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Is Sport, PE and Strength and Conditioning perpetuating an environment where women are not valued

Updated: Apr 25, 2021

Women make up 51% of the population nationwide (Holdaway, 2017), therefore, it would be appropriate to deduce that a similar percentage of school physical education provision should be aimed at developing female athletes. Nevertheless, it would appear that female pupils feel they are underrepresented within physical education and sports and think that male teachers lack the understanding to provide them with adequate support (Gender Trust, 2020). According to the British Educational Suppliers Association, 70% of teachers in the UK are female, 82.4% within primary school, however more than 60% of PE teachers are male (Payscale, 2020). Physical education has always been a male dominated industry and has historically conjured up ideals of hyper masculinity (Beagan & Saunders, 2005) as well as the ideology that sport allows boys to compete for social positioning by demonstrating physical dominance. Within the UK, just 7% of qualified S&C coaches are female (Medlin-Silver, Lampard & Bunsell, 2017) and it is therefore likely that the representation of coaches reflects these statistics within school S&C as well. This can only perpetuate the supposition that sport and PE within schools create hyper masculine environments where female pupils feel unwelcome.

With regard to female S&C coaches there is continuing evidence of a lack of diversity within what is clearly a male dominated environment. Medlin-Silver et al. (2017) interviewed a number of female S&C coaches as well as women studying S&C at university. The overwhelming majority of them provided anecdotes of misogyny, casual sexual reference and aggression as well as a lack of respect from male peers about their capabilities as a coach. The transcript makes for shocking reading and is unfortunately not surprising. Those interviewed make comment to the use of humor, which they more commonly referred to as ‘banter’ and extremely derogatory language being common place.

Another worrying aspect is that one interviewee explained that “I’d bite my tongue a little bit when the guys would say sexist or crude things about women; I kind of wanted them to take me as one of them. So I wouldn’t say anything about it, I’d kind of hold back.” The authors go on to conclude that S&C seems to be a field in which females are expected to change and adapt their behavior in order to fit in with their male counterparts. Although today, it is widely understood that diversity, whether it is ethnicity, gender or otherwise, has a positive effect on groups, as varied individuals provide unique and often diverse perspectives on the same situation (Martin, 2014), S&C seems to lack this foresight and still supports hyper masculine environments and expects women to adhere to this rather than embrace the differing perspective they could bring to the profession.

It is common in sport for men to coach women’s teams, yet still uncommon for women to coach men’s sides (Forbes, 2019). This article from the USA interestingly highlights that prior to 1972 more than 90% of female college sides were coached by women, however, after an initiative called ‘Title IX’ was introduced men now fill 60% of these positions. Title IX resulted in the remuneration for college coaching roles being required to be equal, which although should have led to a positive improvement for female coaches, actually meant male coaches were interested in the roles and therefore hired over their female counterparts. This isn’t necessarily the same story in the UK, however it is an example of when policy change intended to elicit positive change backfires. It has been argued that women are ill equipped to coach men’s sport however interestingly it is considered perfectly legitimate that men can coach women’s sport, because of the perceived sense of superiority of men (Reade, Rogers & Norman, 2009). In 2014 Andy Murray was famously laughed at for being the first man to select a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo, she took him all the way to a second Wimbledon victory. Former male athletes tend to be more well-known and therefore, more likely to be awarded roles because of the disproportionate viewing opportunities for men’s sport (Godoy-Pressland, 2014), as coverage of women’s sport makes up approximately 4% of media coverage (Cookey, Messner & Musto, 2015). It would be interesting to see if TV coverage of women’s sport was increased, making female athletes more household names, could it soon be the norm for women to be coaching high profile men’s sport as well?

When considering schools, highlighting independent schools as they are more likely to have specific full-time sports coaches and S&C coaches, according to Neil Rollings, chairman of the Professional Association of Directors of Sport in Independent Schools (PADSIS), it is increasingly more likely that directors of sport or heads of individual sports will often be former professional athletes. In fact, Rollings speculates that as many as 20% of school directors of sport are now former sportsmen. It would appear that fee paying schools seek high profile former players as a unique selling point when it comes to sport, often selecting them over more qualified, experienced teachers and coaches, the majority, if not all, of these are male (Cookey et al., 2015). Although the data on this is somewhat lacking, this is certainly anecdotally accepted within many independent schools. Combine this with the disproportionate number of male PE teachers, the distinct lack of female S&C coaches and the historically hyper masculine environment that sport engenders within school, is it any wonder that women feel they are underrepresented.

Schools owe it to the development of their young athletes to provide a safe and progressive setting for the pupils to develop their athletic skill. Diversity of culture, age, gender and ethnicity has been shown to have a positive influence in a number of different professional environments and strength and conditioning should be no different. With just 7% of S&C coaches in the UK being female there is a long way to go before we have equality in our industry. Young girls need role models to be inspired by which is why it is imperative that they have female coaches to guide them and encourage them to achieve their potential. Universities must make it a priority to encourage girls to aspire to study and then remain in areas such as sports science and strength and conditioning and one of the ways this will be successful is with the elimination of hyper masculine environments that are normalised within our profession.


Beagan, B., & Saunders, S. (2005). Occupations of masculinity: Producing gender through what men do and don't do. Journal of Occupational Science, 12, (3), 161-169.

Cookey, C., Messner. M, A., & Musto, M. (2015). “It’s Dude Time!”: A Quarter Century of Excluding Women’s Sports in Televised News and Highlight Shows. Communication & Sport, 3(3), 261-287

Elsessor, K. (2019). Here's Why Women's Teams Are Coached By Men. Forbes.

Gender Trust (2020). Gender Inequality in the British Education System. Gender Trust.

Godoy-Pressland, A. (2014). Nothing to report: A semi-longitudinal investigation of the print media coverage of sportswomen in British Sunday newspapers. Media, Culture & Society, 36, 595–609.

Holdaway, R, (2017). Beyond 30%. Women in Sport.

Martin, G. C. (2014). The effects of cultural diversity in the workplace. Journal of Diversity Management, 9(2), 89-92.

Medlin-Silver, N., Lampard, P., & Bunsell, T. L. (2017). ‘Strength in Numbers: An Explorative Study into the Experience of Female Strength and Conditioning Coaches’. In A. Milner & J.H. Braddock (Eds.), Women in Sports: Breaking Barriers, Facing Obstacles (pp. 125-140). Santa Barbara, California: Praeger.

Payscale (2020). Average Physical Education Teacher Salary in United Kingdom.

Reade, I., Rogers, W., & Norman, L. (2009). “The Under-Representation of Women in Coaching: A Comparison of Male and Female Canadian Coaches at Low and High Levels of Coaching”. International Journal of Sports Science and Coaching, 4, 505-520.

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