As a sport community, how can we support women in coaching during COVID-19?

The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped how many of us think about and experience work – in some ways for the worse. As much as sport is a passion project for many, we cannot ignore how changes in our work and home lives have impacted the ability of essential staff and volunteers, like coaches, to bounce back.

Photo: Coaching Association of Canada/Kyle Clapham

Coaches are some of the most visible and influential leaders in sport, shaping the day-to-day experiences of participants and the development of sport itself.[1] Despite the well-documented benefits of gender equity and the positive influence of women leaders and role models in sport, women continue to be underrepresented in coaching across levels and disciplines. In 2019, only 34% of coaches who took a National Coaching Certification Program courses were women. Women currently hold only 3% of head coaching roles for men’s teams, 18% of head coaching roles in mixed sport, and 26% of head coaching roles for women’s teams in U Sports and CCAA.[2]

Data from RBC and UN Women also shows that women have been disproportionately impacted by the economic consequences of the pandemic. Before the pandemic, women’s participation in Canada’s labour force was at an historic high; in April, it hit its lowest level since 1986.[3] Existing gender norms have put the increased demand for unpaid childcare and domestic work on women,[4] and women’s employment has been slower to rebound since reopening efforts began.[5]

With these phenomena combined, sport organizations at all levels cannot leave the representation of women coaches in their rosters to chance. We have an opportunity to advance and support women in coaching, and in doing so, to help change societal narratives about girls and women in sport that focus on ‘fixing’ women so they fit into a male-dominated system. [6]

Here are five steps that sport organizations can take to help recruit, support, and advance women in coaching:

1. Create an organizational culture that values women. You can do this by challenging “blame the woman” narratives and being explicit, intentional, and unapologetic in communicating your values of inclusion.[7] This includes valuing and providing equitable support and resources for women’s teams and women in coaching.

“Blame the woman” narratives around coaching include: women don’t apply, they don’t like sports as much as men, they lack the knowledge and experience to coach, women with kids aren’t committed and have less time, and women only get the job because they are women.[8]

2. Support and accommodate parent coaches. Encourage coaches of any gender to bring their family into their role as coach as much as they can.[9] Implement family friend policies around travel and support, including subsidized childcare.

3. Build and reach out to diverse networks and develop a succession list of talented women to fill coaching roles.[10] Involve women coaches and leaders in the recruiting and hiring process and commit to building a diverse candidate pool.

4. Offer, develop, and pay for all-women or women focused development opportunities, including mentorship programs for women coaches.[11]

5. Make a commitment to hiring and promoting women coaches by setting clear targets for the percentage of women coaching at every level, and a timeline to achieve those goals.

For further learning, check out these important resources:

Canadian Women & Sport and the Coaching Association of Canada are working together on the Equity in Coaching initiative, made possible by the Government of Canada. The initiative includes a commitment to expand the availability of training and resources for the sport system to support leaders in removing barriers for women in coaching. More information and resources from this program will be published in 2021.

[1] The Rally Report: Encouraging Action to Improve Sport for Women and Girls (Rep.). (2020). Canadian Women & Sport.

[2] Canadian Women & Sport. (2020).

[3] RBC Economics. (2020, July 22). Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains. Retrieved September 16, 2020, from

[4] UN Women – How COVID-19 Impacts Women and Girls. (2020, May 19). Retrieved September 16, 2020, from

[5] RBC Economics. (2020, July 22).

[6] LaVoi, N. M. (2020, February 25). Gender Equity in Coaching: Best Practice. Lecture presented at Equity in Coaching: Learning and Planning with NSOs, Ottawa.

[7] LaVoi, N.M., & Wasend, M.K. (2018, July). Athletic Administration Best Practices of Recruitment, Hiring and Retention of Female Collegiate Coaches. Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport, University of Minnesota.

[8] LaVoi, N.M., & Wasend, M.K. (2018, July).

[9] LaVoi, N.M., & Wasend, M.K. (2018, July).

[10] LaVoi, N.M., & Wasend, M.K. (2018, July).

[11] LaVoi, N. M. (2020, February 25).