Despite the significant growth in women and girls out on the sports field, their representation in coaching roles remains low relative to men and boys, resulting in lower visibility.

La Trobe University recently released new research in partnership with Football Victoria, Northern Football Netball League and Basketball Victoria that identifies barriers to increasing and retaining women in coaching roles, proposing a new plan to address this gap.

The research suggests that women in coaching roles experience unique challenges and barriers.

“One of the major difficulties and barriers is different life stages, like starting a family. This has a drastic impact on retaining female coaches,” said Emily Jones who coaches the Under 18’s junior girls team at the South West Sydney Blues Aussie Rules club.

She has been a head coach at the junior level for the last 6 years and an assistant coach at the senior level for a year and a half.

Ms Jones believes it is incredibly important for girls to see women taking up these leadership roles otherwise they don’t feel it is in their realm of capabilities, and clubs play a significant role in supporting female coaches to feel empowered to take up these roles even if it means working around family and life commitments.

The Latrobe University study, funded by the Victorian Government’s Office for Women in Sport and Recreation through its Change Our Game Research Grants Program, found three major actions that can be taken to improve the environment for women coaches in community sport are:

  • ensuring women coaches have a voice in state sporting organisations,
  • implementation of policies and practices to support women in active coaching roles, and
  • improving the culture of sports clubs to be more supportive of women and girls to take on coaching roles.

Representation of women and girls playing sport, even those that have been traditionally male-dominated, is steadily growing.

In 2021, Football Australia found that participation for women and girls in soccer had grown by 21% from 2020. According to Deakin University, participation figures for AFL last year showed that women and girls made up 30% of all players.

Data from AusPlay found that recruiting women to leadership positions has proven hugely successful for improving conditions for women and girls even at grassroots levels.

Cricket Australia’s gender strategy that focused on organisational change resulted in a 700 percent increase in the number of local organisations offering all-girls competitions.

“Having women in coaching roles is so important so young girls have someone to relate to and feel comfortable in sharing experiences on and off the field,” Ms Jones said.

“I also wanted them to hear my experiences as a female player and know there’s someone in their circle who understands those moments as a female in this sport.

“I truly believe female coaches are crucial to the continuation of young girls in AFL and the retention… of these players for future years.”

In the case of the South West Sydney Blues, Ms Jones’ coaching role in the juniors program has led to higher retention of women at the club, with girls who started at the junior level beginning to transition into the women’s competition.

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor for Health Innovation, Professor Russ Hoye, stressed the importance of women taking up coaching positions as it helps keep women and girls in the sport and encourages them to consider coaching roles themselves.

As the saying goes, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’.