For International Women’s Day 2022, we have spoken to two Setanta graduates about their experiences as a woman in the coaching industry. With ‘Break the Bias’ being the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, we aksed Annie McCarra and Brittany Wiebe about advice they would have for women in coaching, along with insights on challenges they have faced and changes they have seen within the industry since the beginning of their careers.
Annie McCarra is a graduate of the Setanta College MSc in Performance Coaching and is now part of our Academic Faculty. Annie is part of the Setanta Performance team where she is S&C coach with the Tipperary U20 footballers. Additionally, Annie is S&C coach with the Tipperary Senior Ladies Football team and Head of Athletic Development at Cisterian College, Roscrea.
Brittany Wiebe has recently graduated from the Setanta College Master of Science in Performance Coaching, and most recently was the Latin American S&C Coordinator for the Houston Astros, the professional baseball organisation. She oversaw all development and S&C-related processes at the international complex in the Dominican Republic. She led three S&C coaches and 50+ players in the pursuit of long-term athletic development and laid the foundation for their young professional careers.
Insights & Advice from the Coaching Industry
WHAT CHANGES HAVE YOU SEEN IN THE INDUSTRY SINCE YOU BEGAN YOUR CAREER?
There is still a lot that could be done in terms of awarding equal opportunities for female athletes, but I think changes are happening and things are heading in the right direction. Within the last decade, I think there have been some very positive changes and a greater appreciation for women in sport and I hope this continues to grow.
I believe the field has changed in positive ways since I began my young professional career in 2016. The field of strength and conditioning has grown greatly, providing more positions and opportunities for coaches. Males in administrative positions have now seen the value of having a diverse staff with diverse perspectives and are more likely to hire qualified women for the positions. Although female leaders in the field are still underrepresented, males in leadership positions are no longer afraid of hiring a female for the right reasons. This is becoming more of a norm, and less unheard of for women to be working in male-dominant sports and hired as directors/ other leadership roles.
There is a community of females now within the field. It is comforting knowing that there’s someone you can reach out to that is on a similar path and may be facing or have fought the same battles and you can find support in that.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO OTHER WOMEN PURSUING A CAREER AS A COACH?
Work hard to prove yourself as a coach regardless of any challenges you may encounter as a female. The coaching world is tough – You need to commit a lot of time and effort into building a large base of knowledge and then look for opportunities to gain experience to test and apply this knowledge. Don’t be afraid to reach out to other coaches and make connections to create these opportunities to gain experience.
I would tell other women who want to coach in this field to pursue their passion relentlessly. Get yourself out there and grow yourself professionally. Find a great mentor, gain knowledge and expertise, take risks, and advance yourself. Don’t get discouraged – keep knocking on doors, networking, and seeking opportunities. Know that no job or opportunity is too small when you’re first starting out. Step outside of your comfort zone and apply for that job. Also, have the confidence to pursue challenging positions and be exceptionally prepared.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY CHALLENGES AS A WOMAN IN THE INDUSTRY?
Being honest, I have been very lucky in that I feel I have not experienced significant challenges as a female in the sports industry. I know that this may not be the same for many other female coaches, and I understand the challenges female athletes in particular face, but thankfully I feel I have been awarded the same opportunities as any male coach – It is all about what you do with these opportunities.
I’ve always strived to raise the bar and push past perceived gender barriers. These barriers include being in a male-dominated industry with little female representation, having few men in positions who are willing to hire a female for male-dominant sports, and working first hand with male-dominant sports that I have never competed in myself. For the past six years of my professional career, I have fought the stigma of “no girls in football” and “no girls in baseball”.
There have been constant battles with the little things such as where my locker would be, which washroom could I use, wearing men’s sizing and men’s cut clothing, someone having to go in and check the clubhouse for me prior to entering, etc.
I overcame this by not shying away from being uncomfortable and not letting the opportunity intimidate me once I was there. I found myself rising to each occasion and gaining more confidence and a louder voice each time. I built the relationships, I earned the players’ and staffs’ trust, I provided them confidence in what I had to offer, and then I went to work and made a difference. Ultimately, I earned it. I continually proved myself and showed that I deserved to be there.
WHO ARE YOUR ROLE MODELS?
I take great inspiration from coaches who have proven themselves to be very successful in the sporting world but have remained very humble and always willing to offer help and guidance to coaches looking to learn. The likes of Dr Liam Hennessy, Des Ryan, and Ashley Jones are some examples of coaches who have worked at the top level in elite sports but will take time to share their knowledge and experiences.
My role models in this field are Stephanie Mock (Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Performance – University of Pittsburgh) and Rachel Balkovec (MiLB Manager – New York Yankees). They have fought the female stigma and are known trailblazers in our field. They are both great leaders who constantly push this field forward and help other females advance due to their actions. The best part is they are unapologetically themselves while doing so.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ORGANISATIONS ON HOW THEY CAN SUPPORT WOMEN IN COACHING?
This may seem very basic, but I would like to see an improvement in terms of the changing and shower facilities available in a lot of sports grounds. I often find myself having to change in the toilets or waiting for access to the referee’s changing rooms as there are no other facilities available.
Organisations that support women in coaching need to have a top-down approach. It starts with the directors, managers, etc. Women coaches need to be hired because they are qualified and are excellent at what they do, not hired as a “token female” or to meet a diversity quota. A female coach needs to feel heard, valued, and supported.
Organisations need to support women to pursue leadership roles, not just women coaches for women’s sports. They need to hold conferences and conversations with more women speakers and presenters, and acknowledge the value and expertise us women hold in the field.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE AS A FEMALE COACH/STUDENT WHILE STUDYING WITH SETANTA?
As both a past student and now a member of the faculty at Setanta I have only had positive experiences. Setanta has been a continual support to me in my studies and in creating opportunities for me to develop as a coach. From my experience and through discussions with other coaches it is clear that Setanta are very good at supporting students even after they have completed their studies.
There is great importance in attending the right programme, and Setanta was that programme for me. Setanta provided me with a very personable and challenging experience. It was great being amongst a handful of females in my class – also pursuing an MSc in Performance Coaching. Setanta never failed to make my voice and opinions feel heard and were always welcoming ways they could improve and drive the program and field forward.
I was constantly learning and researching very applicable information that I found immediate value in and was able to apply to “real world” coaching. I am confident the Setanta MSc in Performance Coaching will set me apart in this competitive field.
WHAT CHANGES OR IMPROVEMENTS DO YOU HOPE TO SEE FOR WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY?
I think there have been a lot of positive changes in recent times, and although there may be a lot more room for improvement, I certainly think we are headed in the right direction.
I hope to continually see change and improvement for women in this industry. Representation needs to be had by women where decisions are being made. It’s important to have women in leadership and administrative type roles to provide a different perspective and use their seat at the table to fight for change and hold the door open for the next qualified female coming up behind them.
We need to be able to have those uncomfortable conversations and continue to fight for equal pay, our own locker room, women’s cut clothing, etc. We need to continue to let our passion and our energy for what we do shine, and work relentlessly day in and day out for what we want and what we deserve. Seeing it is believing it and it makes it much more attainable in others’ minds once it’s been done.