Research Findings: A Culture of ‘Poaching’

Findings: Achieving Gender Equity in High Performance Athletics Coaching in the U.K.

The culture of ‘poaching athletes’ was a frequent theme in the data. This is a similar finding to previous research that found such an issue in relation to Black and Minoritised Ethnic coaches: high-potential athletes are ‘poached’ from coaches and assigned to more powerful (read: White male) coaches (Rankin-Wright et al., 2017).

This will impact those coaches in the minority because of their positions in the system which are underpinned by racial and gendered assumptions as to where their place is in the coaching system (e.g. women are better in ‘nurturing’ roles such as coaching children and / or those athletes with a disability) and their lack of influence and power in decision-making circles.

Poaching of athletes was a common experience for the women, both White and those who identified as Black or Minoritised Ethnic, interviewed in the present study:

He didn’t have the decency to tell me what was happening. So what I’m saying is that coaches tend to not work together well enough to support each other. and that’s part of the problem. Because [the NGB] can divide the coaches, because coaches want to move on, there are some of them that will stab you in the back so that they can move on. And that’s one of the problems we have, so they don’t respect each other enough. They will take away someone else’s athlete and don’t have the respect to sit down and talk to that coach.

The only communication I have had with [the NGB] was when [name of athlete] got his GB international and then the communication was not good…Then the coach there tried to poach him straight off…He straight away wanted [name of athlete] to go down and train with him for a few days, and undermined me straight off.

However, I do know that there is definite poaching or attempts at all levels which I feel is not acceptable. It’s destructive to athletes let alone coaches.

[This one coach] is a bit of an obstacle because when he sees the good athletes he tries to entice them to him. I mean, I have already had that with the lad I coach when he was an [age]. I actually get on quite well with [name], but he does have this arrogance that he thinks he is the best and nobody else can do it apart from him. Which creates a barrier for me. He was very supportive in my early days and I learned a lot from him, but I don’t think he makes room for other coaches to do it as well. And particularly for people like me who work for a living and coach in our spare time. He calls us ‘hobby coaches’ deliberately to try and antagonise. But actually, you know, he is on it, I am a hobby coach because I’m not paid to coach. I have no income from coaching. So it is a hobby and could walk away from it tomorrow, but I think I am more professional than he is in a lot of ways. So that is one barrier.

They were very suspicious of me for quote unquote, setting up a professional training environment as I put it. There was a lot of insecurities from other clubs that I was going to poach their athlete.

And I personally have stood with one of my [athletes] and had a different, again a [national] tutor, say to my athlete that he wanted to coach him. 

I then got his horrendous text message basically saying … ‘how many other readymade athletes do you want to take?’ He said I was poaching athletes, that I was operated and coaching people during lockdown, which I was just writing a plan, he was saying a lot of things that could really get me in trouble here. So, I had to just back down, I had to ring this [age] year old kid up and say sorry, it’s not going to work because your old coach is not happy for you to move over. So, I had to say that – and then, that coach stopped coaching him so the kid has been left on his own! I just think it’s unbelievable, but I had to do that just to sort of be able to go down to the club, not be harassed, just stuff like that. It probably doesn’t matter what I’ve done, that I am a woman, it’s probably just his problem, but that’s how I felt. So, I just don’t see how I will get any other athletes round here now, I don’t see how there is a pathway for anyone to come to me. Within the club. 

She is a very very capable coach, brilliant coach. But, again, this guy, a male coach approached him and said he would be the best coach to get him on the team. And off went the athlete. They will pick who they want to take. There will be, it’s confusing with the levels and stuff…Yes, poaching is a big [barrier] yeah!

And then he was poached relentlessly after that and is now off to [name of country], having had a severe poaching from a coach out there. He went off to the Europeans, he said it was non- stop poaching there, agents, coaches, all saying ‘you should come to me’, ‘whose coaching you?’. It happened to another athlete called [name of athlete] she was poached relentlessly right in front of me and is now going to [name of place]. I can’t help but think, would this have happened if I was a male coach standing there? Right in front of me! That has been really difficult to take, but like most women, I don’t know if it is because I am female, or what it is.

I actually identified him and I started coaching him. He was with a club, but I was the person who helped his development. As soon as he ran really really well… then he got taken away from me. I’ve had [number] internationals, albeit junior, you know, seven of them, but each one of them have been taken.