“I think we’re pretty much outnumbered about 10 to 1 male coaches to female coaches on the performance side of the game, and it’s something I would very much like to try to rectify.” says Judy Murray.
Tennis coaching has historically been a male dominated sport, particular at the elite player development levels. But why? And is the glass ceiling about to be broken through?
Andy Murray’s recent appointment of Amelie Mauresmo was not the first male tennis player to hire a female coach but was probably the highest profile. It was drawn a mixed reaction from former and current players & tennis fans, but to me, the reaction is part of the problem. What can Amelie bring to the development of Andy’s game? The question and discussions have centered around her gender, not if she can do the job. She has all the playing background, the tennis incite, has coached on tour before, plenty of experience, but has not received the respect she has earned from many.
Recently Peta Searle made AFL history as the first ever female assistant coach. Searle has been appointed as St Kilda Football Club’s new development coach on an 18-month contract. “I think there’s no limitations of what can and can’t be achieved,” Searle said. This was a landmark day in a male dominated sport and was meet with great respect and congratulation in the football community. This has opened the door for the development of women’s coaching in a male dominated domain.
Looking into the future I hope we see more women in tennis coaching roles at all levels of the game, not because they are women, but because they are good coaches.
In 2012 Bobby Chintapalli, from USA TODAY, wrote an article on Why aren’t there more female coaches in WTA? Below is an extract from it.
Fed Cup is where you’ll find quite a few current female coaches. Teams for three of eight countries in the top-level World Group are led by women (Belgium, Germany and Spain.) So is the U.S. team, whose captain is Mary Joe Fernandez. Others coach full time or part time at universities, academies and clubs.
But few women coach the top female professionals, and those who do often are related. Consider Venus and Serena Williams, whose bios list their parents as coaches (though they’re no longer involved on a daily basis). As for Azarenka, she started working with Mauresmo at the suggestion of her full-time coach, Sam Sumyk; Mauresmo is a part-time “consultant” in a week-to-week arrangement.
To find a player with a full-time female coach, slide your finger to the No. 22 ranking. There you’ll see Czech player Lucie Safarova, 25, who works with Biljana Veselinovic.
Peruse the top 100, and you might find 10 working with a full-time female coach.
“There’s very few of them, and it’s (a) pity, because I think the relationship between two women works much better,” Safarova said this spring.
It’s clear she and her coach share a certain rapport. After Safarova won a match at the Family Circle Cup in Charleston, S.C., in April, Veselinovic sauntered on court and hugged her. And during the doubles final, which Safarova and her partner won, Veselinovic regularly encouraged her charge. There was “bravo service” after a good serve, “high energy” when the pair grew discouraged, “show guts” at the start of the super-tiebreak. Whether Safarova needed calm or vim, Veselinovic’s words had the desired effect. After their win, Safarova raced over to celebrate with her coach.
Veselinovic has been at the coaching gig a while. She has coached Safarova since 2010. Before that she coached several others, including former doubles No. 1 Katarina Srebotnik for five years, and she served as Fed Cup captain for eight years. Ask her about coaching, and she starts with this: It’s not easy.
Why aren’t there more female coaches?
Her first reason — and the first reason about 20 coaches, players and others cite when asked why there aren’t more female coaches on tour — is lifestyle. Specifically, they say 30-plus weeks on the road can be tough on family life, especially for mothers of young children.
Things are easier now that Veselinovic’s kids are 18 and 13, but there’s still a “whole machinery involved to be able to make it.” A support group is key. Hers includes a helpful ex-husband, grandparents and a nanny who helps cook and care for the kids three times a week.
“There are a lot of things about being a coach that are not attractive to a man or a woman,” says Jeffrey Gerson, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who spent two years researching the declining number of college ice hockey coaches and is now expanding his study to include tennis and other sports. “But men don’t have the traditional role of raising the family. Some help out, but most are not putting in the long hours that moms do taking care of the family.”
He finds it also is a big factor at the college level, where he started his research as a neutral observer but soon became an advocate for female coaches. (The change happened during the course of his study, as he encountered female coaches afraid to voice concerns after seeing peers fired or blacklisted for doing just that.) For specific numbers on coaches he cites the “gold-standard” Acosta/Carpenter study, which is based on 35 years of data from NCAA colleges with women’s athletics programs. The 2012 results show women currently account for 30% of women’s tennis team coaches.
Says Diane Elayne Dees, who writes about women’s tennis on her blog Women Who Serve: “I think sexism is at work here, in a much broader and deeper way than some might think. If men leave their families and travel for their work, they’re considered ‘good providers.’ If women do, they’re considered ‘bad mothers.’ “
Numbers are harder to come by on the women’s pro tour, partly because they fluctuate. Those doing the hiring mostly are individual players, not universities, and players can and do often change coaches.
Whatever the reasons for the limited supply of female coaches, if there aren’t more of them on the pro tour, it also might owe to limited demand.
Russian player Vera Dushevina, 25, has been coached by Irina Granaturova since she was 8. She calls her a “second mom.” Yet Dushevina isn’t surprised more women don’t coach full time, telling USA TODAY Sports, “So many men coaches can hit with you, do fitness with you, everything. But most women coaches cannot do all stuff with you.”
Not all male coaches hit with players either, but more of them do. And as the power in the game has increased, so has the popularity of male hitting partners. Plus, as former player/coach and current tennis commentator Brad Gilbert explains, male players hit more with other players while female players often prefer a specific workout, “and that’s where a hitting partner comes into play.” The very top women often travel with both a coach and hitting partner. Many others can’t afford to, so they hire someone who can hit with them, too.
Some factors are less tangible, inexplicable even.
Retired Hall of Famer Natasha Zvereva says via email, “I would prefer to have a male coach. Just like I would never go to female dentist if the choice was given.”
And does Dushevina want more female coaches on tour? “No, because it’s going to be only women. And I also like combined tournaments to see some men because when only women (are) around it’s crazy.”
The comments don’t surprise Tracy Almeda-Singian, 32, a former player who now is Tour & Social Media Marketing Manager at Wilson Sporting Goods. She says sports in general is male-dominated and that things can be tough for her as a woman in the industry. She wishes there were more female coaches but understands why there aren’t.
“A lot of it is the emotional support and the social aspect,” she says. “Tennis doesn’t let you have a normal life. The only guys you’re exposed to are coaches, hitting partners and the people that work around the tournament. So when the girls look for coaches it’s like, ‘Do I like hanging out with this person? Does he hit the ball well?’ That’s a lot of it, more than people would care to admit probably.”
But emotional support works both ways, it seems, as some use it to explain why they prefer female coaches.
Galina Voskoboeva, who’s ranked No. 49 and started working with coach Alina Jidkova in January, when she was ranked as low as No. 621, says more, some of it through laughter. “You wake up and you think you don’t look nice today, and a woman will understand. Men will think you are crazy probably.”
Nearly everyone who provided input stresses gender is less important than the connection between player and coach. (And it’s hard to miss the connection between, say, Azarenka and coach Sumyk or U.S. Open winner Samantha Stosur and coach David Taylor.) Yet many recognize that where female players are concerned, female coaches can bring something extra to the table — or, rather, the court.
“I have gone through so much of what they go through, so I understand where they’re coming from,” Rinaldi said in a phone interview. “I try and share all those experiences, not just on court but off court. Some of the things that I learned at a later age, they’re learning younger through me … and becoming independent young ladies.”
For 3½ years she has worked out of the USTA Training Center Headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla. Rinaldi, the only female among the seven coaches there, coaches and travels with Townsend and other juniors. She suspects she wouldn’t have taken this role while her son, Duke, now 17, was growing up. Back then she taught tennis at a Palm Beach resort; the job didn’t require travel. Last month, Rinaldi was awarded the 2011 USOC National Coach of the Year for Tennis. The award came days after she called coaching “one of the best experiences of my life.”
Should something be done? What can be done?
The experience may be even more important for those getting the coaching.
“If your idea of what sports is about is provided only through the lens of a male, then you’re only getting one perspective,” Gerson says. “And there’s something special about a female athlete having a female coach, because they’ve been in your shoes.”
He adds that because female athletes see few female coaches now, they’re less likely to want to become coaches later.
And Murray told BBC, “(When) you’re required to compete overseas, to be able to have female accompaniment during your teenage years is actually very, very important.”
Klaudiya Istomina, who coaches ATP player son Denis Istomin says by email, “It’s difficult to do something … if players don’t want it!”
She’s among the even fewer female coaches on the men’s tour. Currently the only other well-known female coach is Ilona Young, who along with her husband coaches son Donald.
But back to the women’s tour. Can anything be done? Some say it’s a tough question, but most offer answers.
Slater says organizations like hers must better publicize how they can help. She says those hiring must do more to search for the best women, as they do for the best men. She also says “women have to speak up and have the confidence to promote themselves.”
Murray has said she wants to mentor a few female coaches in the UK and develop workshops to educate more women about the game and the tour.
The WTA and ATP jointly offer a four-day training course for players interested in various post-tennis careers, including coaching. Graduates can receive coaching certification. Jidkova attended the course, as did Iroda Tulyaganova, who coaches Akgul Amanmuradova. Other attendees, such as Sarah Borwell and Courtney Nagle, coach but not on the pro tour.
Gerson says a lot can be done about the lack of female coaches. He starts with this: “Tennis hasn’t even really recognized that this is happening. The first thing has to be the recognition.”