Women's Sport Week: The view from the bench

Karen Brown

With this week being the first-ever Women’s Sport Week, we bring you the second in our series of articles marking the occasion.

Here’s a trivia question: How many Assistant or Head Coaches in International Hockey are women? How many can you name? We’d be willing to bet not many. England and Great Britain’s Karen Brown is one of two that spring to mind (the other being the USA’s Janneke Schopman) and beyond that, you start to draw a blank. Why is there such a difference in the numbers involved? We took some time to ask Karen Brown her views on the topic.

“It’s an interesting time for women in sport because it’s only been a focus in recent years to push women not just in sport but in all walks of life. Sport is often a little further behind the rest of society. Look at the situation in government, in business etc. sport is only just catching up.” says Brown, adding “I’ve worked for England Hockey for 10 years now and I’ve only ever seen three or four female coaches at the top level tournaments. Proportionally that seems a discrepancy to me.”

Whilst she is keen to close the gap between the number of male and female coaches, the former GB international knows the situation will take time to develop, as it has in other walks of life:

“Obviously female coaches need to be able to do the job but we don’t have an equal situation at all. It’ll never be fully equal in my opinion, but I think the focus from all countries and the IOC, FIH etc needs to be one that gets more women involved at the top level. I see no reason why in ten years time we can’t have something like that level footing, but it will take some time to get to that point.”

England Celebrate at CWG

Whilst she is keen for there to be progress in the development of female coaches in hockey, it is fair to say there is a way to go. Often, at club level, male coaches will be able to walk into jobs in charge of women’s sides despite some relatively meagre achievements previously, whilst for women the onus seems to be on proving themselves time and again at a lower level before the big opportunities are presented. For Brown, and indeed Schopman, their reputations as players helped give them the boost they needed. Brown is her country’s most capped player with 355 caps whilst Schopman is a two time Olympic Medallist and a former World Cup Winner. Without such pedigree the GB Assistant Coach believes they would have struggled to scale the heights the currently do:

“My playing credentials undoubtedly opened doors for me and gave me a leg up but then you still have to prove yourself. Look at Schopman and the USA. Would she have got the job if she hadn’t been the Dutch captain and one of the best around? She might not even have got an interview. Now she’s in the role she’s proving what a good coach she is and she’s making some great impact on the game. You can’t do anything about other people’s perceptions. It doesn’t bother me but I am aware of it and aware of a need to change it.”

Part of the change, Brown believes, will come from the move towards a more professional game which hockey has seen in recent times. Players will now see coaching as a viable career path when they finish playing which has perhaps not always being the case in the past:

“In the last 5-10 years the game has become more professional. Before, it was a hobby for most people, whereas now we are starting to see people making a living from the game. I don’t think it was viewed that way before. I think we’ll start to see more professional players moving into coaching. These players understand the game and what they’ve experienced as a player helps, but like the others they will still have to go and do the hard work, working with a club side, a junior national side etc. It’s not just what you do on the training pitch; it’s about off the field as well. It’s now a career but you need to work your way up like in any other career in any other industry.”

With that in mind, Brown’s advice for those hoping to follow in her footsteps as a top female hockey coach is, as you’d expect, straightforward, though not necessarily easy:

“I’d recommend people do their coaching awards, work hard and do well at club level first. If you keep pushing your teams and keep pushing yourself you’ll be successful. It’s not easy, but if you learn your lessons from hockey and other sports, and keep working hard, hopefully the rewards will come and we’ll see that gap in numbers between male and female coaches starting to close.”

To find out more about Women's Sport Week, visit the Women in Sport Website.

Keep an eye out on Twitter for #WSW2015 and of course you can visit the England Hockey Facebook and Twitter pages for some of our very own content celebrating the extraordinary women who play our sport.