Coaching across the genders

hope powell 2

Women’s sport has always been a noticeably male friendly zone from a coaching perspective.  For whatever reason, the realm of the coach has been remarkably male dominated in both sport for both genders and in few sports has there been such resistance to female coaching staff than in the nation’s game, football.

Friday’s International Women’s Day though rightly raised the question of whether we might see female coaches in the men’s game during our lifetimes.  Of course early trailblazers have shown that even in the most avowedly masculine of environments, a role for the right female coaches exists – David Weir’s coach, Jenny Archer, famously provided the fitness regime that bent Crazy Gang era Wimbledon FC into shape in the late ‘80s.

Football in the twenty first century is, in spite of its still occasionally regrettable moment, a more rarefied environment than was once the case. No longer does the spit-and-swear model of managerial approach hold sway, with passionately quietly spoken intellect, in the style of Andre Villas-Boas, Pep Guardian, Michael Laudrup and Joachim Loew at the forefront of the new managerial vanguard. Partially this has been inspired by the increasingly detail focused, analytical method of modern day coaching; equally, with many of the world’s leading footballers now earning more than even the drunken, most Bentley driving fool could possibly squander.  The old shock and awe, drinking and golf buddy tactics no longer have the impact they once did. Players – the best ones – look to coaches for ingenuity, tactical nous and inspiration. Kicking the dressing room door down and conducting your team talks on the pitch (yes, that’s you, Phil Brown) just don’t cut it any more.

Into this environment, the prospect of top flight female coaches no longer seems as alien as it once did. In many ways, football still lags behind wider society in its ability to adapt to changing times, yet the managerial career looks increasingly plausible. That isn’t to say that the world is yet ready, nor that the foundations are all in place. More women need to have – and take – the opportunity to take the UEFA Pro-Coaching badges. Women’s football itself needs to become more open to women coaches (only 2 of the FA WSL’s head coaches are women). Football needs to get past the worrying resurgence in racism and homophobia which has emerged as a returning blight on the game’s culture. Corruption and those that breed it need to be eradicated.

Yet progress is occurring in front of our eyes and there already exist some female coaches who would be clear candidates for coaching posts in the men’s game.  International managers of the experience of current Sweden and ex-US Coach Pia Sundhage and England’s Hope Powell are both exceptional coaches by any standards of the game, while within the club game, former Arsenal manager and current Seattle Reign Head Coach Laura Harvey demonstrates a keen tactical eye and clear motivational capabilities.  Similarly, ex-US international CIndy Parlow’s appointment to the Head Coaching role with Portland Thorns is an intriguing prospect.  One looks to the US as perhaps the most likely destination for the first blow for women’s coaching in the men’s game, purely because of its generally more open view to football genders as a whole.

Hurdles remain, and perhaps the biggest of these is a lack of belief that it could actually happen. This may be a chicken and egg notion, but imagine how much the image of women in sport – and the wider world – could evolve when a few pioneering souls break their way into the male game. Imagine how much likelier that will be when the pathetic gender inequality that still exists in so many walks of power is eradicated. Imagine that it could happen in our lifetimes.



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