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Does the Gender of a Coach Matter?

The PyeongChang2018 Women’s Ice Hockey tournament kicked off two days ago as eight teams began their quest towards Olympic gold. While many spectators focus their full attention on the amazing female athletes, one may also notice the lack of female leadership on display. That’s right, the underrepresentation of women within the sport industry extends to include National Team and Olympic competition.

After a quick review of the coaching staff composition for the Women’s Ice Hockey teams competing in 2018, six of the ten head coaches listed are men (60%) (both Sweden and Switzerland have two individuals listed in the head coach role). This proportion is actually strikingly similar to that of U.S. intercollegiate competition within the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Within the NCAA, women are highly underrepresented as head coaches of women’s programs, as they represent roughly 43% of those roles. The gender composition at the assistant coach level in the 2018 Olympics is even more lopsided as 14 of the 16 support staff members are male (87.5%).

This lack of women in positions of leadership sustains within Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey despite the surge in participation over the past decade. For the eight countries competing in the 2018 Olympic games, participation numbers total 181,420 females.

Women often remain underrepresented in sport leadership roles (such as coaching) due to a perceived lack of fit with the personality traits stereotypically thought essential to success. While men have historically been tabbed as maintaining a more natural skill set and ability to be successful in the head coach role, previous research conducted by Darvin, Pegoraro, and Berri (2017), indicates that the gender of a head coach does not influence the performance of players.

Reversing the underrepresentation of female head coaches in women’s ice hockey may depend on the proportion of female assistant coaches, known to some as a coaching “pipeline.” Unfortunately, the effectiveness of this approach for other women’s programs has been met with difficulties as pipeline issues remain within the sport coaching profession.

Some sport leagues (NCAA) have even experienced a drop-off in the proportion of female assistant coaches over the past several years (56% to 51%). So, with only two female assistant coaches among the eight nations, it appears the pipeline issue remains intact for Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey and in fact the gender of the coach does matter.