Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education
Vol. 3, No. 3, November 2012, 227-238
Developing female coaches: strategies from women themselves
Carnegie Faculty, Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
The purpose of this study was to explore strategies for the development of
aspiring female coaches based on the ideas of existing high-performance
female coaches. Drawing on semi-structured interviews with national-level female
coaches in the United Kingdom, four recurrent ideas for developing female
coaches in a male-dominated profession emerged. These were (1) role modelling
and mentoring, (2) greater frequency and quality of coaching opportunities,
(3) the creation of supportive networks, and (4) a policy of positive discrimi-
nation. Using a feminist cultural studies conceptual framework, this paper
highlights how a culture dominated by masculine hegemony restricts the parti-
cipants' opportunities for career development. Their experiences also reveal a lack
of responsibility taken by governing bodies for the development of aspiring
female coaches. As a result, I make a call for the inclusion of a more complex,
sustained programme of socio-cultural education for coaches to inform women of"
the reasons for their underrepresentation as coaches, and call for greater action
and leadership to be taken by sporting governing bodies.
Keywords: female high-performance coaches; gender inequality
While sport has historically constrained women as athletes and coaches (Birrell &
Theberge, 1994), it can also be a site for transformation and resistance (Acosta &
Carpenter, 2012) but women remain underrepresented as coaches of women's sports
Women in Canada coach only 33% of women's teams across all levels of
sport. In the United States less than half of women's collegiate teams are coached by
a woman (42.9%), a figure that has, ironically, halved since the introduction of Title
IX in 1972, and only 3% of men's teams are coached by a woman, which is
unchanged since 1972 (Acosta & Carpenter, 2012).
Despite structural differences in sports systems in the United Kingdom (UK)
compared to the United States, women remain peripheral figures on the coaching
landscape. Indeed, a recent Sports Coach UK report reveals an increase in the
number of men in the profession to 69% of all coaches in 2011 from 62% in 2006
(Sports Coach UK, 2011). Statistics and figures are ahnost non-existent for the
gender ratio of head coaches at elite level but through my own inquiry at the time of
this research only nine women (compared with 43 men) occupy head coaching
positions within a senior national team sport in the UK (including England,
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Men occupy national coaching roles in seven
ISSN 1837-7122 print/ISSN 1837-7130 online
© 2012 Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation
228 L. Norman
of the eight major team sports in the UK (soccer, rugby union, rugby league, cricket,
basketball, netball, volleyball and field hockey).
Furthermore, while 16 senior national women's teams have a male head coach,
there are no women in the UK who are national head coaches of a men's team.
This is at the most ehte level of team sport performance, the most visible and
powerful levels of coaching. Women's lack of presence and political voice at such
levels is concerning due to the potential impact it can have on women at all stages of
sport leadership and participation. Sport forms a significant mechanism in Western
society for reproducing gender inequality that involves marginalising femininity and
promoting masculinity (Saavedra, 2005).
For those women who do make it into such a male-dominated profession they
can often feel isolated and unsupported (Norman, 2008). The challenge for women
then is to redefine this oppressive coaching culture rather than simply to survive
within it. I argue that this change needs to involve contesting and transforming the
patriarchal culture of sport that is sexist, elitist and discriminatory. As part of this,
the mascuhne beliefs and practices of sport and coacbing need to be problematised
as the cause of the poor value and status afforded to female coaches. Furthermore,
I contend that this needs to be coupled with challenges to the exclusionary nature of
coaching by existing female coaches, not just for themselves but other women as well.
Hooks (1984) argues that women must understand and agree to take ownership
for challenging oppressions that may not affect them directly as individuals, and this
study is based on her contention that those who are privileged have an obligation to
support those from minority groups. More specifically, developing an understanding
of experiences of women who are in the rare position of being head coaches at the
very peak of their careers may be one of the first steps in increasing the numbers of
Through interviews with senior national female head coaches of team sports
in the UK, this study provides insights into the perspectives and experiences of
the few female coaches who have made it to the upper echelons of coaching. In
particular, it explores whether or not these master women coaches had an aware-
ness of the oppressive organisation of coaching and, if so, whether or not they
endeavoured to challenge this in any way. Through the use of qualitative interviews
which encourage the participants to tell their stories, this study also gives voice to the
participants at the centre of the research as experts on their experiences and as part
of a collaborative project with, rather than 'on' female coaches.
Participants and procedure
Informal letters of information were initially emailed to the nine women identified as
being in senior national coaching roles of team sports in the UK. At the time of data
collection no women were head coaches of any men's national squads but all of the
participants coached senior national women's teams. Six female coaches from a
variety of team sports in the UK, including soccer, netball, cricket and field hockey,
agreed to participate in the study and were sent formal letters detaihng the study.
Face-to-face semi-structured interviews were conducted with all six female
coaches at a time and location convenient to them (at the participants' offices
Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education 229
or places of
All had extensive experience of elite coaching, having coached on
average for at least five years at a high-performance level. Each participant was asked
to detail their experiences of being a female coach, any obstacles they had faced
during their career, their perception of the culture of sport and their ideas for the
empowerment of potential and developing female coaches. Each interview lasted
between one and two hours and was recorded and transcribed verbatim for the
purpose of interpretation and analysis.
Data from the interviews were analysed using a constant comparative method
(Glaser & Strauss, 1967). This method was selected for its rigour and because it
kept with my feminist commitment to represent the participants' perceptions and
experiences. It also provided a clear reconstruction of their views. Although the
method was originally developed for a grounded theory approach, Lincoln and Guba
(1985) added significant procedural details to the steps involved, and Maykut and
Morehouse (1994) have since validated this as a standalone analytical technique for
other types of analyses.
The first phase of analysis was identifying the basic units of meaning through
coding the interview data according to the type of data, the source of the data and
the specific page nimiber of the data set (Ryan & Bernard, 2000). A 'discovery sheet'
of ideas was then generated from the salient themes, concepts and phrases that were
beginning to emerge. The second phase of analysis involved categorising and coding
the units of meaning, comparing units of meaning to others and grouping with
similar units to form a category. When a unit of meaning could not be grouped
with another, it formed a new category. This led to the third and final stage of
data analysis involving the refinement of categories and the exploration of patterns
across categories. This stage of the data analysis involved deciphering the meanings
of the units clustered under each category, comparing to other categories to identify
important relationships and patterns within the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). These
recurring themes and patterns then formed the study's findings.
The findings focus on the participants' ideas in their capacity as national head
coaches on the empowerment and development of women currently in the lower
levels of coaching with pseudonyms used to protect the identity of the participants.
The four recurrent themes which emerged regarding ways of developing women as
coaches in a male-dominated profession were (1) role modelling and mentoring,
(2) greater frequency and quality of coaching opportunities, (3) the creation of
supportive networks, and (4) a policy of positive discrimination.
Role modelling and mentoring
According to the participants, the first step in the empowerment of women to enable
them to become national coaches should be to make it clear that coaching is a
valued, worthwhile and accessible profession for women by increasing the visibility
of existing high-performance female coaches as role models. For the participants
230 L. Norman
themselves, it was having other women as role models that provided motivation and
inspiration to start coaching. For instance, Georgina, who is now the highest
qualified female coach in the world in two sports, described having a female coach as
a significant factor in her decision to start coaching:
When I was England captain, the coach, she was [a] role model. Her technical
knowledge was better than most other men I've come across and I thought there's no
reason why we can't have better technical knowledge. So that helped me see what
direction I wanted to go in and how to take it forward. It did have an effect [on
my decision to go into coaching] because everyone was a man, [but] she stood out. ...
It was different. It stood out to
If it had been a man, I'm not sure it would've have
had an effect.
As well as identifying women who were role models for them when they began to
consider a career in coaching, five of the participants also mentioned the important
role they themselves now play in attracting more female coaches. Rachel is head
coach of a national women's team in a sport that is male dominated. She enjoyed a
successful playing career at a national league club, played at international level, and
is now one of the longest serving national head coaches in the women's game. She
believed that 'you need positive role models. More female coaches coming through
that can only be positive because you see that it's possible. That's really
In response, Rachel has established a formal mentoring scheme within her sport,
and, as a result, more female coaches are achieving high-performance coaching
I set up a mentoring strategy in
to basically mentor female coaches and give them
one-to-one support. That's really helped, got more [high-performance] coaches then
we've ever had, got more coming up to do [the highest coaching qualification], and got
more female coaches overall. Simply because
of that one-to-one support in a non-
Similarly, Georgina stated that:
We need some good role models, which is hopefully for those of us who have those
opportunities, are trying to do and
'Yes that is viable and
are good enough to
do it'. So it will inspire more youngsters to come into it.
Enacting Hooks's (1984) contention that those in privileged positions have an
obligation to support those from minority groups could involve women such as those
in this study, who have reached the highest ranks of coaching, being trained to enable
women without power in coaching to reach similar positions.
Greater number and quality of
A second strategy for the empowerment of future senior female coaches as proposed
by the participants is that developing female coaches need to have the opportunity
to practise at a higher level to gain experience and these opportunities need to form
part of a structured, sustained development programme. Greater opportunities, all
of the participants believed, would be achieved through a restructuring of women's
Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education 231
competitions in the UK so that existing female coaches have more chances to
experience coaching on a frequent basis in order to increase women's confidence.
Five of the six participants suggested that a considerable number of developing
female coaches did not aspire to climb the coaching career ladder due to low
confidence. Deborah is in her second national head-coaching role, having progressed
from a lengthy playing career and within a coach development system that nurtured
her advancement through the coaching ranks. She believed the recent restructuring
of her sport would soon result in benefits for female coaches:
So the system hasn't been a strong one here and you're coaching once a month. As
a coach you need that [coaching on a sustained, weekly basis], that wasn't there, the
whole structure wasn't there. With this [national league] competition in place, in time we
will see a shift where the coaches will become more confident in their own ability
[because they are coaching frequently], they will gain more experiences at every match
they're at, every year they're out there the more they're going to learn. The more
confident they're going to become and more self-belief that they're good enough that
they start eventually putting their hands up for the really top positions.
Stephanie has been coaching at a national level for five years in a sport that
enjoys high participation rates by both men and women. She beheved that having the
opportunities to coach was how she reached the elite level she is at now:
Why am I continuing managing? Because I got opportunities with the Under 21s, the
seniors. I'd have to admit, if
didn't get the opportunities, in a few years I'd be thinking,
'do I still want to do [this job] for another five years?' So it's giving them [women
coaches] other opportunities. ... They've got to be good enough so they've got to have
the opportunities to do it [in the first place].
Many female coaches require experience and opportunity to increase their
confidence, knowledge and ability, but they are not given these chances because of
the belief held by many in positions of power that women do not make capable
coaches. Because many women do not get the chance to build up their coaching
experience they appear inexperienced and unqualified. When the rare opportunities
do come along they do not then have the necessary skills to be considered and this
only serves to reinforce the views of individuals who argue women are not good
enough to coach. As well as showing others that they can coach, increasing the
opportunities and coaching experiences for women will help to teach themselves that
they can coach. These opportunities should begin early, targeting potential coaches
amongst experienced athletes and/or athletes who show a willingness to become
Creation of supportive networks
For women, as one of several excluded social minority groups in sport, increasing
their self-confidence and self-belief to be effective master coaches is not a simple
task. Even in sports in which women are in the majority, they still may lack
efTicacy as coaches. This was the view of all of the participants interviewed and the
belief that prompted their third proposition towards enabling women to reach a
senior level of coaching, that is, the creation of strong, supportive networks of female
232 L. Norman
coaches. This is for the purpose of developing women in a more accommodating,
encouraging envirormaent in which they are not afraid to leam and sometimes fail,
but have the opportunity to take the lead. Beth is senior national head coach of
a women's team within a sport with a high proportion of male coaches and players
which she initially found intimidating, but found her own confidence to coach
increased when she participated in a women-only network of coaches. She believed
real merit can be fouhd in such groups for aspiring female coaches:
You [need] a network around them [developing female coaches] that supports them.
In a female environment, you as a female have self-confidence. I think everyone would
leam much more, if you had females sitting together, they would support one another
also much better. It's a lonely job, many women analyse [their coaching] a lot. If
something isn't good, they take it personally as 'what have I done wrong?' and analyse it
too much. I also think female [network] leaders can give self-confidence; can give
feedback, to let you know you are good, that you can do
I think all these things you
have to do if
want more females as coaches in [sport] and it must be worth if for the
women. You must feel that 'if I'm going to go [coaching] three times a week, I'm going
to get something out of
opportunities to participate in professional development].
Estabhshing networks of female coaches, led by an experienced female coach, allows
individuals to share coaching practices, bring practical or professional issues for
discussion and form an important component of women's continued professional
development away from an often male-dominated environment. For some of the
participants, as part of their efforts in developing existing women to become future
national coaches, they started up support groups. Such groups are not always
women-only and can include men, as long as all individuals offer support and advice
in a non-intimidating way. When asked how she has experienced her progression
through the coaching profession, Rachel attributed her successful development to the
support she was given and which she now provides for upcoming female coaches in
I was able to get support while I was working in the game. So all the training sessions
I did with the squad, I had them assessed. I was able to get support while I
in the game. I had my assistant coach, who was male, give me feedback. I trusted him
and it was a nice envirormient to work in. So I thought wouldn't this be good if
all coaches that are coming up to do their A-Licenses could have that support? So I set
up a national strategy, invited every coach that was on our register to attend. It's done
regionally. I would set you up with a coach educator ... to give you that support in your
environment where you coach. So that's the national programme. They're given mock
assessments so when they [developing female coaches] come to take those final
assessments, it's not so intimidating because they've done it all before. For the coaches
going onto [the top coaching quahfications] we bring them in residentially, three times
a year for set scenarios and questions.
A formal support network is a strategy favoured by Rachel because, in her opinion,
support networks are ideal for women because of their abihty and willingness to share:
We're part of this scheme ... where female coaches get together, that's a really good
scheme for our up-and-coming coaches ... it is sharing ideas. I'm not in a position
where I think, I know everything about [my sport], so it's about sharing and supporting
each other. I actually think we have more knowledge than the guys because we're
prepared to share. I think men are a little bit like 'knowledge is power' so keep it all.
Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education 233
Deborah recalled the positive effect that the support group she had as a developing
coach had on her: -..,^ _.;.>.-.'<,.-- v.
We used to have meetings at various times of different subjects and it was very
interesting to sit back and listen to how they [more experienced coaches] did, how they
saw things, how they dealt with certain issues. That was fantastic, I found that
enlightening. It made you feel good and you could use them [more experienced coaches]
as a sounding board if you wanted to share experiences and did they share similar
Ellen is senior national head coach with extensive high-performance coaching and
coach development experience, having played in her sport at an intemational level
and went on to coach all age levels of the national squads. She criticises the current
support for female coaches in her sport, arguing that even high-performance coaches
still need development opportunities. She argues that her progression through
coaching was enabled by supportive networks around her:
The higher up the ladder you get, the more difficult it is, particularly in a female
sport, to actually access good quality coach education, coach development. I have found
I have had to contrive it myself so I have done things like ... work with a coach in
another sport at the same level and look at how they prepare their team. I found that
very useful... I wanted to pilot it as something we could use with coaches in the future
because I think it's hugely important to work in a system alongside ... another coach.
The best years of my coaching have been where I have worked either as an assistant
coach with a head coach which was hugely informative and then as a head coach
working with other coaches, being able to bounce ideas off I have felt it more enjoyable
when we've had a team of people working together.
The coaches interviewed in this study continue to draw great strength from networks
and practice-sharing meetings with other coaches, despite reaching the peak of their
coaching careers. Nevertheless, they recognise that developing female coaches do not
always have that support or confidence, grounded in the awareness that coaching is
often a lonely job. Therefore, by establishing formal support networks and offering
the chance for aspiring female coaches to leam from more senior professionals in a
non-judgemental environment, coach developers can focus on increasing women's
sense of self-worth and self-efficacy to step forward to lead an elite group of athletes.
None of the participants argue that the aim of this coach education is to have the
coaches 'win everything' with their team. Instead, they recognise that success of a
coach development programme is measured and dependent upon assisting that coach
to become self-assured, knowledgeable and efficacious as both a person as well as a
professional. Moreover, it is making practice-sharing sessions and support explicit,
continuous and personalised.
The participants' fourth strategy for how to empower women to become high-
performance coaches is to introduce a pohcy of positive discrimination in those
sports dominated by men. For Rachel it is a strategy she has deliberately
implemented in her team because she beheves men have more opportunities to
work in her sport, therefore she endeavours to seek out women in the first instance
234 L. Norman
for coaching and support roles. Rachel also believes it benefits her players, and that
is important for the wider sport and society to see women as the pubhc face of
The men's team will always have men [coaches and
I give opportunities to other
females [because my sport is so male dominated]. So in all the coaches lower down
with all the squads are female. [I also have] female doctors and female physios. That's
how I want it. For me personally, it is [a deliberate choice]. It's positive for the players,
it's easier for the players to relate to, and we spend so much time together on the road,
in the treatment room. All those little things that are forgotten that actually have
a massive impact on performance. If you'd asked me 10 years should the [national]
coach be male or female, I would've said 'the best person for the job'. If you ask me
today, I would have to say female, who has got the credentials because [of the need for]
the role models, [for] the image [of
Positive publicity around it for the good of'
the game, it's important.
For the participants, the tables should be turned and, instead, dehberate conscious
efforts should be put into giving women positions of authority in sport. Rachel
commented on how she is inundated with requests from men coaches to work in her
game because of the ethos she, as national coach, has implemented into the squad.
Nevertheless, while she appreciates this positive appraisal, she continues to employ a
strategy of positive discrimination in favour of women:
A lot of the [men] want to come and work with our team ... sometimes men, who
probably can't make it in their sport, do come into [our
... A lot of
want to come and work with our team because it is so enjoyable. It's very relaxed, there's
no ego. I see it as a compliment but I give opportunities to other females. ... I think all
the strategies across the board [should be about] trying to put a female in positions [of
influence] etc. It's those bits to make it more empowering for women and to give female
[the] opportunities to work in the game.
According to Rachel and Beth, if women are qualified and competent enough for a
position, they should be considered for it before men so they have the opportunity to
coach and then build up their knowledge, experience and confidence. Their
justification is that men often have a wealth of other opportunities from which to
choose, given that they dominate coaching roles in many men's as well as women's
sports. Beth expressed her view that positive discrimination should be employed in
need to make sure there are females in the post because they can't get any other
That was one of my biggest arguments all the time. [If] the female coaches have the
criteria and if they are good, then they get the job [first] because men, they can go to
men's [sport] and have a full time job.
For Beth, this initiative of positive discrimination should not just exist when
considering individuals for coaching appointments, but, should extend to the
boardroom and be a pohcy in both men's as well as women's organisations. She
contended that 'I want 50%..of women on the board in men's clubs and boy's clubs'.
However, the problem with positive discrimination is that women may be placed in
positions that have no significance and have no impact on redefining the values of
sport. Having female medical staff will do httle to change the cultural beliefs as
Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education 235
to the inferiority of women to both compete and coach. In addition, an important
question to consider is who is responsible for making such high-level appointments.
Given the imbalanced, gendered composition of many executive committees, not
many women will have an input-into selecting candidates. Many men may not be in
favour of such a strategy as it will pose a threat to their position and status. Beth
found that her career progression from coaching the national youth team to the
national senior squad became blocked when the governing body, comprised mostly
of men, decided to appoint a man even though this participant and another female
candidate were more than suitably qualified:
I thought I was going to get the job off her [of national women's senior head coach] but
because of all the politics, they wanted a man. They didn't say that but you could read
that between the lines. One female player, she was the best national player, she was in the
US coaching for three years and had been working as a coach for the [goveming body]
for many years. She didn't get the job either. My feeUng is that after the success that we
had in 2003 with [a female] coach and the silver medal, the sponsors because interested
in [our sport]. I think [the goveming body] thought now we have to have a man because
the pressure from the men in [our sport] was too big. I think the women weren't strong
enough to stand up for their philosophy or ideas.
West and Brackenridge (1990, p. 3) found that the ways in which high-performance
coaches were appointed were contingent upon gender, describing it as being,
'unsystematic, open to abuse and unclear for the majority of women'. They suggest
that this constituted 'institutional sexism in the appointments procedure' (West &
Brackenridge, 1990, p. 3). They located this in the inadequacies of the structure of
goveming bodies to conduct a proper search for suitably qualified coaches and
instead the 'old boy's network' was utilised to accomphsh this (West & Brackenridge,
Their findings presented in this article lend support to this work, demonstrat-
ing that the inadequacies of the appointment processes involved in recruiting coaches
continue to exist and continue to marginalise women. Thus demonstrating that as a
result, men enjoy far more opportunities to coach in both women's as well as men's
The strategies offered by the participants in this study suggest that they are aware
of, yet not dissatisfied with, their marginal positions. However, they are aware of the
fact that female coaches are virtually invisible in leadership roles and are prepared to
take some responsibility for enabling other women to reach the highest levels of
coaching. This contradicts the findings of Rindfleish and Sheridan (2003) that
suggest senior female leaders do not always want to assist other women.
This study also suggests that the process of developing future female coaches
embarked upon by national goveming bodies in sport is not systematic. Instead it
seems to be a sporadic, ad-hoc process that is often left to women already working as
professional coaches at elite levels to get things done when it should be the goveming
bodies within sport that support the development of potential female leaders in
sport. For this to happen requires governing bodies to correctly identify and
understand the true issues at the heart of the underrepresentation of women, and
take action - the real expression of leadership (Mercier, 2001). This then requires
236 L. Norman
challenging the male-dominated culture of so many sporting organisations, char-
acterised by intimidating exclusionary environments that impede women's develop-
ment as coaches. This would involve critical examination of existing language,
policies, practices and relations that support and promote masculine domination to
enable the implementation of changes (Naylor, 1996).
The historically ingrained practices, symbols and ideologies that exist within
organisational structures such as sporting bodies play a major role in marginalising
and excluding women from leadership roles (Shaw & Slack, 2002). The participants
included in this study challenge this hegemony in some part by attempting to create
strategies to improve women's representation in high-performance coaching. These
individual efforts to create opportunities for women can provide a challenge, and
contribute, to changing existing cultures and recmitment practices (Cameron &
Quinn, 2011; Shaw & Slack, 2002). The strategies the women offered were useful but
limited in that they operate with the current conditions of patriarchy and do not
attempt to challenge and change it. They are not able to bring about the permanent
cultural change that is required to transform gender relations in sport and society
(Birrell & Theberge, 1994).
Having role models is one possible strategy, but currently the only high-
performance coaches that women have to use as models are white, heterosexual
men who fail to give value to the skills and abilities of women as coaches. Given that
role models are a source of norms and values and operate as standards for
evaluation, women will struggle to understand and locate themselves in the coaching
hierarchy (Smith & Hattery, 2006). Positive discrimination was another strategy
suggested by participants for correcting the dearth of women in sports leadership
positions. However, for this to be implemented, an understanding that women can
coach at an advanced level must be present (Marshall, 2001). In regard to the
participants' recommendations to create formal, supportive networks around women
identified as potential senior coaches, Olsson and Walker (2004) found that this was
a precious source of encouragement for women in leadership. It helped reduce the
sense of lonehness and isolation for women to have a sense of unity with other
women in their organisation (Olsson & Walker, 2004).
Finally, the participants nominated mentoring as an important way of empower-
ing prospective high-performance women coaches yet, in the UK, there is no real
coordinated approach that is standard and comprehensive within the coach education
structures (Nash, 2003). Instead, it has been left to local authorities or the individual
governing bodies themselves (Nash, 2003). From the analysis of the interviews with
the participants, this seems to have been offloaded to the national head coaches.
Conducting the mentoring relationship sporadically and informally limits its capacity
to enhance the ability and confidence of women to coach at high levels and the
governing bodies in the UK have done little to instigate an organised, regular formal
form of mentoring for coaches (Nash, 2003). Thomgren (1990) beheves that without
this backing, women are more likely to leave the profession.
Deveaux (1994) states that as well as examining how power is manifested,
the underlying processes that create these conditions must also be dealt with. Sport
is a crucial politico-cultural site for this reformation on wider society because of
the high-esteem it is given in Westem culture (Hargreaves, 2000). This is the value of
the feminist cultural studies paradigm in considering the interceding role that human
agency plays in the construction of a culture (Hall, 1990). Repealing the patriarchal
Asia-Pacific Journal of Health, Sport and Physical Education 237
trend that dominates sport does not just simply occur when women are appointed to
senior levels of coaching (Disch & Kane, 2000). Instead, it takes place when such a
challenge also weakens the behefs in the conceptiöh of gender as an issue of natural
difference that underpins the ideology of male superiority (Disch & Kane, 2000). As
early as 1977, Wuliams (1977) suggested that hegemony is not an inert form of
dominance but survives through its continual contestation, renewal and reproduction
between the goveming and subordinate cultural groups. Mascuhne hegemony is thus
not an assured, permanent regime (Sage, 1990). Sport practices, like coaching, can be
sites for challenge and resistance (Sage, 1990). In the same way that the prevailing
cultural images and symbols inherent in sport are defined by and celebrate
mascuhnity, so too can this be redefined to overtum this hegemony (Sage, 1990).
This article suggests that this could be based upon the experiences of the women and
should involve them at every level of this change (Hargreaves, 2000).
To induce transformation, women's resistance needs to be a collective, conscious
act that is politically motivated (Birrell & Theberge, 1994). Women who have reached
the highest ranks of coaching would be well served by the realisation that the
oppression they have struggled against is systematic and based upon gender as well
as other power relations such as sexuality, race and class. This understanding might
then be joined with that of other women to form a collective, overtly political, agency
that is highly publicised and visible (Birrell & Theberge, 1994) to permeate the
ideologies of men as a culturally dominant group and masculinity as the dominant
ideology. This is not just for the benefit of women but also for other social groups
excluded by the hegemonies that rule sport. This is what it means to have a feminist
consciousness but many women involved in sport do not want to be associated with
the 'F-word' (Blinde, Taub, & Han, 1994). Yet, Burton-Nelson (1994, p. 30) beheves
that 'it is time to tell the truth. We are feminists' by the mere act of playing or
coaching because that act in itself is a threat to sport as a male privilege. This then
needs to be an exphcitly political and united act with the intent to very pubhcly
undermine and transform dominant power relations in order to disturb the logic of
'natural difference' on which men base their cultural superiority. This is so that sport
can become a space for resistance and empowerment, rather than oppression.
Note on contributor
Dr Leanne Norman is a research fellow in the Carnegie Faculty at Leeds Metropolitan
University. Her research utilises critical feminist sociology to interrogate the culture of coaching
to address inequality related to gender and sexuahty within the profession. She has written for
academic textbooks on sport and coaching and has published widely in academic journals.
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