Tuesday 26 March 2019

Women take charge to put a major dent in coaching's glass ceiling

Chelsea women’s manager Emma Hayes, Wexford hurling coach Mags D’Arcy and England netball coach Tracey Neville at the Liberty Insurance ‘Women in Sport: The Coaching Effect’ symposium. Photo: Naoise Culhane
Chelsea women’s manager Emma Hayes, Wexford hurling coach Mags D’Arcy and England netball coach Tracey Neville at the Liberty Insurance ‘Women in Sport: The Coaching Effect’ symposium. Photo: Naoise Culhane

Cathal Dennehy

There's a story Emma Hayes tells that typifies the problem, all-too-visible glass ceiling that persists for many women coaching in the upper echelons of sport.

About six years ago, the Chelsea women's manager never could work out why she and her players weren't allowed in the men's building, known as the rather offensive 'first team' building.

"I'd stand outside and say, 'Are you ready for me to take my burka off yet?'" recalls Hayes. "I said, 'We don't have sex at lunch so what's the worry about us coming into the building?'"

From starting a campaign to have the name changed from Chelsea ladies team to the Chelsea women's team to garnering more space for women on the club's website to ensuring both sets of players were allowed enter each other's building, Hayes was always one to attack the gender bias in sport.

"You get the behaviour you tolerate in life," she says. "But it's never the players, it's the middle management that are afraid of change.

"What's important is to find your champion in the organisation, and for me that's chairman Bruce Buck - he was the game-changer."

It's rarely the sportsmen who have an outdated way of thinking - that's the key thing you'll notice when speaking to women coaching in professional sport.

Just ask Cork City's Lisa Fallon, the only female coach in the League of Ireland. "The players want good information and if you can give them that one percentage that can swing a game, they don't care who gives it once you're good at your job," she says.

"My issues were with opposition managers - they'd always ask if I was the physio. If I had a euro for every time I was asked, I probably could have retired three years ago."

That inadvertent sexism can also be an opportunity. Fallon recalls flying to Iceland before a game to recon the pitch for one of Cork City's opponents and being welcomed with, "Ah, Ms Fallon, you must be the travel agent," at which point she asked to see the pitch.

Imagine her delight when she was allowed to watch their upcoming opponents complete a training session, returning home the next day to players hardly able to believe she had snagged pictures of their set-pieces.

"You can be offended or you can look at it as an advantage," she says. "If you don't know who I am or what I'm capable of, that's your mistake, and that's an advantage I'll take."

Two-time camogie All-Star Mags D'Arcy is another plying her trade in a man's game, now in her second season in the backroom team with Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford hurlers.

"I'm sure there are (critics) but it's whether you choose to listen to them," she says.

"I had no issue. My own confidence was backed by a gentleman who gave me an opportunity and that's the sign of a strong leader who can think outside the box. I've loved every minute of it."

Expanded D'Arcy came in initially as a goalkeeping coach, but her role expanded into working with outfield players this year. In the years ahead she plans to continue her apprenticeship coaching in the man's game and see where it leads.

"Davy is not under threat by any means," the former Wexford camogie No 1 says with a laugh, although she - like the others - is helping to build towards a point when female coaches are no longer a novelty at the top tier of sport.

Slowly, but surely, they are becoming the norm. Emma Hayes, Lisa Fallon and Mags D'Arcy were speaking at the launch of a survey on attitudes to women coaching in sport by Liberty Insurance

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