Academics join sport leadership action group
The meeting was opened by Barbara Slater, Editor of Sport at the BBC, who showed attendees a short film the BBC had recently put together on why there is a lack of women coaches; largely based on the recent research led by Dr Norman here at Leeds Beckett around occupational wellbeing and women coaches. The film also featured two of the coaches included in the intervention stage of the research.
Following the opening talk, UK Sport spoke briefly on their work in improving the experiences of women as coaches at the high performance levels before the invited group of attendees then set off to work in smaller groups to propose strategic plans and ideas around the theme for the day. Dr Norman facilitated one of the discussion groups along the theme of 'challenges and strategies for progressing more elite women coaches'.
The meeting was an exclusive event attended by CEOs of various sporting organisations, charities and councils, representatives from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and Sky Sport, as well as other sport and coaching policy makers.
Dr Norman said: “Following positive discussions and wide recognition from the group of the programme of research we are carrying out here at Leeds Beckett within the area of gender equality in coaching, myself and Dr Rankin-Wright have been invited to meet with a number of organisations to further discuss possible new research collaborations and build new strategic partnerships.”
Dr Norman’s research has revealed that women sports coaches are having to work hard to gain acceptance and respect in their organisations, and they experience poorer work-life balance than other professions, leading to burn-out. Whilst the UK is working to develop the world’s leading sports coaching system by 2016, the system is currently highly male dominated, with women making up only 28% of the profession and very few women reaching senior levels.
A major recurring theme in the coaches’ responses was that they have to spend time and energy on gaining acceptance and respect in their organisations and proving their worth as a head coach because they are women. Some coaches do not feel valued by their organisation or that their efforts are duly recognised. Many of the coaches have given up their social lives, have limited family time, experiences of failed personal relationships and have stopped participating in sport and physical activity because the coaching role was the priority.
Dr Norman commented: “The research demonstrates that this is an urgent issue to address and must be a strategic priority for sporting organisations. Many of the coaches included in the study were close to burn-out and by addressing and improving their sense of wellbeing, it is more likely that coaches will remain and progress within the profession. The average career for a woman coach is currently only five years, representing a poor return on the funding and training initially invested into them by sporting organisations.
“But this should be considered a social and organisational problem, not an individual one. Our findings show that women possess a strong sense of purpose as coaches and represent an engaged, motivated part of our coaching workforce. It is now up to National Governing Bodies and sporting organisations to support women coaches to connect with other coaches, feel a sense of control over their role, and balance their personal and occupational commitments.”