Women’s work: gender and the coaching profession in British rowing

Lisa Taylor

I think I’m still the only female to have coached a men’s eight to win a medal at a World Championships. And that in my early years of coaching, all the coaches were men, except in the female sports. So, the Chief Coach for netball, hockey, et cetera - and after my time, I think I'm also. I’m the only one that’s ever been a Chief Coach of the whole of a national rowing federation. And when you think it was so long ago, it - seems to be quite amazing really some ways! [Laughs.]1

Penny Chuter OBE


Despite the extensive interest in coaching evident in contemporary sport studies, sport history has been slow to pursue nuanced analysis of coaching. While scholars in the discipline identify coaches, and comment upon the availability of coaching in particular sports, the nature of coaching, and the historical social and power dynamics it can expose, is given only superficial attention. Histories of female coaches themselves are conspicuously absent, while biographies of male coaches and athletes enjoy wide mainstream appeal as well as academic attention. Day and Carpenter’s A History of Sports Coaching in Britain is an important exception, which lays cnicial foundations for this chapter in its exploration of amateur legacies, practices, and ideology in modern British sport - albeit without a particular focus on gender, an issue explicitly addressed in Theberge’s ’The Construction of Gender in Sport'.2

The gendered construction of coaching in sporting culture has implications that extend far beyond any one example, although conditions in a specific sport or sporting community will influence the ways in which it is reproduced and understood. For the purpose of this chapter, rowing in Britain offers one context in which to examine them. It is a productive case study: a bastion of conservative amateurism and elite masculinity that underwent substantial structural change in the second half of the twentieth cenuiry, contiguous with waves of overt feminist activism and important changes to women's position in public life.3 It is unusual among governing bodies of British sport for having combined administration of the men’s and women's sports in the 1960s and for having appointed a series of women into high-profile coaching and leadership roles.4 It is also unusual for attracting considerable public investment for its high-performance programme, but, with no professional leagues, for having little commercial value. The implications of this latter point are particularly germane when considering opportunities within coaching as a paid profession.

Oral histories with three former high-performance rowing coaches and administrators, and one former international athlete and administrator - Penelope (Penny) Chuter OBE, Rosemary (Rosie) Mayglothling OBE, Sir David Tanner OBE CBE, and Guin Batten - underpin this chapter. Discussion is focused on high-performance sport and organized around two key themes. The first of these is the way in which the gradual professionalization of sport, and the increased volume and scientific rigour of coaching and training within it, intersected with broader questions around female employment and careers from the 1960s. These include anxieties around women encroaching on men's employment and leisure, and women holding visible professional positions requiring expertise and leadership traits.5 The second is the construction of coaching as a male and, distinctly, a masculine pursuit, within sport as a male domain: characteristics which amplify the more generic concerns around employment. These two strands are interwoven, and both exert important influence on the current state of play for female coaches in Britain. Coaching represents a site of multiple historical anxieties. As such, I will argue, more rigorous exposition of coaching histories could allow us to understand and address contemporary challenges to sexual equality in coaching.

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