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Women, Coaching - Tucker Center Research

Updated: May 16, 2021

Tucker Center researchers have come up with an evidence-based framework to get more women into coaching football.

The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport undertakes a wide-ranging and deep program of research, including around issues associated with women coaches.

The Tucker Center work is very relevant to Australian football. Right through theAustralian football system there is an under supply/representation of women coaches - from grassroots and community though NPL and W-League. We all know that we need to do better but many organisations struggle with what practical steps they can take. So isn't it great to see excellent, evidenced based, solutions-oriented framework that really starts to address the problem.


Under the auspices of the Tucker Center, specialist academics have researched the experiences of high level women football coaches. The research identified a range of issues and challenges faced by women in contrast to men. But most importantly they also developed a framework for football to start to address the problem "Levelling the Playing Field for Women Coaches in Football". This framework defines a six-part approach to enabling football organisations to effectively engage women football coaches: normalise, educate, sponsor, map, recruit and safeguard.

The team of researchers comprised:

  • Donna De Haan and Annelies Knoppers from Utrech University in the Netherlands

  • Leanne Norman from Carnegie School of Sport, Leeds Beckett University, UK

  • Nicole LaVoi from the Tucker Centre, University University of Minnesota, USA

The research

Fourteen high level women coaches representing nine different nations were interviewed in-depth regarding their experiences, challenges, and successes within their role in professional football. These participants had prior or current experience of either working in a national head coach role or as a head coach in the highest tiers of club football.

Although the women were confident, highly-motivated professionals they pointed out a range of issues and barriers that affected their experiences, including "a burden of representation and surveillance" beyond that experienced by men, working in isolation without the support of networks around them, the responsibility, but none of the autonomy, women’s football, and women coaches, are invisible within coaching curriculums which in turn leads to feeling as outsiders or invisible on courses because they are not formally recognised within the learning content and possible responses by women players that the norm is to be coached by a man.

"Women coaches are often considered in 'developmental' terms or 'given a chance' or 'outside of the norm' or a ‘risk’. However, male coaches are viewed with more trust and as a 'safe pair of hands'. This is because they have dominated coaching for so long that they have become synonymous with what it means to be a coach. We need to redefine what we consider make for effective coaches or coaching so that we create new norms.''

The recommendations

It was one of the purposes of the study to create a possible agenda for change for the governance of football that improves the experiences of women coaches and thus ultimately, their players.

Drawing on the findings the researchers have identified potential solutions which would provide sustainable professional careers for women coaches and, indeed, help with the engagement of women coaches throughout the football ecosystem.

The report recommendations are broad-ranging:

  • find out who and where are your women coaches within your football system and map them at every point of the pathway

  • develop and get commitment for a formal strategy

  • involve women in coaching hire decision-making and set ambitious quotas for coaching roles

  • set up recruitment processes that are thorough

  • develop talent idenitifcation management programmes and frameworks for coaches

  • provide coaches with appropriate experiential learning opportunities

  • professionalise coaching with longer contracts and incentives

  • change coach education curriculums and "do not assume the men's game and male coaches to be the standard and the norm"

  • when marketing increase the visibility of women to normalise having a diversity of coaches

  • support and networks around women coaches need to be formally in place

  • solidarity among coaches

  • ensure both male and female players get more exposure to being coached by a woman

  • in every club protocols need to be in place and enforced that safeguard male and female athletes and coaches from sexual, physical, emotional and mental harassment.

The report explains these recommendations in more detail.

The graphic below shows a summary which recommends a framework for actions by governing bodies, coach education providers, clubs and coaches - both men and women.

For more details of the research and recommendations go to the Executive Summary: Elite Women Coaches in Global Football at the Tucker Center website.

Where to from here?

The Tucker Center research and recommendations are a great start point for strategic and operational planning for Australian federations, associations and club administrations that genuinely want to grow women in coaching to achieve the ambitious 50/50 targets set by Football Australia for 2027.

Right now the proportion of women coaches is only around 10 - 26% of total coaches* depending on the state and women coaches tend to be clustered at the lower end of the coaching continuum.

Women Onside will commit to promoting this work and advocating for the actions needed to level the playing field for women coaches and working with football administrators to implement these.

* source: FFA National Participation Report 2019


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