Andy Murray's search for a new coach ended a few weeks ago with the announcement that he had appointed Amélie Mauresmo into the role. The reaction to this decision has made interesting reading revealing much about the gender bias in sport coaching.
Despite the fact that Amélie has an impressive track record both on the court, having won two Grand Slams, and as a coach (she coached last year's women's Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli) the focus has been on the fact that he has chosen a woman rather than a man for this role. Female coaches of top male tennis players are virtually unheard of whereas all of the current top 20 female players have male coaches.
So why are female coaches so uncommon in sport? A number of different studies have shown a strong preference by both men and women to want to work with male coaches rather than female coaches. Williams and Parkhouse (1988) carried out a study using female basketball players. They split them into 4 groups based on the gender of their coach and team success. Each group was asked to indicate their preference between a hypothetical male or female coach who was classified as either successful or unsuccessful, based on their team's win/loss record. Every group showed a preference for the male coach except when given the choice between an unsuccessful male coach and a successful female coach. Even in this scenario, 40% of the female athletes still preferred the unsuccessful male coach.
BT Sport carried out a study in 2010 and also found a general preference amongst young female athletes for a male coach. The three top reasons given for this preference were:
• Their lack of experience with female coaches, i.e. the majority of their experience so far in a coaching environment had been with a male coach
• Their perception was that male coaches were more likely to have performed at a higher level in the particular sport than female coaches
• They associated 'good coaching attributes' with masculine traits (i.e. dominant, controlling and inspiring respect).
Interestingly, studies looking at this issue in a business context have found different results. Gray and Goregaokar (2010) looked at the influence of gender on the executive coach-coachee matching process and revealed no bias towards the choice of either female or male coaches.
Many commentators have looked to gender stereotypes for the reasons that Murray may have made this decision. Is he looking to improve the "emotional" side of this game and a female could help him tap into this? Mauresmo herself commented "I think he's maybe looking for something different, about emotions and sensitive things. It's not really interesting for me, this part of the story, to be honest. All I'm interested in is to be able to help him with his goals. That's about it.
In his typical matter-of-fact style Murray explained his decision as follows: "Amelie is someone I have always looked up to and admired. She’s faced adversity plenty of times in her career but was an amazing player and won major titles. I want to win more Grand Slams". In other words he has chosen who he thinks is the best candidate for the role. As Billie-Jean King explained "It is not the gender of the coach that is important, it is the strength of the relationship between the coach and the player that will make the partnership work".
Given the ground breaking nature of this coaching relationship it will be interesting to see how the Mauresmo-Murray partnership plays out during the rest of the grass court season and also whether this sets a precedent for more top level female tennis coaches.