Female coaches in performance sports: tackling stereotypes and discrimination

Academics at Loughborough University are working alongside UK Sport to ensure female coaches are better represented in elite sport.

According to the International Olympic Committee, women’s sport has been experiencing continuous growth.

Within the context of the modern Olympic Games – arguably the biggest sport spectacular in the world – female athletes made up 44% of the total number of athletes at London 2012, participating in every sport of the Olympic programme for the first time (IOC, 2016).

Tokyo 2020 also saw female athletes outnumber male athletes in Team Great Britain (GB) for the first time in the history of the Games.

While the participation of female athletes has increased, the percentage of female coaches has remained extremely low, with females making up between 8% and 11% of Great Britain coaches at Olympics held between 2004 and 2016.

In 2019, our academics started working closely with UK Sport – the government agency responsible for investing in Olympic and Paralympic sport – and a range of national sport authorities (e.g., home nations and UK Coaching) with the aim of improving gender representation in the high-performance coach workforce.

This work is designed to help increase the number of female coaches from an average 10% to 25% by Paris 2024.

Our impact

  • At Tokyo 2020, 17% of coaches were females while at Paris 2024 the expectation is to reach 25% at Paris 2024.
  • Delivered a women-only leadership development programme in 2021 and in 2022 to equip female coaches operating in high performance with the confidence and leadership tools they need to increase their impact. A total of 44 female coaches attended this event, alongside key stakeholders (podium and mentor coaches) from National Governing Bodies.

  • Offer Continuous Professional Development in 2023-24 to female coaches in performance coaching to ensure consistent growth, while remaining connected with like-minded people and motivated to fully engage in their respective organisations.

Research in focus

The barriers and enablers to female coaches in high performance sport

Research conducted over a number of years has highlighted inequalities in gender representation. Recent research carried out in the School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences has outlined the approaches of coaches (males and females) when they coach female athletes/teams and what are the barriers and enablers are to female coaches advancing a career in high performance sport – a largely male dominated environment.

  • Jowett S, Gosai J, Slade, K. (2022). Women in Coaching: What are the problems and probable solutions? Sport and Exercise Psychology Review, 17, 16-29.
  • Gosai J, Jowett S, Rhind D. (2021 online). Coaching Through a “Gender Lens” May Reveal Myths That Hinder Female Athletes: A Multistudy Investigation. International Sport Coaching Journal. DOI: 10.1123/iscj.2021-0046
  • Gosai J, Jowett S, Rhind D. (ahead of print). The Goldilocks Dilemma in Coaching: Female Coaches’ Experiences of Stereotypical Biases and a Two-Dimensional Approach to Combat Them. International Sport Coaching Journal. DOI: 10.1123/iscj.2022-0005
  • Gosai J, Jowett S, Rhind D. (in progress). A Think Coach, Think Male' Phenomenon: Women coaches' experiences of development, progression and retention in coaching within the United Kingdom. International Sport Coaching Journal. DOI: 10.1123/iscj.2022-0007  

Tackling gender imbalance within high performance coaching

We have worked with UK Sport to produce a series of evidence-based infographics designed to help tackle gender imbalance within high performance coaching.

The series, which has received support from sports organisations across the UK, promotes and encourages a general understanding of gender-related challenges women coaches face within their workplace, while they work with colleagues, athletes, parents.

They also form part of a series of initiatives UK Sport is leading with the overarching mission to increase the number of female coaches, especially within the context of high performance, Olympic and Paralympic, sports from 10% to 25% by Paris 2024.

The effectiveness of UK Sport’s women-only leadership programme

Our evaluation research has also provided evidence as to why UK Sport’s women’s only leadership programmes was effective. This evidence suggests that the UK Sport’s programme run in 2021 and 2022 produced female coaches as leaders who are more likely to aspire to more senior coach-related positions and who lead with greater confidence, sense of agency, expanded networks, skill development and self-awareness.

However, it is important to note that not all women-only leadership development programmes in sport coaching have been as effective or as successful. Women-only leadership programmes require to be built on a sound foundation whereby its content is informed by leadership research is delivered by skilled facilitators within a psychological safe environment so that women learn, reflect, review, engage and connect. This requirement allows for opportunities to put theory to practice while reflection is well-embedded in the process.

  • Jowett S, Slade K. (2021). Women’s Leadership Development Programme: Female Coaching and High-Performance Work Shadowing 2021 - Evaluation. Unpublished report.

Meet the expert

Prof Sophia Jowett

Prof Sophia Jowett

Professor of Psychology

Sophia's research mainly revolves around interpersonal relationships in sport with an emphasis on coaching relationships.