Female coaches face bias, insecurities in joining all levels of sport: experts

UVic coach Dani Sinclair says woman are questioned a little bit more, possibly, than male coaches

When University of Victoria basketball coach Dani Sinclair went into labour in the middle of a hard-fought playoff run, she struggled with a dilemma no male coach ever faces: should she recover and cocoon with her newborn in those precious first days after birth, or power through exhaustion to attend her team’s crucial game?

In the end, she tried to do both — after delivering at 4:30 a.m., she badgered her doctor into discharging her from hospital at noon, and was on the bench to root for the Vikes at 6 p.m., with her newborn in the stands with her husband.

“I think I freaked some of my girls out,” she admits of her decision, made back in March 2016.

“(But) with all three of my kids I’ve had this hit of adrenaline 24 hours post-labour, post-delivery and so I was fine. Even after not sleeping I felt energized. It was the next night I felt terrible.”

Still, she showed up for the next game, too, feeling obliged after making such an effort the previous night. Looking back now, Sinclair wonders if subconscious insecurities pushed her above and beyond the call of duty, describing herself at the time as “a young coach who still really needed to prove myself.”

“There may have been a part of me that was like: ‘Well, I’ve been able to reach this point, I have this job, I can’t give anybody any reason to think that I can’t do this,’” she admits of a field that has proven tough for women to break into.

“That’s one of the things as female coaches that we battle. We are questioned a little bit more, possibly, than male coaches are, just because there’s fewer of us.”

The gender disparity in coaching is evident as Canada prepares to send its athletes to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, where just 10 per cent of coaches are female, says Isabelle Cayer, senior coaching consultant at the Coaching Association of Canada.

READ MORE: Province marks 40th anniversary of BC Games

READ MORE: Grit, drive and commitment: B.C.’s most inspirational sports stories of 2017

That’s down from 17 per cent at the 2016 Summer Games in Rio and 13 per cent at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

And so the Coaches Association of Ontario has launched a campaign dubbed “Changing the Game — Changing the Conversation” to drive home the message that women have the skills and the drive to coach and mentor athletes at all levels.

The dearth of female coaches is a national problem, says Allison Sandmeyer-Graves of the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity.

She cites federal data from 2015 that found just 25 per cent of Canadian coaches were female. Slightly more enrolled in the Coaching Association of Canada’s certification program, where 30 per cent were women, but that, too, is disconcerting.

“You see women are being trained, but that’s not necessarily translating into active coaches,” says Sandmeyer-Graves, adding that across 54 national teams, only 16 per cent of head coaches and 19 per cent of assistant coaches were female, according to Sport Canada data in 2016.

The problems are myriad, she says, citing gender stereotypes that don’t see women in leadership roles, lopsided domestic obligations that make it hard for mothers to volunteer at evening and weekend games, unconscious biases that don’t value female expertise, and few role models.

And it exists from grassroots soccer and baseball games all the way up to the elite level, adds Cayer, worrying that youngsters who encounter exclusively male coaches develop a distorted world view that can shape gender expectations both in and out of the sports world.

“My message at the grassroots level is really the importance of seeing men and women on the field coaching (and that) anyone is able to be a coach at that level,” says Cayer, noting that part of the campaign is directed at encouraging women to volunteer, even if they believe they know nothing about sports.

“There’s only a few things that you need to be able to do and some clubs can do it really well, they can offer some training that is about safety and basic rules around the game and how to set up some practices, your warm up, your cool down, what that looks like and that it’s about fun.”

Sandmeyer-Graves says women are better represented — although still under-represented — at the grassroots level, but that drops as you go up the levels of competition.

“Unfortunately, those are some of the most visible coaching roles, the most influential coaching roles and also the better paid coaching roles.”

Even seasoned athletes who transition to coaching can be plagued by doubts.

Back when Sinclair was an assistant coach and learned she was pregnant with her first child, she immediately thought: “My coaching career is over.”

“I wholeheartedly believed that,” says Sinclair. “And it took a lot to change my perspective of that.”

She found support at the University of Victoria and went on to ascend to the head coach position, crediting a flexible, accommodating work environment — along with strong family help at home — with allowing her to have two more kids while leading the women’s basketball team.

“If the leadership within organizations aren’t willing to look at it from a different perspective, I don’t know if change can happen, even if we have all these great initiatives happening,” she says, noting past awareness campaigns seemed to have had little impact.

“I have a really positive example here at UVic … they’ve had to approach my job description differently than a lot of our other coaches. I’ve had a lot of flexibility at times to work at home and have my kids in the office with me or in the gym with me, or on the road.”

If the problem was easy to solve, it would have been done long ago, agrees Sandmeyer-Graves, wondering if it’s time for government to play a stronger role.

She sees merit in tying federal and provincial funds to equity measures, a step that could motivate organizations to take intentional action to close the gender gap.

“Because what’s clear is that good intentions and time just aren’t enough,” she says.

Cassandra Szklarski, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

School’s on today, more snow expected across Greater Victoria

Environment Canada says more snow could fall Friday

Crown asks for more time in Oak Bay murder of young sisters

They will reconvene in three weeks to set a date for Andrew Berry’s murder trial to begin

Foot found near Victoria belonged to missing Washington man

No foul play suspected in death of Stanley Okumoto, 79

Snow cancels, alters transit routes across Greater Victoria

Buses will not be stopping on steep hills, says BC Transit

Central Saanich property taxes may rise 2.97 per cent

Higher police costs due to new CRD dispatch

Light snow leads to heavy traffic in Victoria

Wednesday’s snowfall caused traffic chaos as commuters tried to get home

How to keep local news visible in your Facebook feed

Facebook has changed the news feed to emphasize personal connections. You might see less news.

Three new judges appointed to B.C. Supreme Court

Two spots filled in Vancouver, one in New Westminster

BCHL Today: Merritt’s Buckley nets scholarship and Vees slam Salmon Arm

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

B.C. MP invites convicted terrorist to Trudeau reception in India

Jaspal Atwal was convicted of trying to assassinate an Indian cabinet minister

OLYMPIC ROUNDUP: Women’s ice hockey team loses first Olympic game in 20 years

Team Canada added two silvers and a bronze to their total

‘You just don’t know when someone has a challenge’

Wounded Warriors Run BC spreads awareness of mental health, hopes to raise $100,000

Canadian support split on Trans Mountain pipeline debate: Poll

Angus Reid poll surveying Canadians on pipeline stance finds no clear winner

Tired of ‘big city life’? One-stoplight town hosts contest to lure in city slickers

Contest by BC Rural Centre hopes to attract city folks to a small town in the Kootenays

Most Read