Not many women in B.C. university coaching

A look into why B.C. universities are low on female coaches, and what’s being done to change it

Despite a rise in programs aimed at advancing coaching opportunities and experiences for women, female coaches are still outnumbered by male coaches in every B.C. university.

TRU currently has nine male head coaches employed by the athletic department. WolfPack cheerleading has the only female head coach, but it’s a volunteer position.

Natasha Little was an apprentice under coach Tom McManus at TRU, in a program that attempts to increase the number of female head coaches. (TRU Athletics)

Natasha Little was an apprentice under coach Tom McManus at TRU, in a program that attempts to increase the number of female head coaches. (TRU Athletics)

“When we advertise a job … we want to try and get the best candidates that we can to apply and we want to try and hire the best candidate possible,” said TRU’s athletic director Ken Olynyk. “That doesn’t mean they’re always a male, but generally what happens is, if I have 40 applicants for a position, at the most, three to five would be female.”

Olynyk has only seen one female head coach at TRU in his 12 years as athletic director.

But it’s not just TRU that has this issue. Female head coaches are minorities at all B.C. universities.

Currently, both the University of Northern British Columbia and Capilano University have no female head coaches. UBC employs four female coaches, which is more than any other B.C. university. However, with 18 male coaches employed, females still only make up 18 per cent of UBC’s coaching staff.

It’s an issue that spans the country, said Lorraine Lafrenière, CEO of the Coaching Association of Canada. According to Lafrenière, men and women have different approaches when it comes to applying for leadership positions.

“When women apply for employment they tend to make sure that they have all that is necessary. In other words, they feel equipped to do the job before they apply,” she said, “whereas men tend to be what we might say, risk takers, and say ‘I feel like I can do this job even if I don’t feel I have all the skill set.’”

“Sometimes the other part of it is the lifestyle of coaching employment. It doesn’t always fit with some of the traditional roles or some of the roles women play in their adult life, like having children. That flexibility has been afforded to men traditionally,” Lafrenière said. “I think that has hindered women entering the profession of coaching.”

There are initiatives to get more females involved in coaching through organizations like the Coaching Association of Canada and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS). These organizations provide women with grants, scholarships, mentorship programs and workshop opportunities.

“We’ve just gone through, with the leadership program, a series of training 25 new trainers across the country,” said CAAWS executive director Karin Lofstrom. “In the end it should be around 100 workshops around the country for women developing their leadership skills.”

According to Olynyk, TRU participates in mentorship programs when there is an interested applicant. The most recent was Natasha Little, who participated two years ago in the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association Female Apprentice Coach Program under WolfPack women’s soccer head coach Tom McManus. Little played on the WolfPack for two years and wanted give back to the team while improving her coaching abilities.

“Programs like this, whether offered to males or females, will always increase the quality of coaches, but I am not sure they will increase the number of coaches. Generally speaking those who want to coach, will,” Little said.

According to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association website, $2,500 is given to an institution to support a soccer apprentice.

“Coaching is a difficult profession in that it’s not well-paid until you get a job at a university. I think that also becomes a deterrent for lots of people, not just females,” Olynyk said.

Olynyk said he has never seen one of TRU’s female apprentices move on to become a head coach.

But the low rate of female coaches at TRU is not something WolfPack athletes are lamenting. Both Jenna Quinton and Michelle Bos of the women’s basketball team agreed they prefer male coaches to females ones.

“I do prefer male coaches simply because their styles tend to be more motivating,” Bos said. “I notice female coaches tend to be really good with individual development, especially the mental aspect of sports.”