2015 WWC: Women Just Want To Coach

30 Jun

1826f907-389e-4bc5-b461-59c8fee9ccc2-2060x1236The semi-finals are upon us and there are two interesting match-ups about to happen. On the one side, you have two female coaches going head-to-head in the USA vs Germany match. On the other, you have two male coaches going head-to-head in the England vs Japan game. When it comes to women’s football you’d expect all head coaches to be female, given that when it comes to men’s football all head coaches are indeed male. But as the following article from The Guardian by Anna Kessel shows we’re just not there yet.

It is one of the most startling inequalities of this Women’s World Cup, the lack of female coaches. At the group stages only eight out of 24 teams were led by women; come the quarter-finals that number had dropped to two – though they were the two teams ranked No1 and No2 in the world. But if women can coach the leading pair, then why are the numbers of female coaches declining at the elite level?

In March this year the former England manager Hope Powell gave a rousing speech at a Fifa conference describing women coaches as being “squeezed out” of the game as the sport grew ever more professional – and desirable – to male applicants. In England Emma Hayes at Chelsea remains the only female coach in the top tier, prompting calls from Hayes and the Football Association’s Heather Rabbatts for a Rooney Rule to benefit female coaches, as well as ethnic minority groups.

But if the talent is out there, why are so few coming forward for roles in the industry? The Dundee United director Justine Mitchell recently revealed that a vacancy for a women’s team head coach attracted 50 applicants, all male. “I can trump that,” says the former England Under-17s manager Lois Fidler. “At the Hampshire FA [where Fidler is now technical director] we had two recruitment drives and 70 applications. There was just one female.”

Across the pond, April Heinrichs – the first female player to make the US Soccer Hall of Fame, who went on to coach the USA women’s team to Olympic gold in 2004 – smiles at a familiar story. In her role as development director for the US federation she recently tried to recruit a physiologist. “I have 28 applications, just two are from women. A mantra I repeat a lot is: you have to recruit the women. The men will apply for every job available. If there’s 10 criteria and they have two – they apply. I’m not exaggerating. There’s a research paper out on this. For women, if she’s missing two she will not apply.”

Heinrichs says the federation employs a large number of women because they have spent the time finding them. “It’s not because they’ve been knocking on our door.” The key, she says, is to be persistent. “You get on the phone to people in the MLS, you talk to everybody you know and ask them if they’ve come across any women. That’s how you uncover the women who didn’t apply. Women might send an application out – if they are requested. But first she’s going to call and say: ‘I’m not sure if I’m qualified.’”

When US Soccer invited its current coach, Jill Ellis, to apply for the job, the England-born coach first recommended a list of names of other people who it could also approach. Heinrichs believes men do want to recruit women. “They call me up all the time asking if I have any,” she says, but they are not prepared to do the legwork. “They call two people, and then they’re done, end of search. You need to keep going.”

When it comes to female coaches, Germany provide the model England should be following. They are hailed for their succession planning, exemplified by Tina Theune assisting Gero Bisanz from 1983 to 1996 before taking over, and there began an all-female baton change that would last two decades. Sylvia Neid followed, assisting Theune from 1996 to 2005, before rising to head coach. Between them Theune and Neid have led the side to seven major trophies; this summer the world’s No1 team could add an eighth. Even though Neid is still in post until 2016, the federation announced her replacement in March: the former national team defender Steffi Jones.

Heinrichs says Germany’s approach is exemplary. “It stabilises their organisation, it helps them perform at every age group, at every tournament, every year. I like to think of the US as a pillar of leadership in a lot of ways but there are ways in which we are lagging behind, one of which is a succession plan and stable coaching. We have more of a carousel of coaches.”

Youth football should provide the breeding ground for future coaches. No wonder, then, that Moya Dodd, a Fifa executive committee member and chair of the women’s football taskforce, has initiated a stipulation that all teams at next year’s Under-17s World Cup in Jordan must include at least one woman on the bench, and on the medical staff.

While Fidler is uncomfortable with the idea of quotas – “to fatten a pig you don’t just weigh it – you’ve got to fatten the product, we don’t want to set up aspirational female coaches who haven’t had the same access to fail” – her own experiences tally with this picture. “I went to the inaugural Under-17 World Cup in 2008 and I was the only female head coach there. At the press conference and in the hotels my signage read: Mr Lois Fidler.” She laughs.

All through her coaching qualifications, Fidler – a pro licence holder – has been the only female on her course, bar the A licence. That lack of female representation acts as a barrier to many women. Fidler says she felt apprehensive at every stage of her badges, under pressure to prove that she could play, to represent the women’s game, and “let down” that the course did not embrace her expertise. “I would have felt more valued if there had been an acknowledgement that the women’s game existed. That’s something I felt a little bit let down on. But it was fed back and I do hear that positive change is being made.”

Fidler also emphasises the cost of badges as a barrier to women who, unlike the men’s game, cannot expect well paid jobs when they graduate. “Male coaches will often be sponsored to do their badges by their employers in the men’s game, whereas I couldn’t even get my employers to sponsor me to do the Pro license course. They said it wouldn’t add value to their organisation.”

Heinrichs stresses that recruitment is only half the job: you have to work hard to retain women. In the US setup, mothers are welcomed and supported – so Ellis and her team receive financial support for childcare, as well as family time built in around their work. “We’ve been doing that since 1994 when Joy Fawcett [a defender who won 239 caps] had her first child.”

Meanwhile, in some parts of the world retaining coaches has been taken to a new extreme. Following Spain’s exit from this World Cup, the women’s team released a statement calling for their manager of 27 years, Ignacio Quereda, to be sacked. It was part of a long-running saga, and Quereda’s ongoing position even prompted the star striker Laura del Río García, who scored 40 goals in 39 appearances for the senior national side, to quit international football as long as he remained in charge. Meanwhile Leonardo Cuéllar has been in post for Mexico for 17 years. “In some of these federations when the coaches tenure has been so long it’s an indication of the federation not really caring about women’s football,” says Heinrichs, angrily.

Last month Sports Coach UK launched an initiative to improve the number of female coaches working across British sport (only 30% of all British coaches are female). Project 3,000 aims to deploy 3,000 new female coaches across sport over the next two years to address the gender imbalance.

But there has also been a growing movement among female coaches to support each other. The Female Coaching Network, a global online community, was set up by the athletics coach Vicky Huyton last summer. “I wanted to give female coaches a voice and a way of connecting with each other without the barrier of NGB [national governing bodies] red tape,” she says. The response was overwhelming. In less than a year the website attracted contributions from more than 70 countries.

Huyton says the challenges in football, one of the most male-dominated sports, are similar, “whether you’re a coach in Uganda, or England”. She shares the story of a Uefa A licence coach who had to deal with obscene comments from male players in her team, or the young Level 2 coach who was oblivious to gender stereotyping until the father of one of her players shouted during the game that she had made the wrong tactical decision because she is a woman and doesn’t understand football.

“One coach I interviewed from Canada told me the media never focus on her excellent win/loss record, but the fact she is a women and it frustrates her that her coaching ability and achievements aren’t the focus. Women just want to coach and they don’t want to have to deal with all the stereotyping that goes with being a female coach; it is frustrating having to fight that all the time.”

– hopechaser

2 Responses to “2015 WWC: Women Just Want To Coach”

  1. mygypsyspirit July 1, 2015 at 7:09 am #

    My eyes are full of hearts over this article. Coaching is difficult and the governing bodies (to include the more progressive ones) make it more difficult.

    • hopechaser July 2, 2015 at 6:34 pm #

      I thought you’d like this one!

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