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1918 - 1919 McGill Women's Basketball Team, then the Royal Victoria College Basketball Team. In 1919 they defeated Queen's University in the first intercollegiate sporting event between women's teams in Canada. (Photo courtesy of the McGill University Archives)
After nearly a decade of research and policy drafting with the Canadian government, Sport Canada introduced its Policy on Women in Sport in 1986. This policy aimed to support women financially in athletics, while also promoting a societal shift in the way women are perceived in the male-dominated world of sports. It arrived in the wake of Title IX, an educational amendment in the United States focused on increasing opportunities for women by making gender-based discrimination illegal in educational institutions, including athletics. The combination of these policies, both Title IX and Sport Canada's policy, represented a clear goal: Increase the amount of female coaches and opportunities for female athletes. However, its impact on female coaches and athletes deviated, with the former falling significantly.
  • First women's hockey league formed in Quebec
  • Women's ice hockey is played at the University of Saskatchewan
  • National Women's Athletic Association is organized in the United States
  • Women's Amateur Federation of Canada (WAAF) in formed
  • Canadian Women's Intercollegiate Athletic Union is formed
  • Only 294,000 American high school girls are involved in interscholastic sports
  • Congress passes Title IX of the United States Education Amendments
  • 1.3 million American high school girls are involved in interscholastic sports
  • The Canadian federal government's Fitness and Amateur Sport Branch (FASB) sponsors a National Conference on Women and Sport.
  • Title IX goes into effect
  • Feminist athletes and activists establish the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women in Sport (CAAWS)
  • The National Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women is dissolved when women's sports come under the NCAA.
  • Sport Canada Policy on Women in Sport is introduced
  • Sport Canada Policy is replaced with Actively Engaged: A Policy on Sport for Women and Girls
  • Becky Hammon becomes the first women to serve as head coach of an NBA summer league team
Hover over the dates to read more.

For female athletes, the Sport Canada Policy, now replaced by Actively Engaged: A Policy on Sport for Women and Girls (2009), had a noticeably positive effect. In fact, the present number of inter-university teams for men and women in Canada are roughly equal. For coaches however, the numbers are far less motivating. Although the amount of coaching positions available has rapidly increased over the past half-century, thepercentage of female coaches has plummeted from 60 per cent in the '60s, to less than 20 per cent today. This data is perplexing for obvious reasons: If there are significantly more high-level female athletes and therefore more coaching opportunities, one would reasonably suspect an increase in the number of female coaches. It is inevitable, then, to wonder: Why are there fewer female coaches, despite the increased opportunities for women to coach?

"Coaching isn't traditionally a female-friendly job," said Jill Barker, assistant director of Athletics at the Macdonald Campus. "The hours suck. It's a lot of hours during family time, after-school hours, dinner hours, weekends, travel, and recruiting. It's almost like politics where there's not a lot of female politicians; you could put parallels between the two professions."

Jennifer Brenning, director of athletics at Carleton University, echoed this sentiment. Brenning has worked in university athletics for 25 years, and witnessed the impact coaching can have on someone's personal life-particularly as women move from community sport into professional athletics. The beginning of a coaching career is very much volunteer-oriented. It takes a lot of time and certainly heavy commitment, and most coaches working in the community have a full time job while they're doing this.

These community volunteer coaches are vital, because they serve not only to maintain teams that receive little to no outside funding, but they also motivate young girls to participate in sports with confidence.

"My coach was a female too, and she was so tough," said Margaret Lan Shen, head coach of varsity men's and women's badminton at McGill. "She was a very good coach and she was always in my mind. She was like my second mom."

In fact, when Shen eventually became a coach herself, her parents commented on how similar her coaching techniques were to her previous coach.

1924 McGill School of Physical Education Hockey Team. the McGill School of Physical Education was founded in 1912 by Ethel Mary Cartwright, a pioneer in women's athletics. (Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)

The first drop-off point in the amount of female coaches occurs at the high school and CEGEP level, which require more commitment, training, and money. The stakes are higher for athletics in high school, because a conference victory could mean a university scholarship, increased funding for a sport, or new donors interested in supporting the athletics programs. As a result of the heavy time commitment required to gain the experience necessary to coach in these high-level positions, the balance shifts from women to men. Ironically, the reason for this trend away from gender equity stems from Title IX.

According to Barker, the few women's teams that existed prior to Title IX had female coaches, and the men's teams had male coaches. Once Title IX came into effect, female athletics boomed, introducing more interest in the athletes and, as a result, more money. The coaching positions that were previously part-time or volunteer-based became full-time paid positions, requiring coaches to have significant experience before taking these positions. Since men were playing high-level athletics longer and tended to have the experience required, they took the new salaried positions-leaving less opportunities for female coaches.

At the university level, female coaches nearly disappear. 2013 report by the Centre for Sport Policy Studies, tthere are 742 head coaches within the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) overseeing 965 club and varsity teams. Although half of these are women's teams, 83 per cent of the coaches are male. In fact, only two female coaches were coaching male teams in 2013. McGill University has a similar breakdown, with an equal amount of male and female varsity teams, consisting of 19 male coaches/three female coaches.

To some, these statistics may insinuate that the Sport Canada policies instituted by the Canadian government and the CIS had no effect, or that women are being directly discriminated against by their employers. But university athletic directors across Canada claim that despite what the numbers show, there are attempts among athletic directors to actively and directly recruit female coaches, as was discussed at the June CIS AGM panel discussion on women in sport, in June 2011.

"When I search for coaches, I would like to hire a female coach to coach our women's program and get more women involved in coaching. That's absolutely a priority," Brenning said.

Despite this goal, Brenning found that in the last two hiring processes for Carleton University, of the 60 applicants they received for a single coaching position, only four or five of the applicants were female.

1926 McGill Women's Hockey Team, then the Royal Victoria College Hockey Team. McGill had women's ice hockey teams since 1896, the status of the team was in a state of constant flux until the 1960s. (Photo courtesy of the McCord Museum)

McGill Athletics follows the Senate's guidelines on equity in hiring, and has consistent practices when searching for potential head coaches. According to Interim Executive Director of Athletics, Philip Quintal, and Assistant Director of Athletics, Geoffrey Phillips, the search for head coaches follows a clear standard: The job listing is put out on public forums for potential coaches, specific people may be contacted if they have a connection with the university or fit the criteria exceptionally well, rounds of interviews are conducted, and the decision is finalized following extensive meetings and recommendations.

Lisen Moore, the manager of Varsity Sports at McGill, believes she has seen progress towards equality in university athletics.

"I think that Canadian Sport has done a tremendous job in including opportunities for women to start their families and still remain as competitive athletes and competitive coaches," Moore said. "University of Manitoba was a bit groundbreaking back in the '90s, maybe, when Coleen DuFresne-who's now the athletic director at the University of Manitoba-had her son. She was allowed to take him to the office; she was allowed to take him on the road as she was bringing him up-those are things that you see a little bit more now."

Numerous other Canadian universities have also made claims that with every search for a head coach, the amount of male applicants increasingly outnumber the amount of female applicants. Therefore, the reason for the low number of female coaches does not seem to lie with the institutions. Instead, it appears to be institutional.

1956 McGill Women's Synchronised Swimming Team. Today synchronised swimming is the only sport at McGill that is has exclusively female coaches and athletes. (Photo courtesy of the McGill Archives)

Multiple studies and interviews published in the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching reveal that many potential female coaches felt that the male-dominated environment of coaching, the family-unfriendly hours, and perceived lack of funding and opportunities for advancement kept them from pursuing opportunities in coaching.

Coaches and administrators interviewed both for this piece, and for numerous journals and institutions which focused on women in coaching, insinuated that family commitment is what prevented women from entering coaching.

"There are a lot of individuals who, after being offered a coaching position, would say, 'This looks like a great opportunity, but not at this point in my life,'" Moore said. "The interesting stat, for me, would be: How many female coaches are married, and how many of them have chosen to focus on a career rather than focus on a family?"

Of course, this fear isn't limited only to women. Geoffrey Phillips, assistant director of McGill Sports Program, Athletics &Recreation, said that he moved from coaching into administration due to concerns regarding his ability to juggle his work-life balance.

"I thought I was going to be a coach myself, and when I got to a certain point-I coached a little bit at McGill with the women's hockey team-I go 'This is a lot; this is very demanding,'" he said. "I saw myself having a family and didn't necessarily see that lifestyle blending well."

These are legitimate concerns; and often young athletes, who may have been interested in coaching in university, will balk at the opportunity when they realize the time commitment required, regardless of gender. While men also carry the weight of family commitments, it is mostly women planning on becoming pregnant who need to consider that without institutional support, coaching seriously throughout their 30s and 40s may simply be impossible. This pressure may have a long-term effect, keeping women from getting the necessary experience in the formative years of professional coaching, therefore allowing men to advance beyond them.

"Outside of our sport, [the gender divide] really is quite an issue," Lindsay Duncan, head coach of synchronized swimming, and the only varsity sport at McGill where all the coaches and players are women, said. "Men are [not necessarily] favoured over women when it comes down to the actual moment of hiring a man versus a woman in most circumstances[....] I think that it happens sort of earlier than that, so men are more likely to grow up thinking of coaching as a potential career opportunity than women are."

In essence, Duncan doesn't believe that the divide happens at the level of institutions-it happens much earlier than that.

In order to be hired as a head coach at a university, candidates have to complete necessary certification and need significant amount of experience, both of which require hours of work and dedication, usually without a high salary. At the university level, however, the potential salary can be a significant reward. While public sector salaries are private information in Quebec and McGill doesn't release broad salary information for athletics, multiple head coaches at comparable universitieslike the University of Toronto make well over the median income for the average Canadian. The high salary is justified by the amount of money brought into the universities, which directly correlates with how successful a given program is. The university wants a successful coach just as much as athletes do-which explains why every single person interviewed for this piece had the exact same sentiment about hiring practices.

"You want the best coach."

It's all about selecting the most qualified candidate, and this practice should be consistently encouraged. It would be backwards progress to hire a woman to a head coach position if there was a male candidate that was clearly more qualified. University officials seem to understand that there is a benefit to having a female coach on a female team, which likely accounts for the 2013 statistics showing a slight increase in the amount of female assistant coaches when compared to female head coaches.

For example, Alyssa Cecere is an assistant coach with the McGill Martlets and a former Marlet herself.

"She's done a great job in getting the experience and background that's needed for a coach, and I think she's a real good example of a player who has gotten into coaching," said Peter Smith, head coach of McGill Martlets.

Efforts like these are necessary to help women who lack the experience to be a head coach progress within their institution, but they are not enough. There are three female head coaches at McGill, and out of the 30 varsity teams, only 13 have female assistant coaches.

University-level varsity teams thrive on competition and constant push to excel. The athletes aspire to be the best players, the coaches aspire to lead championship teams, and the administration aspires to manage consistently successful and lucrative programs. The current university athletics atmosphere demands coaches who are well-qualified, experienced, competitive, demanding, and willing to sacrifice for their team.

"It's very hard-you're in a man's world even if you're coaching women," says Rachele Beliveau, head coach of Martlets volleyball at McGill. "You have to be strong mentally to be in this competitive world. It's always traveling towards excellence all your life."

Despite the fact that university athletics is a male-dominated field, there are clear signs that the institutions are self-aware and striving towards equity. At the administrative level, 2013 data showed that 24 per cent of athletic directors in Canada were female along with 50 per cent of assistant athletic directors, which are undeniable improvements. To say that there isn't a concerted effort focused on encouraging women to get involved in university athletics in some capacity would be false, but realizations that many past efforts to support women in these fields have failed is apparent.

McGill is currently in search of a new executive director of Athletics and Recreation, and the person chosen will be instrumental in dictating the course the athletics department takes towards tackling the consistent problem of the lack of female coaches. It's too soon to say whether there will be a wave of women looking for coaching positions. But until that time comes, instituting coach development programs and policies aimed to support women with families and encourage female athletes t o pursue these careers can only benefit the university, staff, and its students.