When the second division volleyball players from Lohhof and Altdorf meet on the field this Sunday (4 p.m.), points will be at stake like on any other match day. In addition, the coaches of the two clubs have something else planned: the presentation of their joint project, a networking platform by women for women in volleyball, “Womxn 4 Volleyball” for short. From the athlete to the trainer, women should be able to exchange experiences, find contact persons and support there in the first step. In the long term, the initiators hope that further offers will be added, which at best will contribute to a change in club management and on the coaching benches.
Because while Elena Kiesling (Lohhof) and Christy Swagerty (Altdorf) face each other as sporting opponents twice a season, the rest of the time they have something in common: they are often alone. They are two of three head coaches in the entire women’s Second Division South. In the northern squadron there are even only two. The fact that men’s teams have coaches may make sense, why it’s almost the same for women’s teams, but not.
Altdorf’s team manager Annemarie Böhm regrets this lack of diversity, “because it gives away a lot of potential”. Of course, many have already regretted that, the difference in this specific case is that Kiesling and Swagerty had enough. The combination of the public revelations about the abuse of power against athletes from swimming to handball in recent months and my own everyday experiences in volleyball “simply made the camel overflow,” says Kiesling, “we decided that something finally had to happen.” .
The phenomenon of the glass ceiling even applies to volleyball, a sport in which women’s and men’s leagues receive equal attention
They also exist in volleyball, the unpleasant stories that female players tell about dealing with exclusively male coaching teams: sexism, intrusive advances, insults below the waistline. But from Kiesling’s point of view, it doesn’t even take gross misconduct to promote a more balanced gender ratio on the bench. There are issues that women simply approach differently when dealing with players. In the youth field, it is “completely normal for 15-year-olds to be weighed or told after the holidays that they are too fat”. Kiesling is certain: “That happens less often when women train girls. I never talk about weight, because I know that it’s a sensitive topic that can break a lot very quickly.”
One could cite Kiesling and Swagerty as positive examples that it is possible to become a coach, and conclude that perhaps it just needs more women aspiring to the position. But at this point Kiesling disagrees decisively. You are the exception. It is precisely for this that one must “create awareness” and also why this is so, “because everyone is simply used to the current structure with all its facets”. These include female trainers being misidentified as physical therapists because of their gender, but also lack of support for aspiring female trainers, lack of role models and recruitment preferences that are not always related to professional quality. That may sound like slightly higher hurdles, but there are many.
All in all, this results in the phenomenon of the glass ceiling, a research topic that has long been well-examined in politics and business and describes the obstacle for women when it comes to advancement. It even applies to volleyball, a sport in which women’s and men’s leagues receive equal attention. The fact that the operative bodies of the Volleyball Bundesliga are currently relatively evenly staffed with men and women shows that they are making serious efforts, but this has not yet had an impact on the clubs. This is where Kiesling’s idea comes in, which wants her project to be understood neither as a reproach nor as an attack. But firmly established structures can hardly be overturned by individuals – not even if they sit in committees. “People tend to hire people who are similar to them,” she says, “so men are usually men.”
In this way, “the existing system keeps reproducing itself,” says Kiesling. Wondering about this is a bit like putting a picture of a dinosaur on the copier and then marveling every time the copy doesn’t show a leopard but a dinosaur again. Changing that will “take time, energy and nerves,” says Kiesling, “and you need really good colleagues.” She has already found one. By the way, that’s the same as there are head coaches in the first division, but maybe it’s a start.