Female coaches complete first stage of Olympic Solidarity leadership course
Kate Murray (RSA), Ljudmilla Medan (SRB), Najila Aljeraiwi (KUW), Pamela Fulton (ZIM) and Pooja Chaurushi (IND) were the five triathlon coaches selected by ITU to attend this week’s pilot programme for 26 elite female coaches from the Women’s Sport Leadership Academy High Performance Coaches (WSLA HPC) at the University of Hertfordshire, just outside London.
With the strap-line ‘Leading to outstanding coaches’, the week-long residential course is the first third-party initiative to be funded by Olympic Solidarity under one of the IOC Agenda 2020 guiding principles: gender equality.
The course is the result of a collaboration between the Anita White Foundation’s flagship programme based at the University of Chichester and Females Achieving Brilliance (FAB) – a voluntary group set up 11 years ago to support senior-level women within sport – and the University of Hertfordshire.
“After attending several WSLA events, Rosie Mayglothling from FISA made the suggestion that as well as executive-level women, a course for high-performance female coaches would be really valuable,” said Lucy Faulkner, founder of FAB and programme leader of the course. “ASOIF chose six International Federations, including ITU, to present to the IOC Olympic Solidarity and between FAB, the University of Hertfordshire and those IFs, we figured out what would work best for these women.”
The coaches were all asked to think about who they are and what they stand for, from their principles and values to personal and coaching philosophies; how they communicate with people and what impact their behaviour has on other people.
“We are all women in a male dominated industry, so just connecting with each other and looking at ourselves has been hugely beneficial,” said former South African Olympian-turned-coach Kate Murray. “We have done end-goal planning, forced out of our comfort zones, forced to reconsider where we want to be. It has been empowering and I’m looking forward to putting this all into practice and coming back in a year’s time to see the progression.”
While virtual gender parity in both competitors and officials is now in sight for Tokyo 2020, women coaches at Rio 2016 accounted for just 11% of the total. The experiential course will reconvene in 2020, but in the meantime there will be continued assessment and contact with participants.
“Some of these women may not make it to become high performance coaches,” admits Lucy Faulkner, “but might instead go on to become really good Performance Directors or board members. This is about keeping women in the sport in whatever direction they go.”
The WSLA graduates already numbered 283 from 52 countries, and will now have 26 female coaches to add to their number. That is a network that these women will now be able to rely on for the rest of their careers, and can even access WSLA catalyst grants through the Anita White Foundation to help fund projects in their sport or home country to help women’s development. This is helping us to grow and think about the network we have, how we can use it to develop our coaching,” added Pooja Chaurushi.
“I am the only female coach in India so my federation had a lot of expectations from me. I was feeling like I needed something to help me understand the wider context and I feel like this has given me that. I am so grateful to ITU for this opportunity. After my athletic career, it was difficult for me to break into coaching but these experiences are helping me progress and over the last three years I have already seen things improve and numbers increase.”
The ongoing support is something that is fundamental to the programme’s success, with self-evaluation, facilitator involvement and feedback and support through Whatsapp groups maintaining the contact.
“These women have so little support in their own countries, they’re not following any path, and those are the coaches we wanted to target, it shows how serious IOC are about gender equality,” added Faulkner. “They can also use all the content from here on, it’s all open to them. Research shows women aren’t as good at networking, they are less likely to apply for jobs if they don’t think they are qualified. We want them to realise they can.”
Critical challenge is a key tenet of the course, both being able to give and receive it, something that didn’t come naturally to all those involved. When she retired as an athlete, Najila Aljeraiwi (KUW) went on to start the Kuwait Triathlon Academy. “The WSLA course has focussed on things I wasn’t even aware of, beyond the technical side of coaching,” she reflected. “Now I am open to the characteristics of a coach, of leadership, and it has been a real eye-opener to look at myself as a personality so I am very pleased to be here.”
“I am proud that ITU is involved in these initiatives,” added Ljudmilla Medan. “These are things we need to be thinking of and now I feel a big responsibility to share what I have learned. We have all been crying and smiling and screaming, they’ll take us out of our comfort zone and you just have to do it. They taught us to be specific, succinct and sincere to deliver our message most effectively and efficiently.”
The course has clearly been an immense source of pride for Lucy Faulkner and Dr Lucy Piggot, who both sit on the WSLA HPC Management Group and they will now be looking at ways to upscale it. As well as, of course, piecing together what the next week-long course for these 26 women will look like in a year’s time.
“We will do impact case studies on each of the women, see what the programme has done for them and what they are going to do for coaching and other women. The change in these women from Monday morning to now is incredible. They will tell you it has changed their lives.”