It’s time to break the grass ceiling for women football coaches

Reflecting on International Women’s Day 2022, Laura Lawrence asks how more women can become involved in an often-toxic sporting environment.

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International Women’s Day is always a good day to pause and think about women in football. After what seems like an endless year of reporting on violence against women, a question occurred to me: is the answer to football’s toxic reputation more women on teams’ coaching staff?

Take a look at the staff pages on club websites. There are walls of male (white) profile pictures. Tinder for football coaching. Swipe right for men only. There are only a handful of women in the Premier League and Championship in non-administrative roles. These roles tend to be nutritionists, medical staff and, in one case, a sleep consultant (Brentford players even have their divans analysed).

A few women have been hired as data specialists, but there are no female members of first team coaching staff across the top two divisions. It does make you wonder whether if there were more women involved in the day-to-day work environment of teams, toxic behaviour would be moderated and – dare I say it – a respectful attitude towards talented, professional women may begin to breed. We can all live in hope.

So, what needs to happen for women to break this grass ceiling?

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According to the FA, at the last count in 2020, there were 5,180 female coaches trained over a three-year period from 2017. Female coaches with their UEFA A coaching qualification doubled from 41 to 82 over that same three-year period.

There were 34,581 women coaching at levels 1-5. There was a 67% increase in female head coaches in English teams and a whopping 333% increase in head coaches and managers in the Women’s Super League and Women’s championship. The picture is looking brighter.

However, new women-only elite coaching courses have had mixed reviews about their quality, with some describing them as ‘substandard’. Mixed courses have also been described as ‘intimidating and uncomfortable for women’, so it’s obvious this is where the most work needs to be done to get women into coaching roles. Apply the Field of Dreams principle – if you build it, they will come.

If you’re interested in starting the journey, or know a woman who would make a great coach, there is a free online course as a starter session on the FA website. It covers connecting with players, creating fun football sessions, and keeping sessions safe. Why not make this week’s International Women’s Day the opportunity to jump-start a new footballing journey?

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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