SL Interview: Sheila Robertson Explores the Challenges for Female Coaches

Women in sports have made enormous strides, particularly on the field of play. Their athletic success, however, has not always translated to the coaching ranks. In high schools and colleges in the U.S., many men lead female teams while very few women coach boys’ and men’s teams. North of the border, according to the Coaching Association of Canada, there is an “overall lack of women coaching at the national team and Olympic levels.”

Among the statistics uncovered by the Association: at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, “women accounted for 50% of Canada’s medals, 53% of Top-8 finishes, but only 10.5% of coaches accredited by the Canadian Olympic Committee.” At the 2006 Torino Olympic Games, “women accounted for 67% of Canada’s medals, but only 14.7% of Canada’s accredited coaches.”

Ottawa-based writer-editor Sheila Robertson has long taken an interest in women’s sports and coaching. She started working for Team Canada in 1976, when the Olympic Games were held in Montreal, in the communications department. She also took part in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic Winter Games, acting as liaison between the media and the Canadian team, and she managed the Canada’s media office at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Robertson, in 1994, became the founding editor of Coaches Report, in which she profiled numerous coaches, and has edited manuals on long-term athlete development. In 2000, Robertson was asked to edit a start-up publication called the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching. In 2005, Coaches of Canada established the Sheila Robertson Award to recognize a national sports organization or multi-sport service organization “that demonstrates a consistent approach in valuing and recognizing the role of the coach within the organization, the media and the public.” Past award recipients include Athletics Canada, Skate Canada and the Canadian Yachting Association.

This year, with Canada acting as host of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Winter Games, the editorial board of the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching decided to celebrate the occasion by producing a greatest hits compilation of articles. The result is “Taking the Lead: Strategies and Solutions from Female Coaches” (University of Alberta Press; Amazon), a wide-ranging volume that examines multifarious issues, from juggling motherhood demands to dealing with harassment.

Practical as well as provocative, the book urges sports leaders and administrators to re-examine the unique challenges that female coaches face and to reimagine the sports landscape with improved opportunities for women coaches. (Two organizations – the Coaching Association of Canada and the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity – sponsored the publication of the book).

From Ottawa, Robertson spoke to SportsLetter by telephone.

-– David Davis