In the second of a two-part interview, the Echo’s Ger McCarthy gets FAI head of women’s football Sue Ronan’s opinions on improving coaching and increasing the number of females in the FAI.
RECENTLY Sue Ronan stated she felt a lot of women lacked the confidence to put themselves forward for coaching roles.
It is a salient point at grassroots level despite an increasing number of FAI and UEFA qualified female coaches emerging with each passing year.
The Republic of Ireland is on the right path when you consider the quality of coaches who have enhanced the country’s fortunes including Lisa Fallon, Vera Pauw and Ronan herself. What’s clear is that Ireland is now producing female coaches of the highest standard but there is still a reluctance for women to get involved at grassroots level.
“The FAI is attempting to get more and more female coaches involved,” Sue Ronan told The Echo.
“We have never had as many qualified coaches but then the FAI has been concentrating heavily on that vital aspect of our game for quite some time. Several leadership programmes have been brought in to upskill and empower more female administrators in Irish football.
“I have plenty experience of being a female coach in a completely male-dominated environment, so I know exactly what I am talking about when it comes to this subject!
“Of course, there is a place for men in women’s football, there absolutely is. I just want to make sure women have equal opportunities and, historically, that just simply hasn’t been the case. It is not just in Ireland and it is not just in football because I think, generally, equal opportunities for women has been a problem in all sports.
“This is why the FAI is running so many of their coaching and leadership programmes for females, to help them strive for positions they are more than capable of filling.”
Clear pathways are needed to achieve those goals and not just for aspiring players. There are numerous programmes to help fill other roles within football clubs and leagues, something Sue Ronan is keen to point out.
“It is so important that we have pathways in place for women who might not want to be a player but instead aspire to become a referee, coach, or administrator within the game,” Ronan said.
“Thankfully, we are beginning to see more and more interest at getting involved at grassroots level. Maybe they have just fallen into the game because their children started playing or because their club was short volunteers. Naturally, people are nervous at the start because they may not have any experience, but once they get over that initial fear, there is no reason they cannot become a coach.
“It is all about confidence when it comes to coaching. The FAI Women’s organisation conducted a wide-ranging survey with all our coaches a couple of years ago. This was done with a view to putting a strategic plan in place. We were looking to upskill our coaches and attract newcomers to coaching roles at grassroots level.
“The feedback we received from that survey was telling. Lack of confidence was one of the top reasons given by women not wanting to get involved in football. I mentioned on a recent webinar that UEFA conducted similar research and got the same response from women across Europe.”
Yet, taking a step back, it is encouraging to see more and more Irish women assuming important on-field and off-field sporting roles, not just in football. The days of male-dominated administrative, coaching or playing staffs will dissipate if there is a clear and fair pathway for female involvement. “We need to normalise females in sport,” the head of FAI Women’s football said.
“When women see others around them in the same sport or have role models to look up to then they are more likely to stay involved. Women can begin to question themselves if they feel the spotlight is on them. That’s what happened to me when I began coaching and I’m not afraid to admit that.
“I was still questioning myself when I worked with Republic of Ireland international teams. There were times I asked myself if I should be there, in that coaching position. Women need to realise that they absolutely should be in those coaching positions and can do those jobs. They possess the necessary skills just as much as their male counterparts.
“I also think females have different skills that are just as beneficial when it comes to coaching and having a knowledge of the game. It boils down to women having a bit more confidence in themselves and be willing to dip their toes in the water as they say. Get outside your comfort zone and push yourself a little bit because the rewards, when it comes to coaching, are worth it.
“Once we get people on our FAI Coach education courses, particularly the mainstream ones, we need to make it a more inviting place and involve more female tutors. The FAI is making sure we include female speakers on all our courses, so it is no longer all male dominated.
“Nowadays, women who take up our FAI coaching courses see more and more females around them and understand this is the new normal,” said Ronan.
Ronan’s determination that her sport will gain respect suggests the current FAI Head of Women’s football’s tenure will be a productive one.
It is four years since Ronan used the analogy of men’s and women’s tennis to stress the respect women’s football was striving for in an interview with the Examiner’s Liam Mackey.
The former FAI international player and manager stated one of the biggest problems facing women’s football was being compared to the men’s equivalent. The same is true today where Ronan wants people to realise that they’re different games, similar to men’s and women’s tennis but enjoyed in their own right.
“Unfortunately, when it comes to football, and it is not just here but all over Europe, the women’s game is always compared to men’s,” Ronan noted.
“You hear people saying there are no fans at our games, the game is too slow or not fast enough compared to men’s. Women’s football should be judged for what we are and the game we play.
“That’s why I think tennis is a great example. You look at the top ten players in both the men’s and women’s (tennis) games and they are equally respected despite the games being completely different. Even the length of tennis games is different, yet it is the same sport.
“So, judge women’s football for what it is. People that criticise us are pleasantly surprised when they come and watch one of our games. The quality of player and overall standard surprises people who have never taken the time out to watch us. Very quickly, they see the quality, especially at the highest level, of what FAI Women’s football has to offer.”
The technical ability of players is another aspect of women’s football that is rarely mentioned. Yet, respected Republic of Ireland internationals Stephanie Roche, Denise O’Sullivan and Clare Shine’s emergence is beginning to change attitudes.
“I believe that women’s football has now become a much more technical game than men’s,” Ronan stated.
“In general, men’s sport tends to be about power and pace because they have that strength. We play a lot more of a technical game so that’s why I keep saying judge us for what we are and don’t keep comparing us to the men’s equivalent.
“I rarely hear people comparing women’s GAA to men’s GAA. If the constant comparisons stop then that will go a long way to changing the culture and attitude towards women’s football in this country.