AIS aspiring for gender equity in coaching by 2032

By Joanna Guelas
Updated November 16 2023 - 2:20pm, first published 2:17pm
The AIS is hoping more women will soon be enabled to become full-time coaches like Sandy Brondello. (AP PHOTO)
The AIS is hoping more women will soon be enabled to become full-time coaches like Sandy Brondello. (AP PHOTO)

When Sandy Brondello retired from basketball she knew she wanted to coach but just didn't know where to start.

Retiring in 2004 after 17 years on the Australian women's basketball team, Brondello's coaching career began when WNBA San Antonio coach Dan Hughes opened the door for her.

Now at the helm of the Opals and New York Liberty in the WNBA, Brondello is one of three women coaches in the top 36 high-performance sports in the nation.

"I was lucky. It's not as easy for other women," Brondello told AAP.

"They don't get the opportunities that I did from the start.

"In sport, men are hiring their buddies and you can't be something that you don't see."

Consulting over 70 sporting organisations, the Australian Institute of Sport has produced an action plan in a bid to tackle underrepresentation of women in high-performance coaching roles.

Led by Michelle De Highden, the research found women coaches often leave the sports system due to inadequate recruitment and pathways, negative work cultures and lack of parental support.

"When I did take over my first head coaching job, I was pregnant and had a baby in the season," Brondello said.

"I had eight days off and then came back and worked because I wanted to.

"Women are just as career-oriented as men so why aren't we given the opportunity to be coaches just because we are mothers?

"Being a mother makes us better coaches because we learn about balance, discipline and sacrifice.

"We've got to support them so that we're not losing them because they don't think it's possible."

Australian women's cricket coach Shelley Nitschke also got her start as a coach thanks to the support of her male colleagues.

Retiring from international cricket in 2011, Nitschke spent a few years out of the sport before returning to a development role.

"There's been a number of women I've seen coming into coaching and have really good skills but for one reason or another just fall out of it," Nitschke told AAP.

"When I was coming through, there weren't a lot of full-time roles available.

"That can be a real barrier because you've also got to earn a living so sometimes coaching just doesn't fit.

"Your self confidence can be a barrier as well - thinking that you're not good enough or you're not right for the role.

"I had male champions always around me but I know that's not the case for everyone.

"Having women in coaching roles just makes programs better and improve quicker because there are different ways of looking at things.

"It's a benefit for everyone."

As part of a larger strategy building towards the 2032 Brisbane Olympics, the AIS will develop a pool of talented women and form a national network of coaching development facilitators.

The action plan provides tool kits and resources for sporting organisations to develop their own policies around recruitment, career support and parental leave.

Australian Associated Press