Could a lack of female coaches be down to a lack of ‘pick up games’?

Many years ago as a young girl in the 90’s, I remember those long summer days during the school holidays roaming the local housing estate with my brother, looking for things to do.

As the only girl in a family full of boys, I was big into sports.  I loved watching and playing every kind of sport going – back then, in my town in the North of England, it was mostly football and cricket.  So on those long summer days, that is exactly what I wanted to do!

My brother however…was not into sport.  He was the total opposite to me,  much preferred hiding away on the Sega mega drive (90’s kids may remember!) and even when he did attempt sports, he was totally useless at them!  So that left me, on my own yearning to join in with the various games on the park in which jumpers became goal posts and bottles of water became cricket stumps.

Throughout the summer, everyday without fail, there would be herds of boys appearing on the parks first thing in the morning until last thing at night playing ‘pick up’ games of football.  If there were any girls around, they would be on the swings banished from playing by their older brothers.  Whilst I was occasionally gifted a short game of football by an older boy who felt sorry for me, it was very rare that I got to join in with these epic ‘World Cup’ park matches…

These childhood memories were spurred recently when I began reading the book “Why Men Earn More” by Warren Farrell.  A book published in 2005 after a 15 year study into the gender pay gap in the U.S.  More to come on my findings in future blogs, but for the sake of this one, the topic that spiked my interest was the research into ‘pick up games’.

For those unsure, a pick up game is a game spontaneously started by a group of people whose aim it is to simply play a sport, whether that be football, basketball, cricket etc.  There are usually no referee’s and no coach and whilst these games are more informal than a traditional team sport, the games are governed by the players themselves, who may or may not know each other.

The skill of a successful ‘pick-up’ game is balancing that fine line between competition and fair play.  It’s important that the random (or not so random) groups of people engaged in the game establish a set of rules; “Whose going to be the captain?, Do we play full pitch or half pitch?, How big do you want the goals?, First team to 3 wins?”

Unlike organised team sports, problems often arise from misinterpretations of rules, rules that one minute operate in your favour going against you in the next play and can sometimes (or often in the games I participated in), result in a few frayed tempers and fisty cuffs between players.  For young children, a pick up game can be a big lesson in emotional intelligence and collaboration.

Now, here is the stat that stood out to me; “Pick up games are played 99% by boys and men”.

And why is that important?

Think about all the skills a pick up game teaches children, those I’ve just mentioned around emotional intelligence, collaboration, but also competitiveness, leadership, inner motivation, dealing with wins and losses, never mind the development of physical attributes of pick up games (conditioning, speed, hand-eye coordination).

According to “Why Men Earn More”: “if organised team sports develop managerial skills for corporate setting, pick up team sports are more like training to be an entrepreneur.”

The attributes of an entrepreneur are self-discipline, passion, creativity, competitiveness, self-starter and confidence…and in my eyes, everyone of those applies to being a coach.

So if only 1% of pick up games are played by girls and women…

Just a thought….

Author : Vicky is a track and field coach from the UK and the founder of the Female Coaching Network.  Born in the North West of England, she has worked and volunteered in sport since the age of 15.  She has a huge passion for coaching and is an advocate for coaching equality.