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What's holding women coaches back?

Alima Hotakie
July 7, 2022

Only a handful of the coaches at this year's Euros are women. Germany has taken the lead in bucking that trend but it's not easy for female coaches to get ahead. What's holding women back from coaching at the top?

Martina Voss-Tecklenbug clapping, cheering on Germany from the sidelines
Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg believes women deserve more opportunitiesImage: Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance/dpa

Fewer than half of the teams at Euro 2022 have a female head coach – just six out of 16 teams. The rest are all coached by men. 

"We know that when it comes to coaching education, there is room for improvement," Germany coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg said in response to a question from DW at a recent press conference. "We need to offer opportunities, but we also have to make sure they are equal opportunities." 

In women's international football the numbers have remained pretty stagnant. At the 2019 World Cup just 9 of the 24 head coaches were women – the same number as at the 2015 edition of the tournament. At the last Euros in 2017 there were only six women coaches – just like this summer.  

This, of course, is without taking the regional tournaments in FIFA's other confederations into account. But it is fair to say that men continue to dominate head coaching positions when it comes to European national teams. 

Success under female coaches 

This is where Germany stands out from the rest – having had female coaches in charge of the country's national side since 1996. 

"The most titles were won by women coaches and not men," Voss-Tecklenburg said  with a wry smile. 

Indeed, Germany's most successful eras have come under women coaches. Silvia Neid, who was in charge from 2005 until 2016, lifted Germany to World Cup, European and Olympic glory. 

Silvia Neid lifting Euro 1995 trophy and smiling
Neid won the European Championship as both player and Germany coachImage: Sven Simon/picture alliance

Germany is not the only side to have reached such heights under the watchful eyes of a female coach either. 

Jill Ellis guided the United States to back-to-back Women's World Cups in 2015 and 2019. She's the only coach to have won the title two consecutive times. 

In 2020 Canada hired then-34-year-old Beverly Priestman, making her one of the youngest female head coaches in the international game. Priestman made history last summer in Tokyo when she led the Canadians to their first-ever Olympic gold medal in women's football.  

Germany a blueprint? 

Despite these success stories, it remains difficult for women to get a job in elite football, although Germany has been a notable exception. Since the German football association (DFB) established the national team in 1982, Germany has only had one male coach – two if you count Horst Hrubesch, who took the helm for eight games on an interim basis in 2018. 

"Creating equal opportunities is a big talking point here. I can only say that the DFB is a role model," Voss-Tecklenburg said. "We have female coaches everywhere and a diverse team. We are well on our way." 

Not only is Germany's head coach a woman, but so too is her assistant, Britta Carlson.  Many of the team's staff, like their psychologist and media spokesperson are also women. 

But disparities still exist even within the German system. Out of the 12  Bundesliga teams, only one has a female coach.  

Theresa Merk standing on the sidelines with her arms crossed
Freiburg's Theresa Merk is the only female coach in the Bundesliga Image: Peter Klaunzer/KEYSTONE/picture alliance

Reaching an elite level in football is very difficult to begin with, and it's even more difficult if you’re a woman. Any female coach who makes it to the top, will have her own tale of overcoming obstacles, even if the path may be easier for some.  

"I experienced few challenges. But I think that also has to do with me. I always followed this straight path and didn't let anything stop me," said Voss-Tecklenburg.  

As she alluded to, Tecklenburg always knew she wanted to be a coach, and she is quick to concede that her experience is more of an exception rather than the rule. 

"I'm not exactly the best role model," she said. "We should ask women who got started (in coaching) but then gave up and decided to pursue something else, or for some reason decided not to take that next step." 

What is holding women coaches back? 

European football's governing body UEFA confirms that the number of women in coaching remains very low. In response to a DW query, UEFA pointed to statistics that show that of all qualified coaches in Europe, just 6% are women.  

England coach Sarina Wiegman pointing her finger and shouting on the sidelines against the Netherlands
Sarina Wiegman is one of six women coaching at Euro 2022Image: Gerrit van Köln/ANP/picture alliance

While it's impossible to pinpoint a sole cause, possible factors include sexism and a lack of opportunities or mentorship. Women can also find themselves confronted by intimidating and sexist environments – or they may simply find themselves not being taken seriously.  

One deterrent is the fact that the job offers little flexibility and security – particularly for someone who may want to combine coaching with raising a family. 

Germany is facing a high drop-out rate among female coaches and recently conducted a survey as part of efforts to try to figure out what is causing the problem. 

However, the DFB is by no means alone. UEFA told DW that in an effort to raise the numbers, it has established a coaching program that specifically caters to women.  

"Not education for the sake of education, but clearly connected to contracts after the end of the educational process," the sport's European governing body said. 

While some seeds have now been planted – patience will be required to find out  whether these efforts will actually bear fruit in the longer term.

Edited by Chuck Penfold.  

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