Ms Sally Northcroft, Director of Sport
In March 2015, I accepted the position of Head Coach of Women’s Field Hockey at my alma mater, Ball State University in the United States of America. Brisbane Girls Grammar School Principal Ms Jacinda Euler was generous to allow me to take leave to pursue this opportunity. Head Coaching positions in Division I National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) universities are prestigious, demanding and complex. The job requires expertise in many areas other than the x’s and o’s of the game; it is akin to the role of a CEO of a small organisation. In addition, much like teaching, the Head Coach is qualified in one particular area. However the demands require the leader to have skills in myriad domains.
As the Head Coach, my responsibility was to lead the field hockey program in all aspects. First, to coordinate the budget within the Athletics (sport) department; which required liaising with marketing and fundraising departments in order to ensure the delivery of first class facilities for the athletes. Second, to hire the staff who assist with bringing the skills and philosophy of the programme to life. In addition, the very public role of networking within the sport and representing it in the wider community (including alumnae), is a demanding and high-pressure responsibility. Finally: the student-athletes. The job of recruiting field hockey players to commit to a university is a huge undertaking. Most NCAA field hockey teams will have between 16 and 24 student athletes on their roster. The recruiting process itself is one of the most legislated areas under the NCAA and coaches have to adhere to these rules in order to protect the wellbeing of the high-school aged athletes who are pursuing a position on a university team. Once the players have committed to your programme and arrive on campus, the Head Coach and her staff can go about doing the job described in their title: coach!
A great coach, like a great teacher, can combine years of experience to teach and coach athletes to become better performers as athletes, academics and future contributors to society. The opportunity to coach in this capacity was a great thrill and honour for me. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on the way in which teaching is such a fundamental part of the role of a coach.
There is still a great deal that needs to be changed in the area of equity for women coaches, particularly at the elite level. The goal posts are unclear and continue to move, and greater expectations are being placed on female coaches in these roles in the USA (LaVoi, 2016). What has changed, however, is the outstanding (perhaps once-in-a-lifetime?) opportunity for girls to pursue an education and compete in their sport while at university. My greatest pleasure was to educate the young women on my team and develop their confidence and their curiosity through their commitment to the challenges of Division I competition and academia. Their success can be measured not only in the wins (and losses), but in the graduation rates, the employment opportunities and the confidence to, as is so astutely delivered at Girls Grammar: ‘… contribute to their world with wisdom, integrity and imagination’ (Brisbane Girls Grammar School, 2016, p. 4).
The incentive to continue playing sport at a highly competitive level once girls leave high school is one of the reasons that more girls are playing sport in high school in the USA. The reason university scholarships and sport programs exist is largely credited to a law passed by Congress in the United States of America called Title IX*. In 1972, fewer than 32 000 women in the United States competed in intercollegiate athletics (National Women’s Law Center, 2015). Women received only two per cent of schools’ athletics budgets, and athletic (sport) scholarships for women were non-existent. The number of college women participating in competitive athletics is now over six times the pre-Title IX rate. In 2013–2014, a record number of 207 814 women competed, representing forty-three per cent of college athletes, nationwide. A similar change occurred in high schools across the country (Staurowsky et al., 2015). Mostly, the law provided girls with opportunities that overcame the reasons they stopped playing sport in high school, and required both high schools and universities to offer women’s sporting opportunities on a level equal to that of the men’s teams. Even though this law has its limitations, it has played a role in continuing to increase girls’ participation in both high school and collegiate sport. No such law exists in Australia.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has collected data on the participation by young people in organised sport for more than twenty years. One continuing message has been the decline in participation rates of females as they enter adolescence (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). What is also clear is the widening gap between male and female participation in the fifteen to seventeen-year age group (eighty-five per cent and seventy per cent respectively). Organisations such as Women in Sport (UK) and Womensport Foundation (USA) have both released reports which highlight that girls’ participation in organised sport has decreased and that it declines at a greater rate than that for boys during adolescence (Staurowsky et al., 2015). Each of these organisations has identified that there is a variety of physical, social and emotional barriers that negatively impact girls and their involvement in sport. These same organisations have launched campaigns to try to change this trend, and in February this year, the Australian Government launched the ’Girls, Make Your Move’ campaign, designed to encourage girls to be more active and engage in sixty minutes of moderate to intense physical activity every day.
Given the recent record-breaking success of the Australian women’s sport in cricket, netball, surfing and football, it is surprising that so many girls are dropping out of organised sport. It is reasonable to think that this success would encourage girls into sport. However, this does not seem to be the case; it appears that the women’s teams are successful despite the decreasing numbers of girls playing organised sport.
Imagine if more girls heard/read/saw these successes in the media to the same degree that we see the reports on men’s sport! Unfortunately, the media still covers so little of women’s sport in the traditional formats. For example, less than eight per cent of women’s sport is covered in all televised sports news; print media lags further behind with less than five per cent of sports coverage dedicated to women’s sport; and only two per cent of the sport news on radio is about women’s sport (Australian Government, Sports Commission, 2014). Girls need to know what is possible and be inspired to dream about what they can achieve. If they don’t see the women who are making history in many mainstream and alternative sports, it is no surprise that there is a decline in the participation of girls. Add to this dilemma the fact that many girls who play sport for a club are often faced with having access only to poorer quality equipment, resources or facilities because the club does not have the financial resources to update change rooms or purchase more equipment in order to accommodate the additional female club members (Richards, 2016). This discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ sporting resources has been shown to quickly turn girls off wanting to participate in their sport of choice (Australian Government, Department of Health, 2016). Finally, there is an obvious absence of women in senior leadership positions in sporting associations or committees, reflected in the Sydney Scoreboard index. This is a global index that documents the number of women in leadership positions on national sporting organisations and international federations. The minimal increases seen to date mean greater interventions are required to improve equity for girls who want to be involved in organised sport both as participants and as leaders.
Girls Grammar has participation rates in stark contrast to the national average. More than seventy per cent of the student population participates in organised sport each year. The School is a founding member of one the oldest schoolgirl sporting associations in Queensland (Queensland Girls Secondary Schools Sporting Association) and its participation in competitions such as the Brisbane Schoolgirls Rowing Association, Brisbane Water Polo Inc. and the Queensland Fencing Association means the School can deliberately offer a wide variety of sports (eighteen) to choose from. More than 1 100 girls play sport for Girls Grammar throughout the year, with the School committed to continue increasing sporting opportunities. Girls have access to coaches, facilities and equipment of the highest quality, and access to Olympic-quality resources such as a Tartan track for athletics and a fifty-metre swimming pool are of utmost importance — as are the exceptional quality and experience of senior coaches. Transport is provided to overcome the inner-city limitations of our School and the lives of busy families. The School’s newly acquired Rangakarra Recreational and Environmental Education Centre now has facilities that rival the best school sports ovals in the country.
Grammar girls develop their academic and sporting potential simultaneously; the two are not mutually exclusive. This is the reason many girls from the School are now attractive recruits to the sporting colleges in the United States of America. Collegiate coaches are looking for athletes who are exceptional scholars and outstanding performers. Old Girls and rowers, Josephine Theile and Hannah Norris (2014), now compete for Harvard University and San Diego State University respectively. Rebecca Gardener (2014) competes on the cross country team for Clemson University, and three-time Brisbane Girls Grammar School Sports Brooch recipient, Christie Molloy (2012), is a multi-event track and field student-athlete on the Boston University track and field team. Sarah Tisdall (2015) has been offered a place on the Harvard rowing team, Isabella Franks (2015) will attend Marquette University for tennis, and Isobel Kelly (2015) joins the University of New Hampshire cross country team. Sarah, Isabella and Isobel will begin their studies in August 2016.
It is no surprise that our Old Girls are seeking and receiving sporting opportunities similar to those they experienced at Girls Grammar. They pursue excellence and deliver on their performances. Not only are they well prepared to take up these opportunities, the universities they attend are benefitting from the high calibre student athletes that Girls Grammar produces. Perhaps these young women will be the generation to implement the changes so badly needed in the Australian sporting climate — changes that encourage and support girls by way of equal media coverage, access to facilities and resources, and an opportunity to play sport competitively in order to benefit as richly as their male counterparts and on an equal footing.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2012, December 19). 4177.0 — Participation in sport and physical recreation, Australia, 2011–2012 [Survey]. Retrieved from http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/allprimarymainfeatures/99571A92FB40E116CA257DEF001142E7?opendocument
- Australian Government, Department of Health. (2016, February). 2016 physical activity and sport participation campaign [Report]. Retrieved from http://www.health.gov.au/internet/girlsmove/publishing.nsf/Content/940079ADC8FEB9D5CA257F660021CACD/$File/Insights%20Report.pdf
- Australian Government, Australian Sports Commission. (2014, April). Women in Sport Broadcasting Analysis [Report].
- Brisbane Girls Grammar School. Strategic Design 2016–2019 [Strategic plan]. (2016). Retrieved from https://issuu.com/brisbanegirlsgrammar/docs/432_bggs_strategic_design_book_s/5?e=7488097/32842673
- Fink, J. (2015). Female athletes, women’s sport, and the sport media commercial complex: Have we really ‘come a long way, baby’?. Sport Management Review, 18(3).
- LaVoi, N. M. (2016, February). Minneapolis, MN: The Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport.
- National Women’s Law Center. (2015, July). The battle for gender equity in athletics in colleges and universities. [Fact sheet]. Retrieved from http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/battle_for_gender_equity_in_college_athletics_updated_2014.pdf
- Richards, R. (2016). Women’s Sport (Australian Womensport and Recreation Association report for the Australian Sports Commission). Retrieved from https://www.clearinghouseforsport.gov.au/knowledge_base/organised_sport/sport_and_government_policy_objectives/womens_sport#content
- Staurowsky, E. J., DeSousa, M. J., Miller, K. E., Sabo, D., Shakib, S., Theberge, N., Veliz, P., Weaver, A., & Williams, N. (2015). Her life depends on it III: Sport, physical activity, and the health and well-being of American girls and women. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.
- Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation (2012, May). Changing the Game for Girls — Policy Report. Retrieved from https://www.womeninsport.org/resources/changing-the-game-for-girls-policy-report/
*Title IX states that: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.