What does it mean to be a woman in a man’s world (Part 1)

I am a coach. I coach American Football.

I have regular reactions to what I do of ‘you do what?’, and ‘you coach children?’ – No, I am the head coach of a male university team; I have seven male coaches on my coaching team, who look to me to guide and organise the team effectively. This alongside coaching the women’s game up to national level, I don’t actually coach any children in football.

This reaction toward a female coach is normal – we are seen as the ‘caring’ gender, and so making this assumption is a normal response. But the idea of a woman coaching men in this sport seems to be particularly unusual. Is it that unusual? Not really. It’s becoming more commonplace for women to be on the side-lines. I have been coaching the male game since I entered the sport, only joining the ladies game last year. My entire footballing career has been as part of a men’s team, and it is where I feel comfortable – and it is where I feel that I belong. But the question is, is that feeling of belonging reciprocated?

In the time that I have been coaching football, I have had comments made to me – I have even had a fellow coach refuse to shake my hand at the end of the game. Did this make me feel unworthy? No. Did it make me feel upset? No. I couldn’t tell you how I felt. One comment made me feel numb; the others, well, I felt nothing. This is not my problem – I cannot make everyone happy, and I learned this many years ago. I am happy in the knowledge that I coach to the best of my ability, that my players respect my judgement and that I respect them. In recent months I have been asked to assist in the delivery of coaching qualifications, and assess said qualifications. I have received recommendations from my fellow coaches for positions on new areas of football, and have been interviewed for coaching positions that two years ago I would never have thought possible.

But, it was during a conversation a few weeks ago that I really sat back and considered my position, when a player asked me if he was the first player that had accepted my coaching without question. At first I was shocked, and then I realised that this was the first time he had had a coach who wasn’t a male ex-player. He was stood on a field being coached skills by a 5-foot-tall woman, and being coached in a way that did not involve direct instruction, and was learning new skills! This was not a question that was meant to hurt, or to cause offence, he was truly interested – interested in how I was interpreted as a coach by other players and coaches. My response? I smiled and said I had both men and women question me, and listen to me in equal measure, and that I expected my players to question what we do, it is what makes me better as a coach.

This has got me thinking – is this something that others have considered? Is this a question that has

never been asked before because of manners or fear of upsetting? Are we not yet at a place where this question can be asked – and then I asked myself would a female player have asked a male coach this question…In short, probably not. Even though I did not think anything of the question, I had not realised that this is not something that would be considered. It is ‘normal’ the other way around, as whether in the UK, Europe, or the USA and Australia, in the mainstream, coaches are male. Especially head coaches of male teams.

Part 2 coming soon…

Sarah Jauncey is an American Football Coach from the UK.  From the glitz and glamour of multi-million dollar franchises in the US, Sarah coaches the sport in much more humble settings.  Sarah is the Head Coach of her local team and the only female coach in the GB set up.  To find out more about Sarah, read our exclusive interview with her HERE

Sarah’s role is to lead the creation of a Global network of female American Football coaches.  To contact Sarah please email: sjauncey@femalecoachingnetwork.com