‘Big statements are made through actions’

  Sporting Compass: With Dr Pippa Grange and Paul Oliver

Dr Pippa GrangePaul Oliver

As a sports psychologist and founder of Bluestone Edge, I am fortunate to have many conversations with people about the substance and meaning of sport.
My colleague Paul Oliver also engages with people at all levels across the sporting sector to keep his finger on the pulse of the latest news, views and issues.

In this space each fortnight, we will share some of these stories, insights and possibilities in relation to people, culture, ethics and leadership in sport. I hope you enjoy the conversation and we look forward to hearing your thoughts.

All the best, Pippa and Paul


‘Big statements are made through actions’

1 May 2014
Category:   WINNING MIND – the art of achieving
Paul Oliver

When I read the recent article ‘Peta Searle gives up coaching dream’ by Samantha Lane in the Age (26 April 2014), I let out an audible sigh bemoaning the fact that sport had potentially lost another good one.

With a little support and opportunity there is no reason Searle could have (and still can) coach at the highest level of the game with distinction. She is a level three accredited coach who has had great success in senior assistant coaching roles with TAC Cup side Western Jets and Port Melbourne in the Victorian Football League.

As one of her players wrote recently: ‘Peta has come and gone from places, from Darebin to Port Melbourne to even the Melbourne Football Club and left, leaving behind a footprint of contribution as her peers, soldiers and superiors sung her praises of recommendation’1. Many wise pundits in the game have said that there is no doubt she could cut it on an AFL coaching panel, but talk is cheap and actions are harder to come by.

Earlier this year, NRL premiership-winning coach John Lang said it’s time to scrap the rugby league mentality that a woman’s role in a club was to ‘man’ the canteen and launder the jerseys and the game encouraged them to coach. ”There is hardly any women involved in coaching … I’ve seen where women are involved in the game they do a good job,” he said. He described the need to embrace greater female involvement as a ”necessity”, particularly around coaching. 2

The ‘catch 22’ is, many female coaches require experience and opportunity to increase their confidence, knowledge and ability at the elite level, but they are not given these chances because of the beliefs and assumptions held by many in positions of power that women do not make capable coaches because they don’t know the game. And because they don’t get the chance to build up their coaching experience, they continue to appear inexperienced and unqualified. And around it goes. The self-serving status quo remains firmly in place.

Ellen Staurowsky, a professor in US Drexel University’s School of Sport Management who focuses on issues of gender equity says: “The men’s ranks are primarily a male-dominated workplace, while the women’s coaching ranks have been integrated for several decades now”. “We continue to have an entrenched sex-stereotypical way of viewing coaches in general that favors male coaches in general. There are so many assumptions around whether women have the capacity to coach men, whether women can lead men — all in contradiction of the 21st Century world view where we have women leaders in all manners of industry. In this particular sector, we’ve yet to make those kind of inroads.” 3

This raises the question – why not? The answer to this can be explained in the stereotypes, assumptions and not-so-unconscious biases that lie beneath women coaching at the elite level of men’s sport: ‘Blokes won’t want to play for a women’, ‘It’s a male domain’, ‘They won’t take instructions from them’, ‘Women are too soft, too emotional and too fragile’. And the old chestnut – ‘They haven’t played the game, so how could they possibly understand it as well as their male counterparts do’.

Complete nonsense in truth! This is in no small part about ‘exclusionary power’ – the (sometimes unconscious) bias that keeps non-players and women out, because it’s players and men who are in power and they know that it’s tough to get a go in the first place, so why invite more talented competition in to the mix, especially talent that you don’t already know.

So what’s the answer? How do we move forward so we’re still not discussing the barriers and throwing our hands up in the air with lament in 20 years time if Peta Searle’s daughter decides she wants to be an AFL coach?

The simple answer is action. Regardless of the sport, the greatest barrier to positive change is inaction. It’s about the leaders of our sports taking the next intelligent, courageous step to provide opportunities and support for women into elite coaching positions. As Searle says herself: “ … if you want to make a statement, make a big statement. And a big statement is made through actions”. 4

It’s long overdue; let’s get it done . . .

Paul Oliver



1 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2013/11/12/women-coaching-men-bernadette-locke-mattox-stephanie-ready/3006139/

2 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2013/11/12/women-coaching-men-bernadette-locke-mattox-stephanie-ready/3006139/

3 http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/ncaab/2013/11/12/women-coaching-men-bernadette-locke-mattox-stephanie-ready/3006139/

4 http://www.theage.com.au/afl/peta-searle-gives-up-coaching-dream-20140426-zqzuj.html

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