Improving gender equity within sport coaching workforces

Novel research and expertise to support changes in sport organisational strategic thinking, interventions, and organisational practices in reconceptualising the issue of an underrepresentation of women coaches.

the challenge

Despite the gradually increasing participation of women in sport, women remain acutely underrepresented as sport coaches at regional, national, European and global levels. They also report poor professional experiences.

In 2014, the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Youth and Sport proposed new strategic actions for Europe to challenge gender equality in sport and to set out key objectives for 2014-2020. One of these four identified key objectives was to improve gender equality in sport coaching. The need for action too at a national level was highlighted, and subsequently, in 2015 and 2016, Sport England (on behalf of the UK government) published both the Coaching Plan for England as well as the Sporting Future strategies. Within these policies, greater gender equity and diversity within the UK coaching professions is a priority and action point for all government-funded national governing bodies and sporting organisations. Despite this, a lack of long-term and deeper-diving interventions hinder efforts to bring about sustainable change in both representation and equitable experiences amongst coaches.



Research undertaken at Leeds Beckett University has played a major role in addressing these problems. Specifically, the research has contributed in the following ways:

  1. Demonstrating the contribution of structural factors influencing women's experiences as sports coaches and the value of diversity within a UK sport coaching context

    Almost 90% of existing research in this subject area originates from North America and has used quantitative or liberal sociological theories. For the first time, Norman and colleagues [Section 3; R1] have identified a number of key organisational processes and cultural practices that have contributed to a lack of gender equity within the UK coaching system, which have in turn impacted women’s professional experiences.

    Utilising qualitative research underpinned by critical sociological thinking for the first time in this subject area, the research represents a critical shift from focusing on individuals within the system to understand the part that organisational structures and work environments play in creating (in)equitable cultures for coaching workforces [R2].

  2. Adopting novel multidisciplinary approaches to reconceptualising the 'problem' and impact of poor gender equity in sport coaching

    A second contribution of the research has been to develop novel multidisciplinary approaches to address the lack of gender equity within the UK coaching system. This body of work has underpinned subsequent interventions in partnership with a number of sporting national governing bodies. Using these approaches, Norman and colleagues have been able to demonstrate the salient areas of organisational cultures that are most likely to lead to inequity amongst sport coaches, and the impact on the individuals themselves such as on occupational wellbeing. This research has drawn on multi-methods using psychological, sociological, and management theories [R3]. Such measures and theories have not been previously used in a sporting context or applied to a gender equity in sport focus.

Image of female sports students talking and stretching with Varsity tops on
  1. Demonstrating the impact of the quality of coaching on women's athletic experiences and intentions to progress into coaching

    A third contribution of the research has been to examine the impact of coaching on the experiences of women as athletes and participants for its role in influencing women’s intentions to remain in sport and transition into coaching. This work has represented the first research of its kind to directly examine the impact of gender practices, ideologies and expectations on women’s physical development and motivations to move into coaching. The research demonstrated that male coaches’ practices differ to their training of male athletes to the detriment of women’s athletic development and such experiences reduce women’s intentions remain in sport to progress into coaching [R4].

  2. Evaluation and improvement of national governing body interventions to improve gender equityy in sport coaching

    The research programme in this area at Leeds Beckett University has evaluated UK sport organisational interventions to improve gender equity within coaching workforces. These interventions have been significantly based on our research findings which have informed the structure, content, and delivery of the initiatives. Examples include:

    • British Cycling’s Ignite Your Coaching (Sport England funded; Norman and colleagues led evaluation) whereby a mentoring and networking scheme has been established across the UK to support the retention and progression of women cycling coaches
    • The English Football Association’s Elite Mentoring and National Specialist coaching programmes (English FA funded, Norman and colleagues led evaluation), which establishes paid programmes of employment for (Black and Minoritised Ethnic) women coaches to gain experience working in elite football to improve opportunities to gain paid employment within the industry
    • UK Coaching’s Changing the Culture series and practitioner programme (UK Coaching funded; Norman and colleagues led workshops and evaluation), which represents the first UK programme of its kind. The culture change series involved: workshops in partnership with 12 sporting national governing bodies to address organisational change to support greater equity in their coaching workforces; between-module mentoring and support; a ‘buddy system’ to connect governing bodies and share practices; and follow up support three months post-programme. The content of the workshops drew on our empirical sociological and psychological research, such as organisational culture and wellbeing [R6], and the evaluation was led by Kaiseler and colleagues using multi-stakeholder interviews, surveys, and performance profiles.


  1. Providing the evidence for national and international policy to promote gender equity in sport

    The research of Norman and her team has provided the evidence for European Council recommendations to member states and has been included in European Council-funded organisational toolkits, to improve gender equity in European sport.

  2. Providing the evidence for national sport organisational interventions to improve gender equity in coaching

    The evidence from the programme of research at Leeds Beckett University has been used by national sport organisations and governing bodies to underpin their practices and interventions in improving gender equity within their sport coaching workforces.

  3. Shaping The English Football Association’s national strategy for, and the retention, and progression of women in football coaching

    Since 2016, Norman’s research has significant shaped the women in coaching pillar of the five-year English Football Association Gameplan for Growth (2017-2020). Within this strategic objective, the numbers and diversity of women football coaches, across the sport, is a priority. Since the inception of the strategy, the research by Norman and her team (funded by The FA) have continued to underpin the approach and interventions led by The FA towards the development of women coaches.

Expert talking at a conference
Coaching instructing football players
Diagram showing different stages of Research

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