Changing the game for women in community sport

By Our Reporter
Representational Photo by Getty Images. Licensed under the Unsplash+ License

Victoria University’s latest research sheds light on the transformative impact of female visibility in coaching and officiating roles within community sports. Funded by the Victorian Government’s Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, the study underscores the pivotal role that representation plays in challenging gender biases and shaping future perceptions.

At the core of the research is the analysis of responses from 75 children and their parents, revealing a striking disparity in the exposure to female and male coaches. While a significant 96% of the participants had experienced male coaches, only 65% reported exposure to female coaches. This disparity highlights a broader issue of underrepresentation of women in leadership roles within community sports.

Dr Kara Dadswell, leading the VU research team, pointed out the positive shift in children’s attitudes towards female officials and coaches when they are more visible and actively participating in these roles. She noted, “The study confirms a prevalent bias among children, associating men more with coaching and officiating roles. However, this bias is malleable and can be transformed by early and consistent exposure to female role models in these positions.”

The findings of the study underscore the importance of challenging entrenched gender stereotypes and the necessity of presenting both boys and girls with diverse role models from an early age. The report suggests that previous interactions with women in coaching positions positively affect children’s perceptions, reinforcing the belief that women are equally capable of leading in sports.

Further insights from the research highlighted the significant influence of parental attitudes on children’s perspectives, with girls generally expressing higher satisfaction with female coaches and officials compared to boys. This aspect of the study emphasizes the critical role parents play in either perpetuating or challenging traditional gender roles within the sporting context.

To combat the current underrepresentation, the report recommends community sports clubs adopt targeted strategies to attract, develop, and retain women in coaching and officiating roles. Additionally, it advocates for parental support in promoting positive attitudes towards female leadership in sports, as well as fostering inclusivity for women from diverse backgrounds in these roles.

Reflecting on the study’s implications, Minister for Community Sport Ros Spence remarked on the far-reaching benefits of exposing children to female coaches and officials, noting the resultant positive shifts in satisfaction and attitudes among both children and parents. Similarly, Sarah Styles, Director of the Office for Women in Sport and Recreation, highlighted the necessity of proactive measures to counteract the early formation of unconscious bias, stressing the need for inclusive practices at all levels of sports officiating and coaching.

This groundbreaking research not only sheds light on the current state of gender representation in community sports but also charts a course for future initiatives aimed at fostering a more inclusive and equitable sporting environment for the next generation.

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