RESEARCH: A Sustainable and Scalable Mentorship Program for Women Coaches

A Sustainable and Scalable Mentorship Program for Women Coaches

It is well-accepted that women are underrepresented within coaching in Canada. Women coaches represent no more than 25% of all coaches and as the competitive level of sport increases, the number of women coaches decreases. For example, at the Canadian university level, USport data reveal that women comprise only 17% of head coaches.

At the national level, women represent only 16% of head coaches, and at the international level, across the last six winter and summer Olympic Games, women head and assistant coaches comprised 10% in Pyeongchang (2018), 17% in Rio (2016), 13% in Sochi (2014), 20% in London (2012), 13% in Vancouver (2010), and 12% in Beijing (2008). In addition to the alarming nature of these statistics on their own, they stand in sharp contrast to the advancements in gender parity seen in other domains such as medicine, business, politics, law, engineering, and academia.

Several strategies have been suggested to support women’s development and advancement in coaching, including increasing social and institutional support, establishing communities of practice, offering women-only coaching conferences, enacting gender equity policies, creating new paradigms of coaching that address common barriers for women coaches, and implementing mentorship initiatives.

Given the widespread success of mentorship for women professionals in non-sport domains, it is not surprising that mentorship has become a targeted development strategy for supporting women in the sport domain.

Recently, the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), and the University of Toronto collaborated to develop, implement, and evaluate a formal mentorship pilot program specifically for Canadian women coaches.

This initiative was unique as it focused on piloting a theoretically grounded model of mentorship that could be sustainable and scalable. More specifically, the intent was to draw upon mentorship research to design and implement a mentorship program that could be adopted and implemented after the pilot by small clubs and large national sport organizations (NSOs) alike. A summary of the program and some of its notable features are highlighted in this article.

Female Coach Pilot Mentorship Program

Funded by Status of Women Canada, the female coach mentorship pilot program was a formal mentorship initiative developed specifically for women and involved the participation of numerous partners and sport organizations across Canada. In addition to CAAWS, the CAC, and the University of Toronto, an independently hired project manager as well as four NSOs – Tennis Canada, Wrestling Canada, Hockey Canada, and Canada Basketball – participated. Each NSO appointed a representative to provide advice on the program’s development and implementation, as well as to identify and select mentor and mentee coaches to participate. Male and female coaches with extensive experience and expertise in their respective sport were selected by each NSO to participate as mentor coaches and high-potential women coaches who were believed to have a promising future in their respective national program were selected to participate as mentee coaches. In total, seven mentor coaches (three male and four female) and eight female mentee coaches participated in the program. In addition, two lead mentors were selected from the participating NSOs to serve as a supplemental source of support for mentor coaches.