For girls to see it and then be it, community sport needs more female leadership

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Helping female students aspire to sporting success means encouraging more women into community sporting club leadership roles and coaching roles at schools.
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Childhood gender perceptions can be positively influenced by more women undertaking coaching and officiating roles in community sport.

A Victoria University study involving a survey of 75 children and their parents, has found children are overwhelmingly coached by men. The four to 17-year-olds surveyed played sports including basketball, swimming and Australian rules.

“The study confirms that there is a bias among children towards linking men as being coaches and officials, rather than women. But these engrained gender roles can be shifted for both girls and boys by providing them with an opportunity to experience women as coaches and officials at an early age,” lead researcher Dr Kara Dadswell says.  

Female mentors help girls visualise potential

96 per cent of the young people said they were exposed to men as coaches, compared to 65 per cent who were mentored by women.

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But with Dr Dadswell saying that gender biases and stereotypes are formed through social environments, seeing more women in leadership can challenge those views.

”These ingrained gender roles can be shifted for both girls and boys by providing them with an opportunity to experience women as coaches and officials at an early age,” she says.

The report recommends parents to support more girls and young women into sports leadership roles. It also encourages community sporting clubs to hire more women in coaching roles and urges more women from diverse backgrounds to apply.

Schools can also play a significant role

Although this study focused its attention on community sporting clubs, many women working with school sporting teams say this type of female representation is just as important.

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Shaping attitudes: Exposure to women coaches and officials influences children and parent perceptions was funded by the Victorian Government’s Office for Women in Sport and Recreation through its Change Our Game Research Grants Program.  

Office director Sarah Styles says a lack of female representation at a community sporting club level can lead to unconscious gender biases forming.

“Understanding unconscious bias is being ingrained from a young age and heavily shaped by parents, emphasises the importance of action to ensure women are involved in coaching and officiating at all levels,” Ms Styles says.

Key findings from the Shaping Attitudes report reveal:   

  • previous experiences with having a woman coach positively influenced children’s belief that women can be great coaches
  • parental attitudes significantly influence their children’s attitudes
  • girls’ satisfaction levels with having a woman coach and/or official was higher than boys.  

The report offers a number of recommendations for community sporting clubs to help address the lack of representation of women in coaching and official roles, including:  

  • create targeted plans to attract, develop and retain women as coaches and officials
  • enlisting the assistance of parents to voice their positive support for women in these roles
  • supporting the representation of women from diverse backgrounds as coaches and officials.  

“Giving children the opportunity to experience women as coaches and officials in community sport brings enormous benefits,” says Victorian Minister for Community Sport, Ros Spence.

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“This research demonstrates how the representation of women in coaching roles within community sport can increase satisfaction and actively reshape the attitudes of both parents and young boys and girls.” 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]