Disclaimer: this isn’t a “feel good” article and doesn’t have my usual hopefully and positive ending. It does, however, lay out solutions and a Call To Action that could very well bring us a hopeful and positive ending! Even if you are SURE you don’t do these things, please read this and learn how you can be a bigger help to your friendly neighbourhood female coach. That is my goal with this article.
TL;DR: Scroll down to the bullet points!
A few months back, I spoke at a conference for sport science in American Football. As per usual and expected, the number of participants and speakers alike were overwhelmingly male.
However, I am scrappy and enjoy a challenge, so this was no discouragement! I am always honoured to represent and do justice to my female colleagues by stepping up to teach in male-dominated environments. I feel like it matters and it’s my part, my contribution, to our field.
I don’t back down easily and I don’t mind criticism, hard questions, or a tough crowd (or the overwhelming smell of testosterone).
So, in keeping with my mentality of representation and professionalism, I pulled on some jeans, took off my ball cap, and pulled on my “nice” Nikes (the ones that haven’t been on muddy pitches all winter).
(I always feel that, even though this is a sports conference and every presenter thus far had shown up in sweatpants and a polo, I should be just one touch more professional-looking. It puts me, as a female, in a slightly more respectable position from the start. Shouldn’t be that way, but it is. Play the game where it matters.)
Although I was confident in my presentation and content itself, I was more focused on controlling the room. Should I have allowed every question or interruption, my 90-minute time cap would have arrived by my 4th slide!
And, overall, I must say I was pleased with the outcome. Participants were very active and interested, and the resulting discussion was positive, open-minded, and forward-thinking.
So, when I was passed the feedback forms from my presentation, I was pleased to see the points that participants had taken away. Confidence, communication, cueing, skills for goal-setting in teams, and psychophysiology points, and more.
I was slightly surprised to see, however, one comment. What one participant said he enjoyed most from the conference was “Julia’s ass”.
I laughed and held up the paper to my colleagues. “Did you guys see this? This dude said my butt was his conference highlight.” They all chuckled.
Then one said, “any other sport psychologist or female coach I know would be freaking out about that. Good thing you’re chill. Other women I know would be really offended.”
I just shrugged. To be honest, it was funny to me.
After all, I was one of the only speakers who was still an athlete, who still took training and the “practice-what-you-preach” mentality of work in sport seriously. Maybe that was complimenting my fitness.
I snapped a picture of it with my phone and turned in the forms.
By the time I had gotten on the train, though, that comment really started to nag me.
It wasn’t that I was offended. It just felt… not right.
It felt sticky, shallow, a little frustrating.
For all the feedback that had been passed around our table, every other speaker had strictly content-based responses. Nobody had gotten a comment about their physical appearance except me… just that one.
It’s easy to pass this one off as a one-off comment, something that rarely happens and can be moved past pretty quickly.
And it’s true. It was just one comment. I could easily drop it and move on.
But it was following a series of microaggressions that day, including being interrupted, being ignored, being paid less, etc.
It was also following a series of incidences from that week. Suggestive comments from athletes. Comments about my sexual orientation because I told some athletes that I don’t spend time with clients outside of work. A coach who asked if I only worked with one injured athlete because I “wanted to get him alone”. Et cetera.
From that month. A player who asked me on a date and refused to take “no, this is a professional relationship” for an answer. Social Media Warriors jabbing at myself and my female coach colleagues for being “emotional” or clueless. Et cetera.
From last year. Direct and open sexual harassment. A manager telling me I owed him “favours” for getting my job. Being asked if I could handle coaching at the professional level. Inappropriate touching followed by laughing. Individual sessions spent constantly combatting flirting. Et cetera.
I’m NOT listing this off to you because I’m arrogant, attractive, dramatic, or angry.
I’m telling you this so that you know discrimination, flirting, and harassment still happen every day. Because people deny that it does every day, in-person and on social media alike. And because it can happen to anybody, regardless of position or attractiveness or anything else.
STOP hitting on your female coach!
When you do, you earn yourself nothing but our disrespect. We don’t owe you shit. PERIOD.
The same goes for your female head coach, your female personal trainer, your female physiotherapist and sport psychologist, any female in your workplace, and any female ever.
(If you aren’t sure what a microaggression is, have a look here and try to eliminate them from your life.)
It’s annoying & distracting.
Unlike you, the athlete or head coach, we don’t perform in the spotlight or on camera. Our work happens behind the lines.
Therefore, I can speak for most of my female colleagues and myself when I say that we show up to work, most likely with limited time, money, and resources from our mutual employer, to give YOU our best performance.
And, yet, when YOU decide it’s more important to waste everyone’s limited time “playfully” making suggestive “jokes” toward us (or even being outright disrespectful), you’re taking away from the focus of this work. We could all be getting to the point: improving your performance.
It’s not only distracting to us, but it takes away from your teammates’ focus and time. Be mindful of others.
It’s demeaning as hell.
Just like you’ve spent years training and perfecting your skills in your sport, I’ve spent a decade on my education to become the best performance specialist and offer the best services possible.
It takes a a great amount of work, a pretty penny, and a lot of time to perfect our craft. Anyone who is in a position to offer you a valuable service that improves your performance has spent a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and cash in order to get there.
If you waste our time on derogatory or distracting commentary or by remarking on our looks/private lives, you’re taking away from the work and competence that we earned to get into our position… helping you get better.
We are truly just as competent and capable of acquiring, commanding, distributing, and implementing knowledge as anyone. Please don’t demean us and our work.
It’s unprofessional on our end.
I have seen coaches and clients/athletes mutually and purposefully flirting; that’s a different story. If that’s your case, I hope you’ve clarified with your coach that what you’re doing really is flirting and the rest is none of my business.
However, especially if your coach is certified through the National Strength & Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS or -CPT), know that we are held to very specific bylaws and a strict ethics code.
Our associations make it clear that professional and quality care is important when we are in the role of “Coach” with their names on our biographies. We represent a high standard of practice from our certifying orgnizations. No shady business.
This includes words of wisdom about coach-athlete relationships, discrimination, and more. It’s very strongly encouraged that we stay out of these flirtatious gray areas, even if we wanted to take part.
It’s unprofessional on your end.
You showing up to your job or hobby (sport) and assuming that the people doing their job to support you in it (services rendered for money) are there for any other reason but to collect their money and fulfill their passion or life purpose is QUITE something!
I’m assuming you don’t hit on your male colleagues or coach, your male doctor, your physio, the male who works the front office. And you probably don’t assume they’re hitting on you. It’s just business, right?
Look at it this way:
You do your job at max capacity and focus + we do our job at max capacity and focus = super performance!
This isn’t modern professional prostitution.
If you come to us with the expectation that we can make you a better athlete and more resilient against injury, that is the best and most correct assumption ever! We can definitely work with that!
However, our “payment” is not your attention. Come to us ready to get better. Don’t cheat yourself.
As for myself, the only form of modern prostitution I have taken part in is the American internship system and every other “Work For (Almost?) Free And Get The Honour Of Our Logo/Name On Your Resumé” situation out there. Even those are ultra fatiguing.
We’re (99% likely) just doing our jobs.
To be honest, it’s so hard for us to get jobs that I’m yet to meet a female strength coach who has the luxury of picking a workplace where she finds the surrounding people the most attractive. It just doesn’t happen.
Our niceness, passion, and care isn’t extra or special, NOR is it directed toward you. It’s how we can execute our job description most effectively.
(Most of us are just trying to pay rent legally, TBH.)
And, especially at work, nobody owes you anything.
(Except for your buddy who owes you 20€ for his bad bet. But not us!)
Listen, the “boys will be boys” and “locker room talk” excuses are old. Crusty. Annoying.
We have to stop excusing and, even worse, accepting this behaviour before we can make a change in the industry.
Women deserve a place in the sport industry. Girls need to see women leading. We need to see other women striving and thriving and leading and being confident and solving problems and making change.
We provide value and we deserve our jobs.
We aren’t validated by opinions, by harassment, by flirtation or otherwise.
We are justified in having our jobs because we have the qualifications, the knowledge, the experience, and the results to bring value to the table.
And it’s disrespectful to assume an ulterior motive, to treat a female coach as less deserving, or to demean how a woman goes about getting her job done.
Good work is good work, no matter the gender. Please appreciate it and respect it.
Let’s fix this.
If you notice this kind of behaviour or commentary in your surroundings, please call it out.
Ladies, we have to stick up for each other. As Brené Brown says, speak truth to bullshit. It’s not just us we have to carry this for; the next generation will have a much easier time breaking into the sport industry if we can cut this off here!
Guys, please call out the mess when you see it. We need your voices behind and beside ours (not in front of, if you get what I mean). You automatically have the power; you are the majority and you have a level of automatic respect amongst your male colleagues that we women don’t have yet. Call it out.
Call our discrimination/harassment/inappropriate commentary, even when it doesn’t impact you.
Whether inequality or disrespect regarding race, sexual orientation, economic status, immigration or disability, cut it off. We don’t get to complain about what affects us and be complacent in the rest.
Don’t expecting things from people that you aren’t entitled to.
This is all-around good advice.
If it’s not consented to, if it’s not discussed and/or made explicitly clear, don’t think that you are owed it or assume that it’s wanted.
Push for more females in your workplace and your network.
Yes, the person who can do the best job should get the position. That may require giving women the chance to learn and to prove themselves, because, oftentimes, we don’t get as much access. However, we can still bring immense value to the positions we are eligible for.
We have unique experiences, ways of coaching, perceptions, and connections. Listen to our voices with as much openness as you would your male colleagues.
If you are considering hitting on your female coach:
We are likely just doing our jobs!
Don’t distract, annoy, or demean us!
Keep it professional. We will too!
Make sure there is clear, explicit interest and consent! Don’t assume she is interested!
Nobody likes a creep!
Speak up for women and make room for us where you can!
Nobody owes you anything!
Thank you for coming to my TEDTalk!