League of gentlemen? How cricket holds back female coaches | Raf NicholsonMay 17, 2019
“I get given uniform that is down to my knees – they say: ‘It’s unisex,’ but it doesn’t fit me. I’m humiliated trying to work in this environment that’s already intimidating.” This is the recent experience of one female coach working in men’s cricket in England.
Cricket, we are led to believe, is a sport transformed. The sellout Women’s World Cup final in 2017 was a breakthrough moment: girls are growing up believing they can achieve the same things in cricket as their brothers. Since 2014, when the England and Wales Cricket Board made history by announcing the first professional contracts in the world, it has been possible, as a woman, to play the game for a living.
Yet coaching is lagging far behind. None of the men’s counties are coached by a woman; in 2018 only one Kia Super League side had a female coach – the former Australia batter Alex Blackwell. There are no women working as coaches in the England men’s or women’s setups.
The main ECB coaching qualifications range from level one to level four. Figures exclusively shown to the Guardian show that across the past five years 32 women have qualified at level three, compared with 232 men. Since the ECB introduced the new level four coaching qualification 15 years ago, seven women have achieved the qualification – compared with more than 200 men in the same period.
The ECB’s head of coach development, John Neal, says the situation has been “despicable”. “I call it the ‘League of Gentlemen’,” he says. “A lot of men in the counties would say: ‘How can a woman coach cricket?’ And to get on to a level three course, you had to be nominated by your county. So women couldn’t get on to the course. The League of Gentlemen have blocked female coaches for years.”
Neal’s assessment is interesting because it counters the oft-cited myth that the only reason for the absence of women from top roles is a lack of relevant experience. When Mark Robinson was appointed the England Women’s coach in 2015 the ECB’s director of women’s cricket, Clare Connor, justified the absence of women from the shortlist in this way: “There are no female coaches in cricket out there who have the skills, experiences and the proven track record to be in this role.”
Connor’s assessment ignores the deeper structural issues at play: if no one will hire you, how do you gain the experience you need to progress?
Few women want to speak on the record for fear of further hindering their careers. One of the 32 women who hold the level three qualification speaks of her frustration about not getting a job for a long time after the course, watching others go straight into work and the feeling she had to work doubly hard as anticipated opportunities failed to come.
Evidence suggests women are filtered into development roles, rather than elite performance. Of the seven women with the level four qualification, only one is working in a high-performance role in England: of the others, one has her own business, three are working in development and two have moved to Australia.
The former England captain Charlotte Edwards, now coach of Hampshire Women, having returned from a stint in Australia as the assistant coach of the Adelaide Strikers WBBL side, is concerned. “There’s a lot of knowledge that’s potentially being lost to the game,” she says.
“Not many women would apply for many roles at the moment because there would be something on the advert that would say: ‘Three years’ coaching in a franchise,’ or wherever. It’s got to be more open for women to want to be involved.”
Part of the problem is the less than transparent recruitment processes for top-level coaches. Sarah Pickford, the former chair of England selectors, points out there is no legal obligation for counties to advertise coaching roles. “Coaches tend to be recruited through social networks. Often jobs are given to men who have just stopped playing and somebody from the club says: ‘We want to keep you involved, this will be great, do this role.’ Nobody else gets the chance to apply.”
Pickford has taken to calling counties out publicly on Twitter when this occurs, inquiring where the role was advertised.
Some women are choosing to bypass these processes by setting up coaching businesses. Olivia Rae, a former Scotland player, recently launched Rae Cricket Coaching, offering coaching sessions for individuals, small groups and schools throughout London.
The former England international Lydia Greenway chose to harness her coaching experience within women’s cricket to set up Cricket For Girls, an organisation staffed entirely by female coaches.
“The biggest thing I noticed during my playing career was how well girls responded to female coaches,” she says. “Suddenly they realised cricket is a game they can play and it is a game they can be good at. As female coaches, we’re in a very privileged position to be able to inspire young girls that we come into contact with and provide role models for girls.”
Greenway and Rae are a good reminder of the enormous amount female coaches have to offer – something the ECB is belatedly recognising. Neal’s appointment two years ago heralded important changes at the top. He says: “I’ve changed it so there’s no requirement any more to be nominated by your county – if you want to be a level three coach, just apply.”
As the first generation of professional female cricketers move towards the end of their careers and look for routes to continue in the sport when they retire, it is important to ask: is coaching becoming a more viable career pathway for them? Neal feels confident that it is.
“Our latest level three programme ran with pretty much a gender balance of 50-50. And the men couldn’t argue because seven of the people on that programme had World Cup winner’s medals.”
That included Dani Hazell, who, following her retirement from international cricket in January, was swiftly appointed as the coach of the KSL side Yorkshire Diamonds. “They rang me up and said: ‘Do you want to be involved?’ From my point of view it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss,” she says. “I feel like I’ve got a lot that I can give back to the game.”
Hazell’s appointment hopefully shows there are increasing opportunities for female coaches within cricket. However, the deep‑seated cultural issues that hold them back will take longer to dissipate.
Ensuring all female coaches have uniform that fits them would not be a bad place to start.
Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2019/may/17/league-of-gentlemen-how-cricket-holds-back-women-coaches