Since 2000, all but one of the major women’s football tournaments have been won by teams led by women coaches.

Since 2000, all but one of the major women’s football tournaments ─ the FIFA Women’s World Cup, UEFA Women’s EURO and the Olympic women’s football tournament ─ have been won by teams led by women coaches.

However, women are still toiling to find a breakthrough in this male- dominated role that evades even their own space. This is not because they are not good enough, but there is a worrying deep-rooted stereotype that naturally recognizes a man as first choice because he is believed to be the expert.

A report published in 2015 by European football’s governing body, UEFA, revealed that around 80% of coaching positions in the women’s game in Europe are held by men and also women can only boast 3% of the total number of coaching licences.

Out of the 24 teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, only nine were coached by women, with both teams in the final being coached by women; Jill Ellis (USA) and Sarina Wiegman (Netherlands), the second time in the history of the tournament that the managers of the finalists are women. 

The underrepresentation of women in coaching was one of the issues that came to the fore at the Equality Summit – organised by Equal Playing Field in partnership with Athletes for Hope and Football Women International – which was held in Lyon, France on Friday as a new global study on the massive gender gap in coaching revealed that even “women players are not always supportive of women coaches”.  But given the context that many women have not been coached by women, it is easy to understand why many of them think coaching is a man’s job.

This qualitative research by Dr. Donna De Haan, Assistant Professor at Utrecht University and the Hague University of Applied Sciences, and Dr. Leanne Norman, Reader in Sports Coaching, Carnegie School of Sport at Leeds Becket University, for which they spoke to women coaches with national team experience from around the world, provided insights as to why the massive gender gap in coaching exists and how equality can be achieved.

Male-dominated space Using her daughter as a case study, Dr. Haan explained how a girl can feel different playing with boys in the early stages of her football journey and eventually build resilience while developing into a professional player or a coach with the mindset that “football is a space occupied by boys and men”.

A quote from one of the interviewees as displayed on the projector screen read: “I started my playing career with boys. I was bullied by them at half time and I looked at the boys and made sure I remembered their faces and they would be done for in the second half.” Another quote stated: “You walk into a club to give a course (in coach education) and they’ll say ‘it’s a woman!!’ Even the little kids. They do not see you as a coach or instructor but as a woman… it has triggered me to be the best I could be…that I’d be so much better than my male colleagues.”

Normality It is therefore of utmost importance to “normalize the presence of women in football” and this should reflect in the way they are portrayed by the media, by their clubs. Anyone should think it is normal to be coached by a woman. Appointing a woman to a coaching position should not be considered a risk. The research by Dr. Haan and Dr. Norman explained that “the women interviewed demonstrated a clear sense of self-confidence, resilience, and self-awareness as to what their strengths and philosophies were as coaches”.

It added that “male advocates exist across many different areas of the sport but there are not enough of them (yet)”. There are women coaches with the expertise, qualification and knowledge but as one was quoted as saying, “unfortunately we have to double prove ourselves.” A “cultural systemic change” is needed to get rid of institutional barriers, including discrimination and sexual abuse so that transparency and accountability can become the guiding principles towards achieving inclusion.