The Benefit of Mentorship for Female Coaches

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The passage of Title IX in 1972 signaled a dramatic change for women’s sports. The federal government’s requirement that academic institutions observe gender equality when funding athletic teams resulted in a huge benefit for women’s sports.

Forty years after the law’s passage, the number of female college athletes has increased by 560% while the number of female high school athletes has grown by 990%, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation.

However, the surge in opportunities for female athletes did not result in a corresponding increase in female coaches. In 1972, more than 90% of women’s team coaches were women. By 2014, that number had decreased to only 43%, according to “Beyond X’s and O’s: Gender Bias and Coaches of Women’s College Sports Executive Summary,” a 2016 study by the Women’s Sports Foundation. The percentage of female coaches for men’s teams is less than 3%, according to the survey.

To address the issue, several overseas sports organizations have created mentor programs. The steps taken by these organizations could potentially translate to similarly well-organized mentor programs hosted stateside. Working with a mentor coach can offer female coaches experience and knowledge that can help them navigate through the male-dominated coaching industry.

Why Mentors Matter for Coaches

In athletics, as in any other field, female leaders matter, according to Nicole LaVoi, Ph.D., whose research focuses on the underrepresentation of women in coaching.

“Sport is one of the most visible and powerful social institutions in the world. Individuals who are seen and known in the world of sports, like coaches, communicate who and what is relevant (and who is not), and a majority of the time in every country in the world, those coaches are men,” she writes in Women in Sports Coaching.

Same-sex role models offer female coaches the support and insight necessary to persist and succeed in the field, according to LaVoi, who is also co-director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport and a senior lecturer in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. Her research for the book found that connecting with colleagues was critical to the quality of a coach’s experience in the profession.

“Women coaches need to see and interact with other women coaches for friendship, networking, support, career advice, mentorship, counseling, and help in navigating a male-dominated workplace,” she writes.

Female coaches who have developed strategies for success in a fast-paced, male-dominated profession can do a lot to assist those following in their footsteps.

The Unique Challenges for Female Coaches

A career in coaching can be lucrative, with exceptional salaries found at the higher levels of competition such as professional sports teams. It can also be challenging because the coach’s role is often ill-defined and constantly changing, resulting in a high-pressure environment, according to Fraser Carson and Julia Walsh in the Australian publication The Conversation.

Female coaches may also experience gender-specific difficulties, including:

  • Working in a field that is predominantly male-oriented
  • Dealing with a lack of social networks and role models
  • Struggling with conflict between coaching and personal responsibilities

The career path for female coaches needs to be improved, write Carson and Walsh, and the most effective way to do so is to increase the number of female mentor coaches.

“Learning is social, and is a result of observation, imitation, and modeling,” they write. “So, if a female cannot see someone like them in a coaching role, then it is difficult to see themselves in the role.”

The creation of a female mentorship program for coaches identifies the need for gender-like modeling and fosters relationships to combat the challenges female coaches face.

How Mentoring in Coaching Works

“Mentoring has been considered an increasingly important element of coaching development programs,” according to “The Importance of Mentoring in the Development of Coaches and Athletes.” The article examines coaches’ career experiences and reports that most coaches were mentored at some point early in their careers. The experience helped them gain valuable insights that shaped their coaching philosophies and later made them able to mentor younger coaches.

According to the article, a successful mentorship occurs “when a teacher willingly invests time in the personal development of a student or athlete, when a trusting relationship evolves, needs and interests are fulfilled, and imitation of behavior takes place.”

Mentoring can enhance the person’s ability to function as a coach, according to Frederic Pivotti, a contributor to Sports Coaching: A Reference Guide for Students, Coaches, and Competitors.

Pivotti’s examination of the relationship between mentors specifically in athletics reports that the mentee usually has these expectations about the mentoring process:

  • Hopes to gain knowledge and information
  • Welcomes coaching performance feedback
  • Needs advice, guidance, and ideas
  • Desires support in development as a coach
  • Aims for changed coaching behavior (be a better, more effective coach)

For the mentorship to be successful and reach these goals, the mentor and mentee should have a “knowledge/experience differential,” adds Pivotti.

Creating a Mentoring Program Geared Toward Female Coaches

Sports programs outside the United States are recognizing the benefits of mentorship for female coaches and implementing programs to encourage the process. The Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) has partnered with the Canadian Association for Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity to release the Female Coach Mentorship Model, a free turnkey tool designed to increase retention and advancement of female coaches.

The guidebook, available on the CAC’s website, offers three downloadable guides: a sports administrator’s guide, a mentor guide, and a mentee guide. Issues addressed include securing and allocating funding, managing conflict, and evaluating the mentorship program.

The guidebook details the benefits the mentor receives from participating in a mentorship relationship, including:

  • Increased learning
  • Improved motivation
  • Greater compensation and career mobility
  • Decreased feeling of isolation
  • Overall increase in career and self-satisfaction

The benefits the mentee receives include:

  • Renewed sense of commitment to job
  • Stimulation of new ideas
  • Continuous learning and career development
  • Building of reputational capital
  • Enhanced leadership skills
  • Satisfaction of giving back to the coaching community

Four national sports organizations participated in the program for a full year: Canada Basketball, Tennis Canada, Wrestling Canada, and Hockey Canada. An evaluation conducted by the University of Toronto found that mentor and mentee coaches reported numerous positive outcomes, such as “clear perceived personal and professional growth and tangible advancement toward coaching goals.”

Ontario Soccer’s Coach Development Program is another example of a sports organization developing a female mentorship program. Designed to develop senior female coaches, the organization’s Female Mentorship Program is “part of a holistic support system approach to enabling promising coaches across the province to reach their full coaching potential in the sport.”

Six female coaches are selected to receive one-on-one mentoring during a nine-month period. After completing the program, the coaches test for their National B license. This certification recognizes that the coach can train players both technically and tactically and allows the coach to step into a coaching leadership role.

Deemed a resounding success, the program recently entered its sixth year of implementation.

The continuous development of mentorship programs for female coaches may one day lead to an even playing field when it comes to the gender ratio in athletics.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).

Recommended Reading:

Responsible Coaching for Young Sportsmen and Sportswomen
Coaching Careers on the Rise
What it Means for a Coach to be a Leader


Women’s Sports Foundation, “Myths and Facts of Title IX”
Women’s Sports Foundation, “Beyond X’s and O’s: Gender Bias and Coaches of Women’s College Sports Executive Summary”
Amazon Books, Nicole LaVoi: Women in Sports Coaching
The Sport Journal, “Sports Coach Mentoring – Impacts on the Mentors, not the ‘Mentees.’ A Case Study of the Active Sussex Coach Support Officers Scheme”
The Conversation, “More money may be pouring into women’s sport, but there’s still a dearth of female coaches”
Research Gate, “The Importance of Mentoring in the Development of Coaches and Athletes”
Google Books, “Sports Coaching: A Reference Guide for Students, Coaches, and Competitors”
Coach CA, “Women in Coaching Mentorship Guide”
Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), “Female Coach Mentorship:”
Ontario Soccer, “The 2018 Female Mentorship Program Coaches Have Been Announced”
Ontario Soccer, “Ontario Soccer Seeking Application for Female Mentorship Program”