October 15, 2015

Should women's teams be coached by women?

It's likelier that an international women's player will be more familiar with the female game, but the answer's not straightforward
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Ruth Prideaux (white hair) with the England team at Lord's ahead of the 1993 World Cup final © PA Photos

At the end of last month, following England's poor performance in the Ashes this summer, the head of England Women's Performance, Paul Shaw, announced his decision to step down at the end of the year. Over the next three months the ECB will be searching for a suitable candidate to take on the new role of head coach, in a move back towards a more traditional coaching structure.

It is as yet unclear who the new coach will be. But there has been speculation over the last few days that Peter Moores, who was fired in May from his role as coach of the England men's team, may be a likely candidate for the women's role. That aside, given that Clare Connor this week told the BBC that "the qualities and experiences we are looking for are going to be found more than likely with a coach who has worked at as high a level as possible in the men's game", the likelihood is that the new appointee will be a man.

One reason why it would be wrong to say that a man should not be able to coach women's cricket is that it would be tantamount to denying the women's game the best possible candidates for the job, and the game would suffer as a result

Indeed it seems that this is the direction in which women's cricket is now heading. When England Women appointed their first permanent head coach in 1988, they selected Ruth Prideaux, a PE lecturer at Chelsea College, who had herself played international- level cricket. She introduced an intensive training programme, incorporating both sport psychology and physiological testing, widely acknowledged to have been years ahead of its time and to have contributed to England's World Cup victory in August 1993. Prideaux retired in the wake of that tournament. Three years later another ex-international, Megan Lear, was appointed head coach. Yet in 1998, when the ECB took over the administration of women's cricket in England, Lear was replaced by Paul Farbrace. Since then, England's head coach has always, without exception, been a man.

Meanwhile prior to the Ashes series Cricket Australia replaced Cathryn Fitzpatrick, who had served as head coach since 2012, with ex-state cricketer Matthew Mott. New Zealand, who in April this year appointed ex-international Haidee Tiffen as their new coach, taking over from Hamish Barton, are bucking the general trend.

Does it matter? Should women's cricket teams be coached by women?

Australian captain Meg Lanning has given credit to new coach Matthew Mott for the team's recent success © Getty Images

Cricket Australia has made it clear that it doesn't think so. Belinda Clark, the former Australia captain who now works with the board and the ICC, when asked about the fact that the roles of coach, assistant coach and chair of selectors for the Southern Stars are now all filled by men, said: "We're trying to create a pathway for male and female coaches that operate as part of both the male and female game. What you're seeing now is the start of that. We're trying to strip away gender."

This is interesting because it implies that there are no differences between the women's and men's games, and that coaches should be able to move interchangeably between the two. Yet insights from coaches who have experience of both games contradict this suggestion.

Female cricketers generally require a different communication style to their male counterparts. They will handle defeat differently. Even at international level, they will be less able to deal with the scrutiny that comes with the sudden recent influx of media attention. A coach needs to understand all this.

This is not to say that a man cannot be an extremely effective coach of women's cricket. There are plenty of excellent male coaches working in the women's game. But a man who wants to coach women's cricket, and do so well, needs to know the women's game inside out, and to be aware of and appreciate the differences between the two games. Does Moores, or any other coach who has worked exclusively within men's cricket, understand this? Surely this kind of knowledge would come more intuitively to a woman who has herself played international cricket and understands its unique pressures? It is also probably fair to say that there are very few full-time professional male coaches - certainly in England - who are familiar with the players in the women's set-up, as a head coach inevitably needs to be.

Why do so few ex-international female cricketers go on to take up coaching roles when they retire? What is it about coaching that seems an unattractive proposition?

There is another important reason why all this matters. If we are trying to promote the idea that cricket is no longer a male domain, and if we want more women to play and be involved in cricket, then surely it helps to have women in leadership roles within the sport? If all international coaches are men - even in women's cricket - what kind of message does that send out?

The problem is that there is a distinct lack of female candidates who have the high-level coaching experience that would be required for a head coaching role; very few women, for example, currently hold the ECB's top Level Four coaching qualification. This is one reason why it would be wrong to say that a man should not be able to coach women's cricket: it would be tantamount to denying the women's game the best possible candidates for the job, and the game would suffer as a result.

Mott's recent success with the Southern Stars is a case in point. In the wake of their Ashes victory, captain Meg Lanning stressed his influence over the team throughout the campaign, and attributed much of their success to him: "He's been excellent, for the team and me personally," she said. "He's such a relaxed guy that he really gets the players in a really good headspace about their game." Had CA been intent on a programme of positive discrimination, Mott would have been passed over for a job to which he seems eminently well-suited. But if positive discrimination is not the way forward here, then what is?

Fitzpatrick, Lanning and Clark pose with the 2014 World T20 trophy in Dhaka © Getty Images

Perhaps it is time to begin addressing why the current system produces such a dearth of suitable female candidates for top-level coaching positions. Why do so few ex-international female cricketers go on to take up coaching roles when they retire? What is it about coaching that seems an unattractive proposition? And how can cricket boards facilitate a pathway into coaching for women?

Just over a decade ago, the NFL introduced the "Rooney Rule", requiring teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching roles. Is it time for the ICC to consider establishing a Rooney Rule in women's cricket? If boards had to interview at least one woman when seeking to appoint a new coach, perhaps then they might have an incentive to examine their coaching structures and work out exactly why it is that women are not progressing through the system to snatch top jobs.

Ultimately the first step in solving a problem is to recognise that it exists. As in any other walk of life, visible role models are an important means to change outdated perceptions of cricket as a game exclusively for boys and men. We need female administrators, female umpires and female coaches. Only then can we really begin to "strip away gender" as Clark suggests.

Raf Nicholson is a PhD student, an England supporter, a feminist, and fanatical about women's cricket. @RafNicholson

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • jamoz on October 20, 2015, 15:02 GMT

    It comes down to who is most qualified. I'd think that at the interview questions would be raised of any candidate on how they'd deal with hypothetical situations in regards to issues both on and off the field. Even before then, as it would be a high profile position, the candidate should have been vetted already before the interview for their human management skills. They wouldn't get a foot in the door if their inter personal and management skills were poor.

    In all of this I find it hard to believe we need to be asking this kind of question in this day and age. Are we even asking of the men's game if only a national of a country should be coaching that side, instead of an overseas coach? Can or should an Englishman coach England simply because he's English and he understands the English cricketing culture better than an Indian or a New Zealand coach who might have more qualifications and experience?

  • Swarnanka on October 19, 2015, 18:44 GMT

    There is discrimination in the payment structure between males and females. If females are the coaches of women's teams, they get paid lesser than males who are coaches of women's teams. This makes coaching an unattractive proposition for female ex-cricketers. Also, I have noticed that in most women's matches, only the players are females. All others involved viz. umpires, scorers, pitch curators and coaches are mostly males. This needs to be changed.

  • dexter on October 19, 2015, 5:46 GMT

    Why do so few ex-international female cricketers go on to take up coaching roles when they retire? What is it about coaching that seems an unattractive proposition? If the men are struggling to attract crowds especially at test and ODI level I don't think the women would fear better. Most female games are played to attract mother nature ie birds, stray dogs, cats etc as there is almost never anyone in attendance at women games anyway. I would not want to be a coach under those conditions either so I totally understand the unwillingness of retired female cricketers to go on to take on coaching roles. Women must be encouraged to do more commentary especially during major men's tournaments and promote upcoming women series and tournaments in an attempt to increase fan support maybe if they give women equal opportunity as the men more females may reconsider.

  • Paul on October 18, 2015, 8:48 GMT

    Whilst the long term goal should be for the women's game to produce its own coaches from its own playing system - as the writer says, surely they will be in the best position to understand their own game - it is only this year that we have the first full time professional players appointed in this country. There are full time women coaches but coaching a women's county team here is a distinctly part time occupation and not really a pathway to international success. Perhaps the new structure will change things for coaches as well as players.

  • Andy on October 17, 2015, 8:01 GMT

    "Perhaps it is time to begin addressing why the current system produces such a dearth of suitable female candidates for top-level coaching positions."

    The path for international coaches is through domestic cricket. Women's domestic cricket in the UK is poor. It's not producing enough international quality players so it stands to reason that it is unlikely to produce international quality coaches. An international woman upon retiring is unlikely to go and coach in county cricket because there will be a glut of better qualified and more experienced male coaches available. So the coaching development framework has to come from within the female game. Really it's no different to the Ashes post-result verdict: it's the domestic game that needs a complete overhaul.

    Bottom line is that it's not some sexist policy to have male coaches of female teams. It's that the female game is still so underdeveloped that very few female coaches will be

  • Mashuq on October 16, 2015, 21:40 GMT

    Given his experience and history, Fawad Ahmed is a name that they might consider!

  • Paul on October 16, 2015, 21:05 GMT

    I think people are mis-interpreting Biggus' response. He's saying it isn;t somethign that should concern either sex, but especcially not men. It's not up to men to sort out women's involvement in sports - nor to be balmed for their lack of it if less choose to participate. After 35 years trying to get more girls into engineering and physics - with little success (some, but in no way commensurate with he effort and longevity of the campaigns that try and do it) maybe we just accept that men and women are equal but different and forcing 50% square pegs into the available round holes is a stupid solution - a solution where everyone loses.

  • Terry on October 16, 2015, 8:07 GMT

    Womens cricket is in a period of growth and at the moment there aren't as many qualified female coaches so the best candidate is likely to be a man. That should change over time and the best way to go about it would be to appoint a female assistant and groom them to take over.

  •   Cricinfouser on October 16, 2015, 7:51 GMT

    It might be instructive to look at the coaching situation in other international women's team sports, like Netball and Hockey. The article did not discuss any other sport than cricket, although the question of who could coach an international team of women is not confined to the game of cricket. The greatest women's international hockey team of all time was coached by a male coach: Rick Charlesworth. On the other hand, the winning Australian international Netball teams of the last thirty years have usually had a woman as coach. In my opinion the position of coach in any international women's cricket team should go to the best applicant, regardless of sex.

  • Hameed on October 16, 2015, 3:54 GMT

    Bottom line or end result is winning. So a coach is good if he/she motivates players to win the matches. That means a coach or any leader has to have many qualities. Now a days it is hard to find people with many qualities. Most people are motivated by money so does the players and coaches. Many people play for the love of the country they represent so that in mind coach must know people psychiatry also. If you don't practice or work hard both above things would be useless. It doesent matter if a coach is male or female as long as he or she has coaching capability and good winning record.

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