You can be what you can see: women as coaches & officials

Researchers found that representation of women in coaching and officiating roles in sport can challenge attitudes and positively influence children.
Wednesday 3 April 2024

A new report by Victoria University (VU) researchers found that representation of women in coaching and officiating roles in community sport can challenge attitudes and positively influence gender bias among children.  

Shaping attitudes: Exposure to women coaches and officials influences children and parent perceptions was funded by the Victorian Government's Office for Women in Sport and Recreation through its Change Our Game Research Grants Program.  

Women remain significantly underrepresented as coaches and officials across community sport, which means children are denied the opportunity to see and experience women in leadership roles.  

A total of 75 children (aged between four and 17) and their parents shared their first-hand experiences and attitudes of women as coaches and officials, including in Australian rules football, basketball and swimming. Of the children who provided insights into their experiences, 96 per cent had exposure to men as coaches, while only 65 per cent had exposure to women as coaches.  

The VU research team, led by Dr Kara Dadswell, found that children with exposure to predominantly women officials showed higher satisfaction with women in these roles.  

“The study confirms that there is a bias among children towards linking men as being coaches and officials, rather than women. But these engrained gender roles can be shifted for both girls and boys by providing them with an opportunity to experience women as coaches and officials at an early age,” Dr Dadswell said.  

Key findings reveal:   

  • previous experiences with having a woman coach positively influenced children’s belief that women can be great coaches
  • parental attitudes significantly influence their children's attitudes
  • girls' satisfaction levels with having a woman coach and/or official was higher than boys.  

The report offers a number of recommendations for community sporting clubs to help address the lack of representation of women in coaching and official roles, including:  

  • create targeted plans to attract, develop and retain women as coaches and officials
  • enlisting the assistance of parents to voice their positive support for women in these roles
  • supporting the representation of women from diverse backgrounds as coaches and officials.  

Minister for Community Sport Ros Spence said: “Giving children the opportunity to experience women as coaches and officials in community sport brings enormous benefits. This research demonstrates how the representation of women in coaching roles within community sport can increase satisfaction and actively reshape the attitudes of both parents and young boys and girls.” 

Director of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, Sarah Styles said: “Understanding that unconscious bias is being engrained from a young age, and heavily shaped by parents, emphasises the importance of action to ensure women are involved in coaching and officiating at all levels.” 

 Download the Research Summary: changeourgame.vic.gov.au 

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