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July 20, 2013

Three out of twelve

On 10 July twelve national teams were lined up for the final tournament of Women’s Euro2013 in Sweden. Only three of them were coached by female head coaches: the host country itself (Pia Sundhage), England (Hope Powell), and Germany (Silvia Neid).

Three out of twelve: Silvia Neid, Pia Sundhage, Hope Powell.

In other words: 75% of Europe’s best women’s national teams are still coached by men. This is even more than at the World Cup 2011 in Germany, where ‘only’ two thirds of the head coaches were male.

Given the development and rising visibility of women’s football, it is justified to ask why the number of women coaches seems to stagnate. Is it just a question of time? After all, women’s football as we know it today has been existing and developing for only four decades. Perhaps all we have to do is wait, while new generation of coaches are being trained. Or could it be there is still a ‘glass ceiling’ that prevents talented women coaches from making it to the top in national football associations that are inevitably still dominated by men?

It can’t possibly be a question of competence. Statistics show that teams coached by women had on average better results in major tournaments (World Cup, Euro, Olympics) then those with a male head coach.

Annette Hofmann, professor at the Ludwigsburg University of Education, together with four colleagues from Sweden, Germany and the United States (1), wants to know more about the career pathways of top female football coaches. Their ongoing research, supported by FIFA’s Joao Havelange scholarship, is based on the following three questions:

How do top-level women football coaches enter coaching and how do they progress in their careers?

How do they describe the communities of practice they have been part of during their careers?

How does professional learning and development relate to their career progression steps?

The study will apply an original mixed methodology of oral history, combining questionnaires, in-depth interviews and biographical ‘life grids’, a particular appropriate tool to collect retrospective data, to map and visualise the links between career progression and personal/professional development.

The project has started in spring 2013 and it is no doubt too early to speak about preliminary findings. It already appears, however, according to Annette Hofmann, that the coaches interviewed

‘were aware of their ‘token’ or ‘exotic’ status in a ‘man’s world of football’, but accepted it as ‘part of the deal’ and had to learn to cope with it.

At the same time, they do not seem to identify

specific gender-related ‘large’ barriers and want to believe that their coaching qualities were more important than their gender.

It will be interesting to read the conclusions at the end of the study in spring 2014. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the project, feel FREE to contact Annette (

(1) Natalie Barker-Ruchti and Eva-Carin Lindgren (University of Gothenburg), Christine Shelton (Smith College), Silke Sinning (University of Koblenz-Landau)

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