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Not enough female sports coaches, organizations say

By Alisa Howlett [1]

BELLEVILLE – Out of 16 college sports teams across Ontario [2], only nine per cent of the head coaches are women.

“We always have a shortage of coaching, especially female coaches. The average male coach stays in for 10 to 12 years. For women, only three to five years,” Bal Gosal, the federal minister of state (sport) [3], said to Loyalist journalism students recently.

The women’s volleyball team at Loyalist College [4] happens to have two female co-coaches. They agree that varsity teams, especially women’s teams, need a female role model.

“It’s important to always have female staff involved with every female sports team,” Dominique Dawes, co-coach of the women’s volleyball team, said. “Especially with teenagers these days – when they’re getting into sports and with social media and image issues that tend to come up. Sometimes females just have that little bit more of an understanding of what the girls may be thinking.”

Dawes played for the Loyalist team for the three years she studied at the college. Amy Hoskin, who coaches alongside Dawes, said she also knows what it’s like being on the court and she too, can relate. It’s more than just skill that you’re dealing with with these athletes, Hoskin added.

“I really do think it’s a benefit being a female coach, coaching a female team. We understand so much easier what girls are thinking and how girls will react to certain situations,” she said.

Each coach said it was a natural progression from playing the sport to assistant coaching and now to co-coaching. They said they felt they were afforded equal opportunities to become head coaches.

“We’re cognizant of females and their role in sports … At the end of the day you want the best person for the job,” Jim Buck, the athletic director at Loyalist, said. “But certainly we wouldn’t be doing a full service if we didn’t make that effort to have females involved with our female teams.”

“It’s important – it’s important for young girls to have role models. We sort of endeavour to do that and make our best effort to have that involvement,” Buck added.

There isn’t just a lack of women collegiate coaches in Ontario, but Canada-wide.

In 2005, The Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association [5] established the CCAA Female Apprentices Coach Program to recruit more female coaches. The program targets graduating student athletes and offers incentives to the institutions that offer apprentice-coach positions on their coaching staff within CCAA sports, Sandra Murray-MacDonnell, the CCAA executive director, said.

The program was developed because of the lack of female coaches in colleges in Canada in general, Murray-MacDonnell said in an email.

“Women in coaching positions are required not only because of what many women can bring to the profession, but also to provide models for other women,” she said. “Unless exposed to at least one role model during their athletic careers, it is unlikely that elite female athletes will pursue a career in coaching.”

From 2005 to 2014 there have been 146 apprentice coaches. Five per cent of those participants have become head coaches at the college level, Murray-MacDonnell said.

According to Murray-MacDonnell, the majority of participants described the program as “good” or “outstanding.” They listed its strengths as increasing awareness that female coaches are needed; getting women involved in coaching; providing financial support for new female coaches; creating professional development opportunities; and the promotion of female coaches at high levels.

Buck said that he makes a conscientious effort to recruit women as coaches – although, he said, it can be a challenge finding anyone to fill coaching positions because it is a big commitment with not a lot of reward.

“We try and find female coaches for our female teams here. It doesn’t always work out, but we certainly try and make that available when we can.”

The Coaching Association of Canada [6] also has programs to try to encourage women in coaching, Lorraine Lafreniere, the chief executive officer, said.

“It’s been an ongoing problem within Canadian sports and internationally within the Canadian sports system where we have not had enough women or equitable women representation at all coaching levels within the Canadian sports systems,” Lafreniere said. “That is not just reflective of varsity sports; it’s reflective of a profession within Canadian society.”

There are systemic problems that aren’t that easy to pinpoint, she said. So whether there’s not enough women applying, not enough women being given the opportunity, or whether the structure of the interview and application process is flawed, Lafreniere said, all of those things should be continued to be looked at.

She added, “I think too, when you go into a profession where it is traditionally a stronghold of one sex over the other, it can be a bit of a lonely journey. So you tend to find yourself a bit more isolated. Sometimes when you find yourself a bit more isolated I think that the risk of deciding to move elsewhere becomes greater.”