that women can be women in sports. People don't realise how much they judge a female cause she doesn't act like a male on the sideline or maybe she does act like a male and then she gets judged for that. There's a lot of judgement in sport. Male managers gets judged, female managers get judged. But I think what's so important, if we want diversity, we have to allow people to be their authentic self on the sideline, whatever that is. The way they dress, the way they handle themselves, the way they talk to their players, the referees, all those things. And I often see young female coaches, whether it's age or experience, they struggle this identity crisis of what does it mean to be a manager or a head coach as a female because they've never seen it.
So one thing I've sort of noticed in my own travels of the world of, you know, things you don't, I never intended for this to happen, but what I've learned by travelling the world and sort of being my authentic self is how many people say ‘what?’ just in society, you're a woman, you travel the world alone, you don't have a man, you don't have a partner, you do this alone and you do whatever you want. There's so many societies out there that just think that's crazy. So even though it's not on the football pitch, it's not in the boardroom, it's just walking along the streets. Like these are the societal things that have to change by allowing women to be their authentic and unique selves. And when you get to see that on the sideline, in the locker room, in the boardroom, we stop judging women to be this industry like, monkey of a man, you know, like the, the mirror image of a man. And we have to start seeing women in this place to understand what a female leader in sport looks like. And I think that's one of the most difficult things for women is we get judged because we don't act and talk the same way as our male counterparts, but it doesn't mean we don't have the same or better technical expertise, the same or better communication in dialogue. We're just different and we should be allowed to be different and stop being judged for not being a man and and not acting like a man on the sideline.
Sarah, what do you think, I guess you, you were kinda working across a number of sports in terms of involvement with the Sport England task force. Is that something that you, you've seen and witnessed?
Yeah, and you know, I think what Kelly's talking to there I think is one of the biggest issues that sort of coaching is a male default, you know, all of that that goes with it. So I think, uh, absolutely, you know, there's so much to be said for being able to be yourself and actually champion women, you know, to create role models for others. So I think it really matters that women can lead the world in a really positive way and we can lead the world on the pitch and off the pitch in a better way. I think if I came down to fundamentally why, why it matters cause it's the right thing to do. It's, it's justice, it's the, you know, this is about fairness. and we should work toward a fairer world. It isn't about equality, it's, it's much more about giving people opportunities to go after what they want in life.
Every single person, so there's a whole shift in cultural society that we can do through who's walking the sidelines and coaching. And I think often that higher purpose all is often embedded into why we coach, you know, we wanna make a difference at that level. And so with Sport England, we've created a, a woman in coaching task force and we've brought women from across and male allies from across all different sports to come together to say how could we create a movement to shift the dial on women and coaching? And really it's about understanding the problems at a deeper level. Cuz people often understand the issues and they'll say it's because women aren't confident, they have too many family commitments, they opt out. And I, I could go on, I probably could do the whole thing about all the reasons I've had, you know, you hear them every day and actually what are the underlying issues that we need people to, to understand at a deeper level?
And that's where we need to have that system change happening. And too much of it is about let's try and, you know, fix the women. They're lacking something, whereas actually we need to really fix the system. But we need to do it by shining a light on what's working cause things are happening, things are positive. And actually if we can understand why they are and share that and together create that movement, I, I do believe we can make that change. And it's already happening from what we are hearing here about, you know, the World Cup, the same in the hockey World Cup, the number of women coaches that were there, it's definitely going in the right direction. You know, women are proving that they are very competent coaches. They've just unfortunately have to prove it. It's not the starting point of acceptance.
You've got to go. And that's one of the other big issues that, that proving of it can be wearing. And that's where some women eventually drop out because they have to prove themselves every other day. And it's, it's, you're scrutinised and people have references like death by a thousand cuts. Um, so people don't choose to opt out, they're forced to. And so we need to understand those issues at a deeper, deeper level and I think that's what we're looking to do is to help organisations and coaches themselves to understand their part of a system that we need to change. And it's not your issue as a coach, it's a wider issue.
Jess, did you wanna jump in there?
Jess Freeman (
Yeah, I mean I think when I started coaching I didn't do it for a feminist reason or to put myself out there as a woman. I did it cause my kids needed a coach and that was it. But it did really start to realise the importance of that visibility and being out there and, and we were talking earlier, I've just done a two day coaching camp at the Stoop for in tricking them for Quins. We've had a whole bunch of kids running around the pitch, boys, girls, everyone from age five to 15 who knew nothing now than they had a bunch of coaches from Quinn's. It just so happens that one of them happened to be female that day and they've all gone home and they've just talked about their coaches and a woman is just part of that conversation.
And so actually it is a generational thing and it is really important that the next generation of kids, boys and girls, for different reasons just see those coaches on the pitch because they know no different. So they will then take that through as they grow through the sport as well. And it will be seen as no different for girls. They can see themselves, they can just see an image of themselves and can see that as something they can do. And for boys they just won't see it as any different. And that's really, really important
I think from my point of view, coaching is about developing people. Yeah. And so when you have a diverse coaching team, you are able to develop more people because just if, if you think about a rugby squad, there's about 45 people, athletes involved, in a rugby squad. And if you just have a coaching team of four men for example, then you are fundamentally missing the opportunity to connect with some of those athletes. If you have a female on a coaching team, then some of those athletes will connect to that female much more comfortably than they might to the, to the male and it doesn't. So, so when I was part of the coaching team at London Irish, the amount of first team players that would come to me to have a discussion about something because I was perceived as non-threatening was perceived as I didn't have the macho thing.
They didn't have to be that a certain way. The issues that were preventing them to perform their performance blocks would be discussed with me and then I would go and then inform the head coaches that the reason this athlete is struggling is X, y, Z. So by having a female on the coaching team there, it allowed some of the athletes. Now some of the athletes never came near me. That's fine. And when I coached the female that, you know, for example at Wasps, I would be very naive if I believed that I as the head coach was the one that all my athletes would connect with. Hence I had a diverse coaching team, two males, two females, me being one of them. And all my athletes were either connected to one of those or to the strength and conditioner. They have somebody that they trust that that really unlocks who they are as an athlete.
Which then if there are issues off the field that are preventing them reach their full performance, they can discuss now that diversity doesn't just have to be on gender, it's everywhere. The more diverse you can have of your management or coaching team or whatever team it is, you get diversity of connection. You get diversity of thought, you get diversity of different ways to, to sell your product to the athletes. And some athletes, you know, don't necessarily understand a game plan that's put out to them in a certain way. They need it in a different way. The more diverse the people in front of the athlete team, the more successful your team will be. And that is not major reasons that I believe that females are so desperately underrepresented in coaching teams and we're not connecting with all the athletes in front of us.
It's interesting isn't it? When you came in with your level four Giselle into that pathway of the academy and obviously there we need coaches coaching our young players too. Do you feel there is across coaching a bit of an assumption that it's women that will coach the, the younger athletes and as it moves up and it progresses and it's about performance elite athletes, that's not the place for women. Is that something that you've seen at all?
Yes, pretty similar to what Jess said, that the reason she started was kids needed to coach. Okay. And so the nurturing side of the majority of females will go, okay, that's me. But how ironic is that? Because when the athletes start their journey, that's the most critical time where their habits have formed, where their skills are, are told you do it this way. And as they start to go through it, half the time when you pick up an athlete, say at 17, 18, their technique is hardwired already by the coaches that they've had when they're little. And we have this big thing that our best coaches should be at the top level, actually it should potentially be the other way round, but particularly the, the sort of 15 to 18 age group should have incredible coaches in front of them who can teach them how to be elite athletes, how to manage their time, how to technically do the things that they've got to do on the field as well and tactically understand the game. So I think it's a hugely privileged position to be working with young children on upwards through academies before they become hardcore elite athletes.
So in terms of that grassroots, I guess that grassroots inter elite, so we are seeing more campaigns and initiatives to encourage women to come at that grassroots level. We can kind of address what's being done there, how we encourage more women to take those courses and step forward and get involved. But I think Sarah, you mentioned that dropout to that next level as we transition up. So just to move on, I'd really like to look at some of the reasons that we might see that. So why, coaching and I, and I don't want to call it almost elite coaching cause I think exactly is the point Giselle made, it's all elite coaching, whether it is, but that paid for what we might consider more professional with those teams, more senior competitive teams. Why is it that we um, perhaps don't see that transition from grassroots through? Why are we losing women at those points?
I mean I think it's interesting cause there's a whole whole lot of research out there on, on, on these issues and re recently through the women in coaching taskforce, there's been a big insight review with recommendations done. And one of the things I felt it's great reading about this research, but it's, it's not so great when you've lived a lot of the experiences <laugh>. You're like, okay, I recognise that, I recognise that, but I think that the more it gets into high performance, uh, the more male dominated, uh, default coaching, what an ideal coach looks like, because now we're moving from nurturing into, you know, strong leadership and, and actually these are the sort of cutting edge technical tactical and it's owned in that sort of male default.
And yes, that's changing, but it's there in that sort of underlying bias so you don't sort of fit the bill from that perspective. And I think that is, that fundamental piece is absolutely one of those big, big blockers within that. So you'll find as, you know, women look to go forward, they don't have the same role models to sort of show them the way. So, you know, if I can't see it, I can't believe it. So, and also the networks, people talk about it like there's a, it's a labyrinth of, you know, subtle biases that you don't notice, but they all add up, but also there's always these informal networks where people, you know, talk to friends and give people opportunities. So, you know, I could see myself as a coach starting here and other coaches going up because they had a friend in a role who brought them to a tournament.
The next thing they got more experience than me because they're, you know, the boys network was in action. and as a coach, if you call this out, you know, it, it can get you in trouble as well as an individual. People don't like you to tell them the sort of, to bringing these to the fore. I think that's changing too because there's a, a greater recognition that actually we do need to speak out about these and do make that change. Because of that we need to put structures in place because of the natural biases and the networks that happen that are all an informal level. We have to put like a coach development pathway. Like we have a, a talent development pathway for our players and, and most sports don't have that or hadn't got that. And now there's a recognition to do that. And it's that, that equity, it's not even around equality because actually we're starting from a lower base, so we need to prop women up.
So it is, it's a complex area that we need to understand around these issues.
Thank you for that. And I, I it's hugely, hugely complex. I've got a really interesting question there from Eden Simpson who's a basketball coach, senior men's coach and about the attitude of men and boys towards female coaches and having respect. So I'm interested to know, I think most of you have coached men and boys as well as women. So as a female in coaching, have you ever had issues in terms of people respecting your ability and is it around that technical knowledge? Is that assumption that we don't have that technical knowledge cause maybe we've not played to a certain level or because women and, and I guess how you overcome that with the people that you are coaching. I don't know who anybody wants to jump in there. Giselle. Yeah,
I, I think from that point of view, And, and this might sound quite basic, but the first 10 minutes of your session in front of those athletes is so important. All athletes in my mind really want is a session that is progressive, that they're gonna improve in and develop as individuals that makes sense as they're doing it. That it's all connected and makes sense, that they enjoy and that they work hard in. Now the athletes themselves, if they're receiving that, I don't think they really are that bothered that it's a male or female voice that they're hearing provided you are doing those things and that they are getting from that session what they're after. And I just think that alongside some of the things that Sarah said, you, you have, at this stage of the coaching, women coaching development, you end up having to be better than your male counterparts to maintain the jobs that, that are, that the opportunities are there or to get those jobs.
And there's a lot of pressure with that. That's, that's hard to continually have to be better to have to say, you know, people go actually, yeah, that, that coach is really good but you can't initially, you almost can't have an off day. And that's, that's where I think support systems need to be in place for female coaches and that that will change and people, you know, are, are acceptant now, I think more because I've been coaching for so long and I'm sure that Kelly feels the same cause she's been doing the same, I don't have that judgement anymore because the reputation as you know, for we both coaching from 2000, you, you, you are okay with that, but I definitely had that as I developed. But those first 10 minutes in front of any athletes, once you show them that you are planned progress, you know your sessions progress, that they're gonna get out of it, what they want, it carries on, everything's fine. It's that that, you know, perception that there's gonna be an issue just out there, do your thing for the first 10 minutes and lads have not ever had an issue with it because they've got out of the session what they want.
What has your experience been in that space, Kelly?
Yeah, I agree with Giselle. If you approach it as a professional and you have it organised and everything, people are on board. I think there's a, a few factors that come into this. There's obviously a natural bias that comes from living and life and growing up wherever you've grown up. And I think so much of ensuring women can actually integrate into a professional ecosystem of coaching and and having that is the people around them. So it's the whole staff, it's everyone you put together. So the leaders of the organisation, you have to put the puzzle pieces together with the people who will respect each other and create that environment. So the players see nothing but that's a coaching staff. They're united, they're together, they get it, they're working as unit, we trust them all. And that's coaching staff, that's performance staff, that's everyone around it.
So a lot of it comes from the organisation, the environment, you yourself having the confidence to come in and what often happens in women's sports and as females transition to coaching, they're young and people don't recognise this. We're taking young women who have just finished their careers, we're putting them in high intense environments cause look, tick the box, we put a woman there, it's great you're setting her up for failure and we need to recognise what's her age, what's her experience and make sure we're supporting her journey. And the last thing, and I think it's, you know, a key to all teams is you have to win the locker room. The players have to know that you are there for their journey. And I think male or female, when coaches come in with an ego, when coaches come in and it's all about them, you might have the locker room for a moment, you might be able to get through a few games, you might be able to get through a few seasons.
But in the big picture of life, a male, a female, a human, they're on their professional journey. That's what it's about. They want their career to progress. And if you as a coach and a leader come in and you can take them on their journey and you can support them on their journey, then they're gonna be bought in. And if you can be a key piece to their puzzle to achieve it and to become the best professional they can be, they don't care if you're male or female, they just wanna know that you can get them to their ultimate goal and regardless of your gender, they'll buy into that in the long run.
Amd there’s a positive piece to hear, isn't it? In terms of about success, how important do we feel like those role models, we talked about that visibility piece and that mentioned, you know, Serena Wiegman in the, the euros of a different approaching style, a unity of the teams, some music, all those things that I've sensed from the outside of looking in at a coach, very different approach to lots of the men's professional football coach that we've seen and then having that success. So obviously it is the success that suddenly makes people wake up and think, oh maybe there is a, a different way to coach. So, so in terms of visibility, how much you, how much importance do you think, that holds and what more could we be doing there perhaps to, to shine a light and showcase uh, the female coaches that are out there?
I can jump in on that one cause I think, starting with kids and giving that visibility earlier is really, really important. I also think it is that, and and it's something Kelly touched on earlier, it is that, authenticity and that non compromising nature, I have never been anything but slightly crazy, slightly over enthusiastic passionate rugby coach, that sometimes is slightly a little bit too infectious with six year olds and gets them all a little bit riled up on a Sunday morning. But I won't compromise on that. It doesn't compromise my delivery, it doesn't compromise the quality of coaching that I give to whether they're 6, 15, or adult women. But what I think does is that just shows that you can just be yourself and you can actually just enjoy it. And if you are enjoying your coaching and if you are not feeling like you're constantly scrutinised and you are comfortable with what you're doing and you're supported and you feel comfortable in that role, you deliver such a better quality of coaching and, and then the players will see that.
And then from that it just is a snowball effect. I mean I have, I faced a lot of sexism coming through at grassroots. A lot of it from the parents I was asked if I was childcare, uh, even though I was in t I've been told I can't go on years ago went on R F U courses and I was the only woman in the room as usual and I was asked that should I be playing the touch match when they used to do them as the sort of very multi participation courses. So, you know, a lot of it is again, back to that generational thing. But I think visibility is just the key to it all. If people can't actually see it, then they won't know about it. And the more that people see it, the more it becomes normalised.
Brilliant. Yeah. Thank you. And I wonder we've got, different sports bodies and representatives on, on this um, webinar today and they'll hear the podcast too, but I wonder from uh, what organisations need to do, I know we, Giselle alluded a little bit to some of the work that well Robbie have done in terms of those intern coaches going with the national teams. Is it around quotas, is it around female only courses? Are there anything, and and again I realise it's not one answer, but in terms of your thoughts of what you've seen that has worked or we could be doing more of, is there anything you would share that you think more organisations could be doing both to encourage women to come in in the first place, which is one of Chris's Spellings questions on the q and a or what more could we do to be encouraging more women to come on and then main, you know, maintaining and, and increasing that in the future?
I might step in there cause I think there's you, you wanna encourage more coaches to come in, but unless we make the environment good for those coaches to come in to, we may lose those coaches again. It's, it's that sort of also what Kelly was talking about, those cliff edge experiences you get, you get, you might have got through the glass ceiling but then you're giving a, a post that you're, you're, you're set up for failure. So, so it has to also start at the top and that accountability. So working actually with UK sports as well and some of the research they've done at a board level I think is really important. The more leadership we have that holds them account accountability to creating that change is really important. And the research that's been done, around women in sport leadership, um, shows that quotas can be really valuable to creating that change, but they're only valuable if there's accountability and sanctions behind them, otherwise they're just a figure and that they're actually measured over time.
And they also found that actually if the, there are networks and leadership networks in place that you'll see a higher level of representation in leadership roles. But again, those networks need to have influence and impact and there should be males in part of those networks. And if those networks exist without impact and influence, you don't see the shift in representation happening at a board level. So there's a number of different key areas that are very practical steps that organisations can play at at that level. So I do think you need to look at that leadership part as a really key part of that jigsaw. But then also you need to look at the understanding your organisational culture and what are the day-to-day practises that we should be changing and really listening to the experiences of women in the sport, women in coaching, women in leadership. And that's the bit I think organisations aren't doing enough of as well within that. And then there's loads of policies and loads that you could do at that next level, but I think those two areas, if you put a focus on that, you can create a lot of change. I think. Jess, you were gonna jump in there as well.
Yeah, so I mean I, I actually know Chris. Hello. Hi. and I've done many courses with him in the R F U and one of the things they have changed recently, going back into those old days of the course as were the only woman on the course and it was all very like, coaches, get your boots on. We're gonna do this practically and you are gonna play and we'd play touch and I'd be the only female and I'd just be running and scoring a thousand tries cause no one was gonna talk to all the men would be like this and then get scared and I'm just like, yeah, whatever I'm bombing through. One of the changes that I've noticed with the course delivery recently is that actually they've got kids. So they've asked the team, the coach, um, and the club that the course is being delivered to say, oh, can you just provide us with an age appropriate team and blah, blah blah.
And so the coaches are now observing and doing a lot of watching and it's taken out that element of it then doesn't matter. There isn't, I mean I'm quite a strong woman, I really didn't care playing with a whole load of men, that was absolutely fine, but not all women would want to do that and would feel comfortable with that. So actually by removing that barrier of play, um, and again, it comes to that point of a good coach doesn't necessarily have to have played in that sport. So by removing that, you are going to do a practical based assessment and stuff with other coaches and we're all gonna step in and actually by utilising the children, which is how you should learn because that's how the coaching you're gonna deliver it to. Those subtle changes are really important as well as the much bigger picture.
That's a fantastic point there. Thanks. Sorry Kelly, yeah.
I was just gonna say, I think at where we're at with now with women's sports is we really all need to be thinking as organisational bodies and governing bodies. What does the women's game need and what do women in our game need? Whether they're coaching the men, the youth, the women's side, whatever, we are not making decisions based on what the women need because it's very rare that you sit in a room and dialogue about the experience of a woman in these sporting environments. People are not asking how we walk in our shoes. They're men are not asking to walk in our shoes. They're not asking us questions. It's very, very rare when I sit with a man that he ever truly asks about my deep experience in sport, what's been harmful, what's been helpful, how I got there. Rarely. It's always a talk, it's banter.
It's just talking about the game. It's just talking about the game. And that's where men align with other men. So if we can create more of a dialogue because you're asking us to walk in your shoes, but you are not asking what it's like to walk in our shoes. And when that dialogue comes across governing bodies and organisations, things will change because the men who will have that dialogue, who are great allies, suddenly go, oh my gosh, yeah, I've never thought about that. Makes total sense. Why don't we do that? So I think that's when you know you have a true ally, people who really want to develop the women's game cuz they're asking the right questions. And I think when you ask the right questions it gets very strategic and understandable. And then barriers can be removed quite quickly cause it, it's just some of these things are so simple, but if you just don't have the dialogue, you're gonna miss 'em.
And I think the other side to it is we're comparing practical opportunities. Let's use England football for an example on the women's side. You have 24, only 24 clubs who might, who might have a full-time female coach. Not even a female coach might have a full-time opportunity for a female coach. 24. And I know out of those 24, they're not all full-time coaches. So in this entire country, if a woman can only go coaching women's football, she probably has 22 opportunities on her CV to say she's a full-time head football coach. Men in this country have how many layers? Four layers of professional, how many layers into non-league to say that they are a professional because if a man puts it on his resume, he's a professional. But if a woman puts that she's in tier four, she's not a professional.
So the actual practical opportunities that come up on a cv, which means organizationally we need to change the way we recruit, we need to change the way we interview, we need to change the system and the process of how we go find females and how we take 'em on the journey and how we bring them into our club. So future proofing and future planning, I'm gonna go find the best females, I'm gonna bring 'em in at whatever level that that is right for them and I'm gonna plan to support them for the next 10 years because they are the future of my club. That is rarely happening in women's sports. Most clubs and most people who recruit for a women's job will say, oh no, women applied. And it's true, they don't. So a big piece to going and getting women is caring enough to going and getting women and having the dialogue and figuring out why they didn't apply.
Most of 'em don't apply cause they've had a horrific experience in sport at some point they've been cut down, there's so many cuts, the knives in the back, the set up for failure also have a dialogue, understand why they're not applying, meet them where they're at, take them on a development journey and future plan. But most clubs in organisations don't take the time for that. But if we really care about the women's game, then we really have to think what do those women's games need? Where's it at now? And how do we plan for five or 10 years of success?
Giselle, jump in.
I concur with everything that's been said, but I think the only thing that I would add is, value. Really value the females that you've got in your organisation. And there are hundreds of ways to do that such that, and, and Kelly touched on it earlier, such that the athletes perceive you to be, you know, because you are the every coach around you, you can, within seconds you can elevate someone or crush someone by what you say in, in front of the athletes about that person. And I just think that if we celebrate and value what women bring to the environments that they're working in, they will grow in confidence. They'll grow in stature and, and all of those things. And, and the opportunities are, are the other things that, you know, I, I got a particular break in my career where the person that sat and listened to me chat on about rugby in my level three made when she knows what she's talking about.
So she's in and I got an opportunity there that was lucky, not really because it was planned. And we need to make opportunities for coaches to, to, to do that. But I, I don't know that I'm a big fan of quotas because I think it sets females up to fail. I think, I think that's again what Kelly, Sarah said, that if you, if you say we have to have a female in this, particular job, I don't think that's right. Same. We have to have females in our organisation that is with the support that Kelly's alluded to around them for the next 10 years that is, is beneficial. But saying a particular job must have is, is not looking at what the female A might want. <laugh> B feels competent to do themselves, C you know, is ready for, and that that can be more detrimental. And then immediately you get this, oh see, women aren't up to it. And that's where that, you know, and people are almost waiting and setting people up too fast so they can say that. And so I'm not so sure that I've believed that quotas on actual actual jobs, but definitely supporting females in organisations. But the value, value the people that you've got and really support and celebrate.
Thank you. Thank you. And Kelly's point made me think, I remember speaking to an, AP, an Allianze Premier fifteens head of, rugby actually of a whole club. When they hadn't, they'd appointed again another man to run the team and he pushed back and said it isn't enough exactly that to say we've got no women applying. Why have we got no women applying and what do we need to do differently? And that was really refreshing to hear, somebody's, you know, it wasn't just the complaining that there are women out there, you know, where there clearly are women out there, but why are they not coming for putting themselves forward and what we need to change there.
I I think that's something that we as females have to take responsibility for because we have a thing of saying, well the job description says this and I haven't done this and this, so I'm not gonna apply for it. Whereas our male counterparts go, well there's four or five things I know I've never done, but hey I'll be fine. And so they go in and, and believe that they, whereas we feel we gotta be fully qualified before we go in. And I, I, I think that's something that as females we must take responsibility for and know that just cause there's a couple of things on there that we are like, Ooh, I haven't actually ticked that one off. Well we'll tick it off in the job, we'll be fine because we've got the rest of it. And we, as and I'm being generalistic here, but 80 20, 80% of females will only apply for a job if they have tick to and feel that they can really smash it out the part from day one. Whereas our male counterparts are like, nah, I've got this. And off they go. And we have to take responsibility for that. That's not their fault. That's ours
Thank you so much. I'm, I'm gonna close, I'm conscious of, I could talk to you all forever, but just in terms of closing and, and clearly you are all amazing women that are doing brilliant things within the world of coaching. So if there were people listening to this, women listen to this that might be considering coaching or, or want to progress in their coaching, is there a piece of advice or anything that you would share in terms of their, moving forward and, and progressing in the world of sports coaching?
Should I go first on this one? Couple of things. First of all, have a vision. Know what it is you're trying to achieve. Know yourself what it is, what roles it is that you really feel you can add value and contribute to. And don't put a box around yourself. Just do what, go with it. Yes, there might be things outside of comfort zones, don't think, well I can only do this, but know yourself and where you're about with it. Have your vision and don't put a box around yourself.
Lovely. Thank you Sarah. Sarah, what were your thoughts? Thank you. Yeah,
You've heard that this journey can be hard and that you will have setbacks and there might be all sorts of knives going on at various stages. So I think it's really important to put a support network around you and make sure you can share these experiences openly with others so that you realise it's not, it's not, the issue isn't with you, you're not alone. Others feel this too. And then you give each other's confidence and you back each other up and you know, that's your allyship, all of those. So actually designing your support network is really important, including mentors, get yourself mentor, but also who's your sponsor within that, that's actually gonna help you elevate your career if that's what you so wish. And I think we can be much more tactical around how we build that and make sure we just always refresh it and just talk to other people who are on this journey to support you, to grow and to keep loving what you're doing along the way.
Brilliant. Thank you so much. And I don't wanna plug the women's sport collective, but I'm sure we could be doing more in that coaching world of a, of networking community too. Uh, Jess, what are your thoughts?
I mean, I completely agree with both that what both Giselle and Sarah said, but also, there you have heard a lot of negative sides and there have been battles and we've all fought them along the way, but there is so much to get from being a coach and you get so much reward from just a little kid learning something or I've got, you know, kids now that are now huge and I'll be walking around The Stoop, I'm working on one of the match days and they'll be like, oh, hello Coach Jess. And I'm like, oh, I know that face, but that's a hell of a lot of a bigger child now. Um, and they remember it and, and you've inspired them to do something. And I've had one kid this year that's had some real challenges in anger management and we've given him a very, very strong structure at the rugby club he's just had, and he came up bouldering out up at me at the weekend and said, oh miss, miss, I've just had my best report card ever and my attitude to learning, I got respect in PE I've never had that. That is absolutely why I coach. There is no other reason to it. That is why I coach. So there is so much reward from it, even though it is a hard journey.
Thank you. Thank you Jess and Kelly. No pressure, but if you could just round us off there in the last minute, <laugh>.
Well, I was just gonna say, if all of us women out here in the world, if we want more seats at the table, we have to bring more chairs. So we're at the table, we need you out there to bring your chair to the table and just do it. You know, literally be brave, be bold, be authentically yourself and trust that we need you in the game authentically as you are not trying to mimic or be anything that you're not. It is difficult. It gives you grey hairs, but it also keeps you young. It, it definitely makes you smile. You have tonnes of stories, it enhances your life and we need you. It's the authentic truth is we need you. We can't do it alone and we can't progress the game without more women. So stop worrying about what you can't do and just bring what you can and understand it's a journey and let's all be in it together to build the ecosystem for you to evolve in your journey and enjoy it and love it and get to wherever it is you wanna go.
A huge thank you to Kelly, Sarah, Jess and Giselle for taking the time to share such fascinating insights.
If you enjoyed the format of that podcast, we do have previous discussions in series 12, where we consider the clothes women wear in sport and racial equality in sport. If you’d like to hear more from female coaches, I’ve been privileged to speak to many for this podcast, including Hope Powell, Emma Hayes, Karen Findlay, Shelly Kerr, Casey Stoney, Emma Mitchell, Anita Asante and Rachel Yankee. Head over to Fearlesswomen.co.uk to find all previous episodes.
As well as listening to all the podcasts on the website, you can also find out more about the Women's Sport Collective, a free inclusive community for all women working in sport. You can sign up for the Fearless Women Newsletter, which highlights the developments in global women's sport, and there's more about my book Game On the unstoppable rise of women's sport.
Thanks again to Sport England for backing the Game changers with a National Lottery Award and to Sam Walker at What Goes On Media, who does such a great job as our executive producer. Thank you also to my colleague at Fearless Women, Kate Hannon.
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