Gender & Coaching Part II: Access, Mentorship, Support, Awareness

A few weeks ago I wrote about alarming trends in the USA around gender and coaching, as documented by Pat Griffin in “College Athletics’ War on Women Coaches”. This follow-up won’t be a blueprint of gender equity for soccer in Ontario, but simply a nudge/challenge towards awareness.

As a competitive soccer player in Ontario throughout the 1990s (and up until my transition from competitive to recreational in the 2000s) the trend has been for men to own, operate, dominate, and determine the terms of soccer. At the time, everywhere I looked women were relegated to assistants (if that) and most often were administrative managers. Of course there were exceptions, but they were rare. In more recent years there has been a push by the OSA (Ontario Soccer Association) and particularly progressive clubs in Ontario to train and hire women coaches (see: Female Mentorship Program) but their agency and power can be in a silo or be met with hostility.

Besides CAAWS (Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity) there aren’t sports associations and/or organizations solely dedicated to pushing for gender equity in sport either here [Ontario] or across the country. There are great examples of sport associations integrating equity policies (see Canada Basketball) but when it comes to soccer in Ontario, power is centralized and dominated by a few – and these few all know each other.

So what to do?

Individually, women need to get their credentials by doing their coaching certifications, which certainly costs but there are funds that can help (see: OSA Funds, CAO Funds). By having your credentials, you are able to work within the system if that’s what you choose. More importantly, coaching courses help to raise the level of visibility of women in sport and support individual confidence and leadership skills.

In terms of advocacy and support, we all have a responsibility to mentor, create learning opportunities and support women who are pursuing coaching and/or entrepreneur projects. Being more conscious about where we spend our money, and how sport functions are key too. If we can have women referees and women coaches, why not make this an ordinary choice instead of out-of-the-ordinary? Seeing women as capable and qualified is HUGE.

At some point an analysis of the gender and sexuality spectrum (i.e. transgender, genderqueer, gender non-conforming people, lesbian, bisexual, queer), race/racism and class/poverty needs to come through. What good is gender equity if it isn’t intersectional? What good is advocating for women if this only benefits white-straight women? What good is access if it, in actuality, only exists for those with money and social capital/networks?

I’ve seen one too many times how ego, arrogance, ignorance and a lack of diversity and inclusion punishes so many knowledgeable and talented coaches. Hell, even among somewhat progressive women there is resistance to breaking-down social cliques and hierarchies in sport. But change is doable, and it starts with individuals willing to advocate for each other. When the time comes for you to do this, will you be ready? I hope so.