home Interview The Women’s Coaching Association is smashing the grass ceiling

The Women’s Coaching Association is smashing the grass ceiling

Empowerment. Education. Sustainability. These are some of the goals of the Women’s Coaching Association whose mission is to change the culture of coaching in sport.

Image is of WCA co-founder Julia Hay and Aish Ravi. They stand close together, smiling at the camera. Julia holds a Sherrin football, while Aish holds a soccer ball and a cricket bat.
Julia Hay and Aish Ravi founded the Women’s Coaching Association. Image: Wayne Taylor/supplied.

Passed over for roles. Ignored. Patronised. Verbally abused. Sexually harassed. For women coaching sport—any sport—these are not unusual experiences. In fact, according to Aish Ravi and Julia Hay, founders of the Women’s Coaching Association, they’re incredibly common.

“You kind of have to put up with that like, casual harassment in all these settings,” Aish said. “And that’s part of the problem that Jules and I, through the [Women’s] Coaching Association want to highlight. The professionalism of all these environments. What’s okay and what’s not, because it seems to be a really blurred line, where casual harassment is just accepted. And you have to be part of that banter to just kind of pass in all of these environments, when you shouldn’t have to.”

Launched in 2020, the Women’s Coaching Association (WCA) was established, Julia explains, as “a network for women who coach or who would like to coach and a place, a safe place to come together, to unpack some of the challenges, but also the opportunities that exist in that space.”

Together, Julia and Aish have more than twenty years’ experience in coaching. But throughout their time on the sidelines—which continues today with Julia an assistant coach for Williamstown VFLW team and Aish one of only a handful of B Level certified round-ball football coaches in the country—they say there’s never been an organisation or association that has specifically supported female coaches across all sports.

“There’s a lot of other coaching associations, but they’re often also siloed to some sports,” Aish said. “So, in football, we have Football Coaches Australia, which represents football coaches, but only football coaches.

“We found that there was really nothing to support us, like as coaches, we wanted support. And we would have liked to find… an association, perhaps that was representing women coaches, but there really wasn’t anything.”

So, they created that association.

Shared experiences create the foundations of the Women’s Coaching Association

Aish and Julia met through a shared postgraduate supervisor. Over coffee, they shared their experiences of coaching Aussie rules and football.

“The experiences that we had, as women as coaches, they were pretty negative,” Julia said. “So, things like being told you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’ve never played the game, just being blatantly ignored… I’d rock up to the games when I was coaching my son’s team, and they’d be like ‘are you the team manager?’ just about every week.”

For Aish, her experiences were layered. Not only sexism, but racism too.

There’s a lot of unconscious racism… people don’t see it,” Aish said. “And that sometimes for me is quite frustrating, because I’m like, I see it, because I experience it. But then in these environments, in these spaces, it’s just not something that is seen or spoken about.

“And often a lot of the programs that are there cater to white women, and a lot of initiatives all about how do we get more women into this space, and often those are white women… So, if we don’t have an intersectional approach to all of these things, we’re having to repeat the cycle later down the track.”

It was through that sharing, a kind of mini-consciousness raising, that the early foundations of the WCA were built.

“We recognise that all of these issues that we’re seeing are not exclusive to just one sport, they’re common across a variety of sports,” Aish said. “So, we want to bring women from all sports together, and also men, and see how we can all support each other and share resources and network.”

The three pillars of the Women’s Coaching Association

The WCA rests on three pillars: empowering women and girls to coach, developing those women and girls coaches through targeted education, and sustaining the careers of women in coaching. This kind of holistic approach recognises that often women must navigate a complex space, balancing calling out the challenges and obstacles with sustaining their career. It’s a challenge for women at every level, from the grassroots to the elite.

The WCA’s strategic plan is focussed on attracting women and girls to coaching, but also retaining and developing them as coaches. Alongside targeted education programs including hosting webinars with industry experts, Julia and Aish are working on ways to amplify voices of women in the space, as well as celebrating them and their achievements. Networking too, is a significant part of the Association’s mission.

“We really want to… bridge the gap between the women who coach professionally and the women who coach in community,” Julia said. “So, trying to have opportunities where women who coached professionally can mentor or speak to women who are either potentially going to coach or coach at the community level. So, trying to make that accessible, trying to make those professional coaches accessible, because there’s no one really doing that, targeting those women coaches and passing the knowledge down the chain.”

Unsurprisingly, given Aish and Julia’s background in teaching and academia, research is also high on the WCA’s agenda. They’ve established an academic roundtable, where researchers can meet, collaborate and share research. But getting that research into the community is part of the agenda too.

“We also want to see how we can locate a lot of the research that exists out there and make it a bit more user friendly,” Aish said. “Where people at community levels can understand, and pick up those resources.”

Image is a colour photograph of four people. From left to right, Richmond AFLM coach Damien Hardwick, WCA co-founder Aish Ravi, WCA co-founder Julia Hay, and Hawthorn AFLM coach Alistair Clarkson.
One of the barriers facing women is the idea of what a coach looks like. Image: supplied.

Finding solutions to the barriers

From the intangible barriers, like a lack of confidence to the tangible, like ill-fitting uniforms, Aish and Julia say there are plenty of barriers facing women. Among them is the broader idea of what a coach looks like. But Julia and Aish say that one is something we can start changing now.  

“There are lots of things that we can do,” Julia said. “And like I said, starting with really simple things, like when you advertise for coaches, you don’t just have a picture of a male. I mean, that’s a really simple, easy thing to do, right?… In your newsletter, again, put images of women coaching or talk about a woman coach or share stories of women coaching.”

While the growth in elite women’s sports, from cricket to football and Aussie rules, is often touted as a kind of cure-all for getting more women into coaching, Julia says it’s “myth” that that growth will lead to more women coaching.

“People say to me, are we just naturally going to have more women coaching because we’ve got more girls playing footy, more females playing footy. But I actually disagree. I don’t see that. I think that’s a bit of a myth. And I think until you change the culture around women in leadership, listening to women, respecting women, as athletes and then as coaches, I don’t see that changing.”

That cultural change is at the core of what the Women’s Coaching Association is working towards. Empowering women and girls, supporting them, connecting them and helping them build sustainable careers. But also, and perhaps more importantly, cultural change. Real, on the ground change in community and elite sporting environments around the country.

“We just really wanted to make change. We didn’t really want to just sit around and wait for other organisations to do this, because we felt like everyone was really lagging in this, and we felt like we as coaches were not supported,” Aish said.

Jules and I are educators, so we really feel like education is a huge part of this change process. We want to educate people on what’s currently happening and also, then try and help them find some strategies to change the situation because there’s a lot that needs to change.”

“We’re trying to do something different. We’re trying to break that constant that keeps happening,” Julia said. “We’re just so in this autopilot in our Australian culture, Australian sporting culture of ‘it’s just got to be done this way because that’s the way it’s always been done’. And it’s like, well, no, it can actually be done much better here.

“Sport is great, but it could be bloody fantastic.”

For more information on the Women’s Coaching Association, visit their website, or follow them on Twitter and Facebook.  

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