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Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Female Football Players and Coaches

Football has long been considered a men's world in the UK, but that is changing. Not only did the 2019 Women's World Cup semi-final draw more than 11.7 million spectators, but 2018 also saw the creation of the first-ever top-level professional women's soccer competition. And for the first time since the formation of the Women's Super League (WSL) in 2010, there were twice as many female coaches as men in the 2019-2020 season.

While this progression is certainly something to celebrate, the industry remains dominated by men. Even in women's soccer leagues, men still hold 91% of all coaching jobs at all levels. In the semi-professional league, Arlesey Town head coach Natasha Orchard-Smith is currently the only female head coach in the league.

The gender balance of WSL coaches is a welcome sign of progress in the industry – but my colleagues and I still wanted to know why women continue to be excluded from coaching roles at all levels of football.

The Barriers Women Face

We wanted to find out what obstacles women coaches in England face at junior, academy and elite adult football levels. We interviewed 12 female coaches from all levels of football, including five youth coaches, four talent development coaches and three elite coaches. We found that all female coaches routinely encountered sexism, felt they had to work harder to achieve their goals than men, and worried about being perceived as inferior to men.

At all levels of football, women have spoken out about the male-dominated football culture and all said they have experienced routine sexism. For example, all female recreational youth level coaches reported receiving fewer resources, such as equipment and access to courts, when they coached a girls' team. Coaches also struggled to use the new equipment given to male players.

We also found that women who coach at any level had to accept that they would have to fight harder for everything. And if they were hired, they would likely fill less desirable roles, such as coaching younger age groups. Many felt their career progression was limited as a result, placing further pressure on them to develop players into top-flight players.

Progress continues to be made and the FA has launched several initiatives to increase the number of women coaches at regional and national levels.

There is also a move away from a 'one size fits all' approach to supporting women coaches, including initiatives such as 21 for 21 which provide 21 women with funding and mentoring support ahead of UEFA Women's Euro 2021. Our study suggests that support for women needs to vary depending on their current career stage and the type of role they occupy at grassroots, academic or elite level. Knowledge can help further encourage the progression of trainers.

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