Coach: I get it now
Me: Get what?
Coach: Why you keep banging on about women in coaching
Me: How come?
Coach: Because if you were a man, you would never have to put up with that kind of thing
A simple off the cuff remark from a much respected male coach said so much. That maybe some people are beginning to understand that there really IS a problem. That female coaches are treated differently, and not necessarily in a positive way. It was the end of a conversation about some of the challenges we had faced over the season. Relationships with athletes, with parents and with other coaches are always hard work, but sometimes they are far more challenging than they need to be for me, because I AM treated differently because of my gender.
Let me start by saying I am NOT a victim here. Far from it. I am trying to change perceptions and thinking around the abilities and traits of female coaches. I don't sit at home at night thinking how hard done by I am because of my gender. I sit and think how we can make a positive change to ensure the female coaches of the future don't have to overcome some of the hurdles the current ones have. The first issue though, is getting male coaches (and the wider sporting fraternity) to recognise that there is a problem.
Denying there is a problem is the brick wall that we are facing is moving forward to find solutions. The research has been done and as we continue to build a bigger picture of women in coaching, it is the more people who 'get it' that will help to shape the culture change that is needed to make coaching a more inviting environment for women. And no, we're not talking about adding pot pourri and glitter to sport. We're talking about people understanding how the language they use, the preconceived ideas they have about women (and subsequently women coaches), and the fact women who 'bang on about it' seem to be shut down mid argument and accused of moaning is simply not acceptable.
The daughter of an engineer and maths teacher, I had my first proper tool kit at the age of 13 and have never been stopped from trying things that are typically perceived as 'male' skills. I battled bulling at school from boys about being 'a man' with my athletic physique. And even now, in 2017, I have to stop men from taking over conversations or practical activities because their perceptions are that they are more capable (either just because they are arrogant or because of their gender, I've not asked them directly!)
I won't go on about the issues. The key is, how do we find a solutions? The starting point seems to be to get male coaches on board. To get them to recognise the 'banter bus' sometimes goes too far. And for other female coaches to have the confidence to pull people up on it. Why should I be made to feel guilty for asking someone not to make derogatory remarks about women? What should I be told I'm 'making an issue out of a non-issue' when I ask a coach not to describe a female coach as a 'tough nosed b***h' in front of young athletes?
How about if someone points out that your language or behaviour is sexist, take time to reflect on it instead of becoming defensive? Think 'actually, I could have worded that differently'. All of these little things add up to a big issue that people are failing to see, that a few small changes could help retain some top notch women in coaching rather than drive them away.
To female coaches...keep banging your drum and don't be ashamed of it. And to those male coaches who do not yet understand, take time to listen to the beat of that drum. And think about the opportunities you want to be available in coaching for your future daughters or granddaughters.
And for the coaches out there who do 'get it', thank you for championing the cause. For recognising that equity in the gender gap in coaching is an issue, and we all have a responsibility in helping to change it.