Petria Thomas On Why Women’s Sport Is Growing But Female Elite Coaching Not


2020s Vision: The Athlete-Turned-Coach Voice

Petria Thomas, the 100m butterfly champion and a triple gold medallist for Australia at the 2004 Games in Athens, wants a shift in culture in sport to help break down two key barriers to women rising through the ranks of performance coaching.

Now high performance general manager at Gymnastics Australia, Thomas, who claimed eight Olympic and 17 World-Championship medals as a Dolphin between 1993 and 2004, cites “life circumstances of the female” and “breaking through in a male-dominated industry is really challenging” as two key barriers that have to be overcome if women are to overcome their low representation at the pointy end of business in elite performance sport.

There are no easy solutions, says Thomas, who is part of the second intake for the Australian Institute of Sport’s Talent Program designed to help women coaches and executives develop skills and push for higher positions.

Studies are being conducted in Australia aimed at combating what many see as bias on selection panels: among questions women candidates may face where their male counterparts do not are: “Who will mind your children or what if you get pregnant?” – which unfairly prevent some female coaches from rising along the same pathways as their male counterparts.

Petria Thomas at 2004 Olympic Trials in Australia – Photo Courtesy: Swimming World Magazine

“It’s about giving more women the opportunity and confidence to take that step up and make them the best person for the job,” Petria Thomas tells Roy Ward at The Sydney Morning Herald in a large feature headlined “Lost leaders: Women’s sport is growing but where are the female coaches?

In Australia’s domestic football codes not even an explosion of women’s competitions has boosted the number of female coaches. Thomas is among those who want to see more sports organisations and boards promote more women to elite roles and lower level positions.

Thomas says she has always believed the best person should get the job. However, she wants sports organisations to reach for deeper understanding when it comes to why not enough women coaches are able to progress through the ranks. She says:

“Most sports are male dominated apart from traditional women’s sports like netball and even there you see male coaches.

“There [are] a number of factors and the life circumstances of the female is a big one, then breaking through in a male-dominated industry is really challenging. Even when you have women who break through to those elite ranks, it can be quite an intimidating industry when you are in the minority.

“It’s really disappointing because women have a lot of skills and a lot to offer. It’s important to have variety in everything and I’d like to see more women coaches across the spectrum of sport.”

Read the SMH article in full.

Swimming World will be returning to this theme in our 2020s Vision series.

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