Are male coaches overpowering female coaches?

By Laura McNicholas

As a female athlete, coach, and referee in soccer, I find it astounding how little women are involved in professional sports – especially when it comes to being in charge of a team. The opportunities are there for some, if not most of these women, and it got me wondering as to what it is that prevents them from becoming a coach.

The Glass Ceiling effect is most often seen as the effect that implies gender disadvantages are stronger at the top of the hierarchy, than at lower levels and that these disadvantages worsen with age (Cotter, 2001). This effect is still occurring in Canada, the number of women becoming CEO’s is not increasing over the course of time. Men are still more than twice as likely to hold a senior position as women are. In the coaching industry, a good precedent is not been set if women are still being seen as lower down in the hierarchy.

In class, we discussed the participation rates of female and male coaches. Within Canada, women comprise 22% of all sport coaches and 28% of technical officials. These statistics are quite extraordinary, and do not by any means show the representation of how many women are actually qualified to coach the sport or officiate.

Being a female coach is not an easy place to be in the society. Many people undermine your ability and this ultimately leads to bad experiences, and causes drop outs. From a personal perspective, I have been on the receiving end of comments that were implying that I was not as qualified as a male coach would be. For young girls looking for role models in the coaching side of things, it is mere impossible to find any. On the flip side of things, males have many role models to look up to- especially in professional sports. A post I read online showed that in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and NHL, not one of the coaches or assistant coaches are female. That is a staggering 1000+ jobs, and not a single one is female (Malady, 2012). Why? I hear you asking, and that is simply the question, why?

Many people perceive females to know less about sports and assume they do not understand the rules, although this is far from the truth. Surely it would not be possible for someone to become a coach, or referee if they did not have an understanding. Another point raised is that people will not and do not respect women as coaches. For me, this is wrong. No matter what sex, gender, race or religion people should be respected equally in this world. For someone who is willing to take time out of their day to help me develop as a player, they would have my respect regardless of their demographics.

For example, if a male is applying for a job as head coach for the Pittsburgh Penguins, then nothing would be wrong with this. If a female was to apply for the same job and happened to get it, many questions would be asked, and eyebrows would be raised as to why and how that happened. Today’s world that we live in is politically driven, and no matter how beneficial someone could be to a team it does not seem of much importance anymore. The main goal is to win trophies, and men have been successful in doing so thus far, is that why teams do not want to change that?


Cotter, D., A., Hermsen, J., M., Ovadia, S., Vanneman, R., (2001). The Glass Ceiling Effect. Oxford University Press/USA, 80(2), 655-681.

Malady, M., J.X., (2012). Why are there still no women coaching men’s sports? And why don’t we care? Retrieved from:


6 responses

  1. This is a well-written post Laura,

    I had never really questioned why women had such little involvement in professional sports. Perhaps this is because from my own experiences playing sports I was only coached by men. However, I do remember during one year of playing hockey we had a woman manager on the team. We went to an Atlantic tournament in PEI and she went up to the tournament organizing committee and said that our team had arrived and wanted to know which dressing room we would be getting ready in. According to her, a man said “Where is your manager?” to her face, leaving her extremely disappointed in disbelief for most of the weekend. Being a man, I cannot relate to many of the obstacles that you and other women face regarding coaching and other involvements in sport.

    As discussed in class, we looked at the media in sports and learned that in advertisements when 50% of the major female characters were portrayed, the home was the primary setting. It’s quite possible that men still have a gender ideology associated with women as being inferior and better suited for household duties than displaying hegemonic masculinity. Unfortunately, with women being objectified and discounted, it does not give them much of chance to coach professionally.

    To answer your question, I think that professional teams do not want to stray far from the norm. Like you mentioned, there are no women coaches in the four major North American leagues. I think it’s unlikely a team wants to attract negative media attention by hiring a woman coach. It would be a good thing for a change, especially to get women more involved since they have the same qualifications. I think the only way this will happen is if there are more women coaches starting at the collegiate level. For example, if there is a successful college basketball coach in the NCAA, more teams will then look for women coaches and then possibly an NBA team would consider it. I believe they deserve just as much of a chance in professional sports as men do.


  2. Great Post, Laura!

    I find it sad and so discouraging to see the lack of female coaches and officials in sport today. I played on many different female and co-ed teams throughout my life and not once have I had a female coach, with the exception of when I was five years old and played in a “Timbits” soccer league. We see so many females who are coaching children at a beginner level, working with children who are still in elementary school. Unfortunately, as we discussed in class, as the level of skill in sport begins to increase, the number of female coaches begins to decrease. I believe that an increase in female coaches can lead to an increase in female sport participation. Girls need more role models to look up to, such as coaches and officials. If women were to be seen in leadership roles it would give girls more motivation, inspiration and support to participate in sport and possibly someday achieve a leadership role in society themselves. In my opinion, male coaches are overpowering female coaches and it is a huge issue in today’s society.

    Cassie S

  3. Great post Laura,

    I am glad you brought up how little female coaches are involved in professional sport. Even though I am female, the lack of female coaches in sport never really came to my attention until taking this class and reading this post. As stated, I do agree that men do not respect women to be as qualified as men in the sport context.

    To answer your question, and in agreement with Aiden, I think professional sports teams are reluctant to move away from the norm. Specifically adding to this thought, professional teams might not want to change their coaching staff due to the association and creation of sport as a “masculine domain”. I think the current organizers of professional sport are reluctant to “give up” positions to women because men believe they are the “owners” of sport, regardless the success of male teams winning trophies.

    Throughout my sporting career, I have been coached both by men and women. In England, volleyball is an unrecognized sport, until we hosted the London Olympics. It is a shame to think I have been coached by a number of female coaches at both junior and international level in volleyball in England during my athletic career and we still see not one coach or assistant coach in the NBA, NFL, MLB etc who is female, especially at the highest level (with availability of outstanding athletes).

    Considering volleyball was up and coming in the UK, it is possible women were accepted to start coaching, due to lack of foundation for the sport. Considering volleyball’s underdevelopment, we can related how the sports society associates female coaches with managing sports which are less prestigious and require or are of less responsibility and significance.

    In the Atlantic University Sport volleyball league, there are currently no female coaches in the men’s league however, there are two females coaches in the women’s. Both of these individuals are fairly new to coaching; into their third year, in Atlantic sport. Maybe we are beginning to see a change in the job opportunities for female coaches at the university level. But the problem still remains….how long until we see female coaches in professional sport?!

  4. Nice post, Laura! I agree that there is a severe lack of female coaches, or even females in a position of power in the sporting world. I’ve been lucky enough to have had several female coaches (more so than not) across many different sports over time, but I noticed that when I had both a female and a male coach, the man would be the one in charge and the main decision maker for the team as a whole. It didn’t matter that the women in charge clearly had the skills and knowledge to be making the same decisions, and I think that is telling; even in this day of age, women are still oppressed when it comes to sports.

    We talked about the the roles of recreation in class, where the goal for children in sport is to create a safe, welcoming and supportive environment for them to play in. Generally, we attribute these qualities to women, and so why don’t we have more women rather than men in positions of power (coaches, officials, and even political positions, etc.) where people in general, especially children going through programs can approach them, and feel safe and welcomed? I hope to see more female coaches like the ones I had in the past making their mark in the sporting world in the future!


  5. Great Post, Laura! I guess I never really thought of this until it was brought up in class, and realized how little the number of women coaches there were. Growing up, I played many different sports and I only ever had a women coach when my mom coached my t-ball team but that was just at a beginner level. It wasn’t until I played Canada Games soccer that I had my first lady coach at a competitive level. She was an assistant coach, but It was nice to receive feedback and information from a female, and someone who you felt more comfortable talking to.

    As we are both players for the UNB Women’s Soccer Team, I think we can both agree that Alex plays a huge role on our team. Although she was only an assistant coach, I believe that she had much of the say with the drills we did in practice, and she was never afraid to give feedback and give her own input on certain situations. She has a tremendous amount of skill and knowledge for the game of soccer, and her decision making was excellent. Which is exactly why she is now the head coach for the STU Women’s Soccer Team. I think she is a great example of a women’s coach, and I hope soon enough we will see more female coaches like Alex who are more than capable of coaching an AUS team, or even a professional team.

    Kayla P

  6. This is a really great post, Laura! You elaborated upon many great points, which tie in nicely with topics we have recently covered in class. Alike you, I have also been a coach, player, and referee in soccer. Many years back, when I was 14 years old or so, I partook in a referee course of 40-50 people where I was the only female. This took me by surprise, thus, at the end of the sessions I decided to ask the instructor if this was common, he responded with “sadly, yes”.

    As we discussed in class this past week, women are extremely out numbered by their male counterparts in terms of coaching at the Olympic Games. We discussed that women have comprised of only 10% and 21% at the two last games, respectively. I think these numbers are astonishing. I strongly agree with how you mentioned that this ultimately falls back on how a female coach is perceived in society (i.e. she would be ridiculed if she were to try to coach a hockey or rugby team). I find it difficult to wrap my head around the concept that people find it “acceptable” for a female to coach aesthetically pleasing sports (i.e. ballet, synchronized swimming, tennis) however, it would be completely ridiculous for her to coach a male football, per say.

    Finally, I had never really put much thought into this particular topic until it was brought up in class, however, I am very happy that it has been brought to my attention. As a female athlete, I am discouraged to say that I have never been coached by a female. To echo the above statements, I think that male coaches are held on a pedestal because of the success they have brought to teams thus far. However, who are we (society) to say that these very knowledgeable and qualified females whom are discouraged from sharing their athletic talents are not capable of bringing the same type of success to the forefront?

    – Jessica

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