Coaching and Gendered Discourses

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Many of us can think of teachers, coaches, or others who influenced our lives in a positive way. For instance, Dr. Brinkley was my comp professor my first year in college and nurtured in me a love of writing.

In other cases, people draw from previous experiences to develop their own practices. When working students, I find I use many of the same techniques and approaches to mentoring that my PhD advisor did with me. 

The same is true with coaches, as they frequently draw from their playing experiences and interactions with their coaches to inform how they engage with their own players now. 

Recently, Donna de Haan and Annelies Knoppers, both of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, examined ways in which gender and gendered language potentially influence coaching in high performance sport. 

They argued that “one of the most important sources of knowledge coaches draw on to inform their practice is their experience of being coached themselves. These experiences are gendered.”

To support this position, they collected interviews from elite rowing coaches. The researchers focused on how the coaches talked about the women they coached. 

Coaches in the study largely professed to treat people the same, regardless of gender. At the same time, though, they drew from ways of knowing that cast women athletes as inferior, relative to men. 

The authors found that the beliefs were largely established during the coaches’ own playing careers, reinforced by their coaches, and then further perpetuated today in their own practice. 

The results suggest men have been, and continue to be, seen as the standard by which all athletes are judged. This narrative has persisted over time and remains largely unchallenged. As a result, such discourses and frames of reference will likely persist in the future.