Representation for women in sport has always been lacking, but there are few areas in more dire need of women than coaching. Varsity athletics is no exception.
As of 2020, only 16 per cent of Canadian head coaches at the university level were women—a percentage that’s been declining.
Across the country, women’s teams are being led by coaching staff mostly consisting of men. At Queen’s, the majority of women’s varsity teams have men head coaches at the helm.
The numbers don’t add up: there’s no shortage of exceptional women athletes and coaches, but few make it to coaching varsity sports.
What keeps women from coaching at the university level isn’t a lack of talent—it’s a lack of opportunity.
There are many barriers women coaches face based solely on their gender, and there’s research to prove it.
Women must overcome misogynistic assumptions that they make less competent coaches than men. They must be overqualified to break through homologous hiring practices.
Ultimately, these barriers maintain the position of straight, white, cisgender men as the accepted standard for coaching. Queer women and women of colour in particular are held to an even higher standard.
Most frustratingly, aspiring women coaches lack the mentors and role models to make coaching at the university level accessible to them. The cycle continues to repeat itself.
Women athletes deserve leadership from their peers. They deserve to learn from women, and to eventually be able to teach other girls and women themselves, if they would like to. Instead, coaching opportunities are, time and time again, handed out to men.
A 2009 study on Canadian coaches at various levels of competition found women coaches at the high-performance level—including college and university coaches—to be typically younger, less likely to be married, and less likely to have children than their men counterparts. They’re also unlikely to coach men athletes.
The double standards in university athletics are glaringly obvious. Men are given coaching positions on women’s and men’s teams, while women struggle to earn positions on women’s teams and rarely coach men. Women coaches are expected to conform to gendered and sexist ideals of success to be considered for the job—ideals that aren’t applied to men.
Of course, the solution isn’t to yank varsity coaching positions out from under men. Many of them are incredible coaches who foster success on their teams.
But it’s vital that when there are openings, women aren’t only given a fair opportunity for coaching positions in women’s varsity sports—they’re sought out.
Institutions must commit to finding women coaches that are the right fit for their teams. These coaches are out there.
Findings of that same 2009 study show women coaches at the highest levels are consistently more qualified than the men coaches.
In other words, there are plenty women coaches out there who are just as qualified to lead women’s varsity teams who didn’t get the job—and universities need to hire them.
Shelby is a fourth-year English student and one of The Journal’s Editors in Chief.
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