Gender Issues in Sport
Social Role Theory (SRT) (Eagly, 1987) provides an insight into why gender issues may arise within the Coach and athlete relationship. SRT is the belief that men and women act and behave differently in social situations and take on different roles, due to the expectations that society puts upon them (Eagly, 1987). Gender roles developed pertaining to expectations about the character of men and women (Diekman, A. B., & Eagly, A. H., (2000). For instance, SRT argues that traditional gender roles place women in caring and nurturing roles that reflects communal qualities (for example in the home, rearing the children) (Wood & Eagly, 2002). The men hold the more masculine roles such as leadership and assertive roles reflecting agentic qualities (Eagly & Koenig, 2006). These stereotypical roles portray the woman as being more submissive and understanding and men as been more assertive and powerful. Individuals are seen to interact and react in society by their expected social roles (Eagly, 1987; Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000), these social roles are seen as guidelines of behaviour in which one must fulfil within society. Deviating from the social norm may lead to explicit social disapproval and shame (Cialdini, Kallgren & Reno, 1991). These gender stereotypes prevail in sport and many studies have investigated gender appropriateness of athletic activities (Eccles & Harold, 1991; Sagaria & Sagaria, 1984).
Gender Issues within the Coach and Athlete Relationship
Studies have found that gender may be a factor that determines an effective coach and athlete relationship (Lirgg, Dibrezzo, & Smith, 1994; Medwechuk & Crossman, 1994). The Coach is seen as having a leadership role within society (Butler & Geis, 1990). Within the sporting context the role of the Coach and athlete, is one where the Coach is in control and the athlete will act in a certain way and follow the instructions posed by the Coach (Burke, 2001). The man holding the Coach position and the female holding the athlete position may find that their traditional role expectations are strongly defined, (Ickes, Gesn, Graham, 2000). This dyad works well as the male Coach can fulfil his social role of being assertive and a leader and the female athlete as being submissive and understanding (Burke, 2001).
The issues arise when the roles are reversed, when the female is the coach and the male is the athlete. This dyad often elicits surprise from others as it is seen as perhaps threatening social interactions. Being a female coach is seen as violating the traditional gender role norms. This role reversal for men may be incongruent with their traditional role expectations and be further frustrated by gender issues of power. This may result in gender issues as the male athlete will want to fulfil the social expectations that society places on them. Tomlinson (1997) found that these gendered attitudes are based on deep rooted authoritarian structure where men are seen as the dominating gender. Lorimer and Jowett (2009) argued that coach and athlete should be able to understand each other and interact effectively in order for an effective relationship. But how can there be an effective coach and athlete relationship, when gender stereotyping may affect this relationship and the roles they play?
Studies have found that male and female athletes prefer a male coach to a female coach (Frey, Czech, Kent & Johnson, 2006), but Osborne, 2002 argues that this may be due to simply the lack of female coaches in the profession. Research is limited in understanding the female coach and the male athlete relationship (Jowett & Clark-Carter, 2006) as within society there lacks this demographic characteristic. Carpenter & Acosta, (2006) found that in 2006, that 82.3% of all intercollegiate teams are coached by men, less than 2% of men’s teams are coached by a female coach. Why such a small amount? Perhaps gender stereotypes has stopped women pursuing this role, perhaps glass ceilings, perhaps gender issues of power.
Gender stereotyping, fulfilling social roles, behaving within the guidelines are the many ways in which sport and exercise is shaped by gender issues and in particular in the coach and athlete relationship. How do we remove these gender issues? Here lies the twist, research is very limited, females coaching male athletes is rare and most research in sports investigates the same-sex dyads where both coach and athlete are males or mixed gender dyads where the coach is male and athlete is female (Ross, 2010; Jowett & Clark-Carter, 2006). Popular studies which look at the effective relationship of coach and athlete lacks this dyad or have a very limited amount.
If we don’t have the research how can we eliminate these stereotypes and how can we change the sport and exercise experience between a female coach and male athlete as a positive one? How can we get a clearer understanding of the coach and athlete relationship when research is not involved? How can we demonstrate possible positives in this relationship which may remove gender issues when we don’t have the demographic characteristics to measure? When we highlight the importance of the coach and athlete relationship shouldn’t it involve all dyads? Hopefully future research can address and explore female experiences of coaching male athletes in sport and exercise and pursue in removing dated gender stereotypes in sport.
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About Nollaig O' Sullivan
I am a Sport Psychologist with an interest in an array of sports and in the psychological performance of Irish dance