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Coaching campaign Reaches out to Britain’s women

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Reach logo

  • Women account for just 30% of the coaching workforce.
  • Challenging and changing society’s preconceptions is no quick fix.
  • There will be far-reaching benefits of having more women in coaching.
  • The initiative aims to give women the confidence to get involved in coaching.
  • sports coach UK will work in partnership with governing bodies of sport and county sports partnerships to effect change.
  • A new website has been launched: reachintocoaching.co.uk 

sports coach UK has this week launched an ambitious campaign to get more women into coaching. 

There is a cultural barrier preventing women from entering sports coaching, which has proved difficult to break down. 

Tackling underrepresentation means overturning traditional gender roles ingrained in British society.  

Nobody is underestimating the size of the task. Challenging deep-rooted values is one thing, changing them is another entirely, and inducing such an attitude shift will take time. 

But levelling the playing field will have major benefits for the sporting landscape in this country and for the millions who engage in sporting activity every day: 

  • A more diverse coaching workforce will provide wider exposure to different views, skill sets, experiences and approaches.
  • Greater gender awareness relating to appropriate coaching practice should also increase retention rates of girls and women participating in sport.
  • Athletes will benefit from a wider choice of coaches and access to a wider range of coaching styles. 

Ten-year project 

The Reach campaign was born out of some alarming research and statistics, which show that women account for just 30% of the coaching workforce in Great Britain.

The percentages plummet further for qualified coaches and Level 3 coaches or above, to 17% and 12% respectively.

The proposed European Union objectives for gender equality in coaching are that women should make up 40% of the overall coaching workforce and 30% of all national team coaches. 

sports coach UK Development Lead Officer for Equity and Inclusion Sarah Milner explains: ‘It’s about breaking down the preconceptions women have about going into coaching.’

Detailing just how the Reach campaign will work, Sarah says it is not necessary for women to have played sport themselves in order to take their first tentative steps into coaching. And she stresses the importance of not pigeonholing women as only able to coach women or girls.

The idea is to arouse their interest and then, once they have their foot in the door, for governing bodies to take over the baton and further their education and development. 

One goal of the campaign then is motivating women in a community. But it is more than that. If there is going to be a nationwide change in public behaviour patterns, the campaign must also fundamentally change the way women think. Which is why sports coach UK has committed 10 years to the project. 

‘It’s a huge undertaking. It is a cultural change that needs to happen, not a quick fix,’ says Sarah.

‘It is a massive remit as, at the same time, we want to work with our sports Partners who run sport in this country to start fixing the system because, at the moment, it is very gendered towards men. 

‘Things like the recruitment process is quite blind to women getting involved. So for example, mums and dads take their kids along to Saturday morning football coaching. The coach needs some more help and wants to recruit some more coaches. That coach, who’s probably male, will go and speak to the dads because that’s what he’s comfortable doing. 

‘What we are trying to do is support that coach to make him feel comfortable to be able to go and speak to the mums and say, “Do you fancy helping out?”

‘The hope is that these small changes, over time, will start the ball rolling in terms of women feeling they are valued in coaching, ultimately seeing more women having the confidence to give it a go.’ 

Learning as we go on

Timescale and target figures are commonplace in campaigns aimed at attracting more women into coaching. But these schemes invariably ring-fence those women who already actively participate in sport. Sarah likens that approach to putting an Elastoplast over the problem as they do not actually fix the system.

‘They will give them the finances to go through their qualifications but won’t be doing anything about recognising where the barriers are within the sport itself that are stopping women going out and actually getting the coaching jobs.’ 

In the first three years, sports coach UK hopes to welcome 3000 more women into the coaching family. But they are not being assessed on whether they reach that target.

‘We have just put this target down there so that we’ve got something to work towards,’ explains Sarah. ‘So that at the end of that three-year period, we can see how we’ve got on. 

‘What is actually more important is the learning that will take place throughout that period. The idea is that we will be learning as we go along, testing different theories, different bits of training, understanding what development women actually need in order to get them to step over the threshold or to get them to develop from a Level 1 coach to a Level 2 coach, from a Level 2 to a Level 3.’

It’s good to talk 

Sarah highlights the difference between sports coach UK’s Reach programme and Sport England’s ongoing This Girl Can campaign. 

‘Our programme is about getting women into coaching. Traditionally, what sports coach UK has always focused on is coaches getting qualifications and moving up through that process and delivering their sport in traditional governing body environments. 

‘What the This Girl Can campaign through Sport England has done is try to raise awareness to get more women physically active. What they are looking at is wider than governing body clubs. It is very informal. It’s about women having fun in a Zumba class or running out in the park or going out for a bike ride. That is what they are trying to tap into. 

‘What we are trying to do with the Reach programme is reflect that sentiment through coaching.’

The programme will rely heavily on the interpersonal skills that women have. These inherent attributes can play a huge role in influencing women to get more active. 

‘We talk a lot about the “coaching family”,’ says Sarah. ‘This can be somebody who is stood with a group of mums after drop-off at school. She may be about to go for a run and says to the other mums, “I’m going for a jog, do you want to come with me?” 

‘That woman is really important within the community. She is the organiser, the woman who, within a group of other women, says, “There’s a gig on at Leeds Arena in September. Do you want me to get some tickets, and we’ll go as a group?” It is those interpersonal skills, those communication and get-up-and-go skills, that a woman has that would work really well in order to get people more physically active in the community.’

A team effort 

The campaign will only succeed if the governing bodies of sport and county sports partnerships (CSPs) are on side. 

sports coach UK will work with them to evolve their coach education programmes and practices, but they must take responsibility for developing their attitude and approach to recruitment, and play their part, alongside clubs, local coaching networks and national sports organisations, in raising the profile of women in coaching.   

They must tackle questions like: What can we do to get different community groups engaged? Can we break qualifications down into modules, rather than taking someone away from their family for a weekend to do their Level 1 – or can some of the learning be done at home? The tutor workforce that delivers the learning programmes is again predominantly male so can we look to effect a change within that workforce so that we employ male and female tutors and trainers? 

Sarah adds: ‘I was talking to a sports psychologist about how you effect change, and it’s a three-step process: 

  • raise awareness
  • take responsibility
  • take action.

‘So hopefully, through the Reach programme, we are raising awareness of the situation and around what can be changed or needs to be changed within the existing system. 

‘It is then up to the sports Partner to take responsibility to make those changes and then take action to implement them. And we’ll support them all the way. 

‘But as I’ve said, it’s small-step changes, it’s a slow burner, because if you try to do everything straight away, it is not sustainable.’ 

Reachintocoaching.co.uk 

ConnectedCoaches members are encouraged to check out the Reach website and @ReachCoaches Twitter feed.

The front page speaks directly to women, to give them information about what coaching is and how they can develop, with top tips. 

Then, behind the scenes, there is information for Partners about how they can address the issues, what the issues are and what steps they can take to fix the system. 

Female coaches can download information for free. There will be inspirational case studies of women in the coaching family at every level, from the woman who helps her mates get around the park on a Sunday morning right up to the Level 4 coach who is hoping to lead the national team at the next Olympic Games.

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