Women in Coaching: We've Come a Long Way, but the Journey is Just Beginning

Women in Coaching: We've Come a Long Way, but the Journey is Just Beginning

By Lauren Gaskill//Contributor  | Thursday, March 23, 2017

In honor of National Women’s History Month, we wanted to step back and hear some thoughts from women coaches on how the field has evolved over the years. 

What strides have women in coaching made? How far has the field come and how far does it have to go? 

We sat down with two women we’ve featured in our Women in Coaching column – Sarah Dawson and Carolyn Acklerly

– to learn more about what they’d like to see in the future as things continue to evolve.  

How has the role of being a woman in the world of swim coaching evolved over the last few decades? What improvements do you feel still need to be made? 


Dawson: I’ve been coaching since 1999, and if it hadn’t evolved, I would not be in the position that I find myselfin today. However, I think the better question to ask a woman coach would be, “How far has it evolved?”  I’m not sure that it’s evolved very far, and here’s why:  

Are there more coaches’ conferences wrapped around women and their role in our sport? Yes. Are there more opportunities for women in the coaching workforce? Yes. Are we more accepted? Yes. But at what level of coaching are women represented?

Most of the women coaches I know are not head coaches. They are part-time, age-group-level coaches. They’re not in the higher echelons of the coaching hierarchy, and I think a lot of this has to do with our culture’s inability to have an appropriate work/life balance between career and family life. 

Ackerley: In short, I think the sport of swimming mirrors how women in coaching is evolving, and evolution takes time and struggle. I know there are growing opportunities for women to attend female-targeted coaching events, and I deeply appreciate that these are made available by people who have increased awareness of this need. This is evidence that people who want change are getting involved and making things happen. But as I said before, evolution takes time, and we still have a way to go in terms of work/life balance.

In terms of improvements, you both mention that the field could use a better work/life balance. How do you see all of us working together to make that happen? 

Dawson: While I don’t have all the answers to solve this societal problem, I do think there is more that can be done within swim organizations in order to support women coaches. Improving policies regarding parental leave, equal pay, childcare, flexibility in hours might be a good place to start. We’ve come a long way, but the journey is just beginning.

Ackerley: I would treasure more opportunities to learn from great female coaches about all they have accomplished. Success in our sport encourages an “all-in” approach, and great coaches have always embodied this. But I wonder if I would learn from these women, who have coached at the highest levels, better ways to find balance.  

My life as a coach teeters on a pattern of all work, and an occasional bit of play to keep me going. I often wonder about finding the right mix of valued elements in a coach’s life, and how they might combine to encourage greater longevity in the field. My hope is that we can all achieve this equilibrium one day.



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