Few listen to the voices of women in sport. Day in and day out, female athletes play but their wishes rarely affect top decisions. Fortunately, the situation is changing and teams, schools, and other sports organizations have a role to play.
The Reality of Women in Sport
Women’s influence in sport is already weaker because of their smaller presence. Only 25 percent of women participate in sport compared to 43 percent of men. There are various reasons for this situation including lack of self-concept and fear.
When women think of themselves, adjectives like sporty or active are not common at all. Women don’t often identify with sports and their heroes are hardly related to games. Sports is usually an afterthought and that is a considerable mental hurdle to overcome.
And when women honestly do want to participate, they have to overcome the fear of being judged based on their appearance, their ability to take part, or their simple desire to play. These make them have second thoughts in becoming involved in activities that aren’t womanly.
A Troubling Future for Women
Aside from those, women in sport don’t see much future opportunities to motivate them to continue with sports. Coaching and sports administration opportunities for women have a tendency to be few. The lack of women in higher positions discourages more women from trying to attain these positions, which creates a vicious feedback cycle that perpetuates women’s middling participation in sport.
Speaking of feedback, avenues for athletes, especially female players, to provide their input in sport is scarce. Sports tends to practice a strict top-down hierarchy with little players at the bottom. With few positions of leadership available and almost no chance to share their thoughts, women in sport can be called disenfranchised with little exaggeration.
Lastly, women are more vulnerable to abuse in sport – whether emotionally, physically, or even sexually. 31 percent of female athletes have encountered abuse compared to 21 percent of men. Bullies who seek to abuse are more inclined to seek out women. The reports of these abuses naturally scare others away.
Changing the Reality of Women in Sport
To improve female influence and make women voices heard, sports organizations need to make a conscious choice to include women in their plans. They can’t just assume that improvements to the sport will result in increased female participation. The barriers to women can’t be broken through a general sports plan.
More Women in Sport
First, increasing female participation is ultimately the key to raising women’s voices in sports. As a democratic society, the more people there are who represent a demographic, the more likely they are to be heard. Sports need more female athletes at all levels, and also as trainers, coaches, referees, and sports leaders too.
To attract more women, teams, clubs, and other organizations need to help women realize that sports are for women and that there are other women who appreciate the effort that goes into the game. Ideally, a social atmosphere could be created that invites women to play sports. Creating this type an atmosphere has multiple benefits:
- It helps make sport become a part of a woman’s self-concept.
- It eases social pressures against female athletes.
- It reduces the fear of being judged by their peers.
In the macro scale, the effort requires a concerted campaign by all sports-related organizations. The resources needed would be immense if the aim is immediate change. However, that’s not the only or even feasible path. Gradual transformation over time through small scale efforts of individual teams and clubs can eventually create the climate needed for women to flourish in sport. A simple push to identify and honor female athletes can lead to this change in the long run.
Place Women in Power
Additionally, sports organization must be more assertive in placing women in positions of leadership to increase female athletes. Women must be assured that sports provide opportunities for self actualization and career advancement. This will incentivize them to pursue sports and leave a lasting trail for other women to follow.
Putting women in power begins by training them. Chances for coach training and other opportunities should be created as much as possible. There should be a structured coach development framework to raise their skills.
Since women have numerous other concerns, their training should take into account limitations on their time. Providing a virtual coach training option can help them find time when they need to juggle the pressures of motherhood and career.
Listen to Women Players
Engagement matters. While it’s necessary for athletes to trust their trainers and to follow the rules of the sport governing bodies, it’s beneficial to take feedback from female athletes. Their thoughts provide a different perspective that can unlock performance blockages or highlight unexplored issues. In case sports leaders feel unfamiliar with the process of opening women conversations, professional coach facilitators can help bridge the gap between athletes and administrators.
Initiatives like these are coming from the top. Last June 2022, Adriana Escobar, Adrenaline Solutions advocacy specialist and IOC Young Leader, participated in the World Anti-Doping Agency’s 2022 Annual Symposium. Her inclusion reflects a wider ongoing policy by the Olympic Committee to involve more athletes in the decision-making process.
Finally, women need protection. An unsafe sporting environment will scare off females and a track record of abuse from coaches and teammates can only tarnish the sport’s reputation. Unfortunately, adequate policies to safeguard players are lacking.
Sports organizations need to review their existing policies and formulate new ones to strengthen them, especially against emotional abuse. It’s been estimated that 25 percent to 75 percent of competitive young athletes have experienced emotionally abusive coaching practices. This type of abuse tears down an athlete’s self esteem and ability to perform. It’s prevalence increases in higher levels of competition because of the stress in high-performing circles. But it cannot be excused.
Women enriches sports, and even today, sports have been made interesting and lively due to women’s participation. Let’s work together for the day when women’s voices will be heard everywhere in sport because women love sport as much as men.