Backing Female Coaches Paying off at Women's World Cup

Backing Female Coaches Paying off at Women's World Cup

Consider this: if football betting fans had put £1 on each female head coach to win each time they faced male head coaches in at this FIFA Women’s World Cup so far, you would be up £15.22.

If you had sided with the men in those games, you would be down £3.44. In fact, before Sweden’s shock defeat of Germany in the quarter-finals, betting on male head coaches against women would have cost you £8.69.

Only nine teams in the final 24 boasted a female head coach. Six of them made it through to the final 16 and five tackled the quarter-finals, ensuring two female head coaches would be in the semi-finals.

Phil Neville’s England - who were tipped to win the tournament - and Peter Gerdardhsson’s Sweden now face Jill Ellis’s USA and Sarina Wiegman’s Netherlands to decide who makes the 2019 Women’s World Cup Final, with the odds stacked in the female head coaches’ favour.

We are on the cusp of the second all-female (head coach) final in Women’s World Cup history. Despite this football’s European governing body, UEFA says just 3% of pro coaches are female, with FIFA’s figure coming in at 7%.

Female coaches are clearly dominating women’s football, especially on the international scene, and it would be smart to consider this in your women's football betting strategy. With that in mind, we’ve looked into why it’s so profitable to bet on female head coaches, and how Neville and Gerdardhsson are bucking the trends to beat them.

The Stats Don’t Lie

Women's World Cup ties

Before the quarter-finals began, a female head coach had taken on a male head coach 26 times in this tournament; the man had won just seven times - drawing twice.

In the quarterfinals, there was only one meeting between genders and for the first time in the knockouts, the man won - Sweden beating Germany 2-1. That win put Sweden at the top of the profit board, with England the only other male-lead team showing a level stakes profit of more than £1.50.

The last 16: What betting on them got you to each £1 stake

Team (M/F?)Match 1Match 2Match 3Last 16QFProfit/Loss
Sweden (M)1.161.01-12.945.259.36
Netherlands (F)
England (M)
Italy (F)4.91.13-12.36-16.39
Germany (F)1.221.891.071.13-14.31
France (F)1.21.351.13-1-11.68
Brazil (M)1.1-12.31-1X1.41
Australia (M)-12.271.03-1X1.3
Nigeria (M)-14-1-1X1
Canada (M)1.191.42-1-1X0.61
Cameroon (M)-1-13.6-1X0.6
Norway (M)1.32-11.53-1-1-0.15
Japan (F)-11.68-1-1X-1.32
China (M)-11.34-1-1X-1.66
Spain (M)1.13-1-1-1X-1.87

Female head coaches that suffered the earlier defeats were that of South Africa, Thailand, Scotland and, more unexpectedly, Italy and Japan. Phil Neville’s Lionesses were responsible for Scotland and Japan’s demise.

However, it’s hard to ignore the substantial evidence that female head coaches work better for women’s football teams, especially when coupled with what we already know from past major tournaments.

Teams boasting female head coaches have won three of the last four Women’s World Cups, the last five Women’s EUROs, and four of the last five Olympic women’s football tournaments.

So despite women being represented by just 32% of the head coaches involved in those tournaments, they have won 86% of them. Male head coaches, with a representation of 68%, have won 14%.

You can argue that the world’s top two teams at present - USA and Germany - have won a large proportion of those tournaments, but they achieved their ranking and those wins with female coaches at the helm. Regardless, there were equal amounts of female and male head coaches in charge of the world’s top 10 pre-France 2019.

Individually, each of these facts could be considered circumstantial, even coincidental, but stacked up they prove that elite women’s football teams with female head coaches achieve more. Why?

The Difference Between Genders in Sport

Female international coaches

The best coaches train the individual, but that coach still needs to know the differences in the male and female bodies and brains. Unless they only coach their own gender.

Without touching any research on what these significant differences are, the benefits of that system are abundantly clear in women’s football. However, there is also plenty of supporting research.

An intriguing factsheet series developed by Sports Coach UK and the Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation highlights that the average woman’s heart and lung capacity is smaller than the average man’s. Consequently, the female resting heart rate is 5-8 beats per minute faster.

It also explains how to talk about and manage menstruation, and addresses common issues in younger female athletes - like eating disorders - that are not generally present with male athletes.

In a joint study conducted by World Rowing and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences it was found that male coaches viewed success as measured by results and recognition, while their female elite athletes measured success by personal bests, or goals.

The male coaches said female athletes asked more questions and required a deeper understanding of what they were being asked to do, which is a trait explained fully in the Sports Coach UK/ WSFF factsheet Female Psychology and Considerations for Coaching Practice.

“Women’s ability to see the ‘whole picture’ means they need to understand why they are performing certain tasks and what doing them will achieve them,” it says. “This seems to be thanks to women’s brain’s ability to access information from, and make connections with, both sides of the brain in order to solve problems.”

In-built survival strategies push males towards wanting to achieve power and hierarchy through competition, while females aim to ‘build relationships, connections and high levels of empathy’. For coaches, this translates to very different responses to internal and external competition.

There are also clues there as to why women hold differing indicators of success. Throughout the research of women’s psychology, it’s clear they care more about people while men care about things including titles, trophies etc.

Discrimination Driving Motivation

None of the recommendations made in either document, outlining what makes an ideal coach for elite female athletes, are unachievable by a man. Being organised, continually learning, committed, a role model or a mentor - these traits are also possible regardless of gender.

Where females have a head start is communication, knowing the female body, where the greater injury risks are, and choosing the correct goals. Men used to coaching males have to learn to adapt in these areas to get the best out of women.

Women in a growing sport like football are more likely to be highly motivated to advance the game and have insight into it from having been a player themselves. A woman’s drive for a woman’s sport to succeed is likely always to be marginally higher than a man’s - especially if they have experienced any negativity or discrimination.

What has not been considered here is the gender of the backroom staff supporting the head coaches at the Women’s World Cup, the personnel who arguably have the greatest input into the players’ performances. Phil Neville’s right-hand is female assistant coach Bev Priestman, a master at tournament football, with experience coaching at Canada and New Zealand.

“What I bring is my experience across tournaments,” she told the Irish Mirror. “So that when it really matters, seven games in, 50 days on the road, you have to prepare for that, keeping the players fresh so that when you get to the last game, they are.

“There’s other areas too, such as how FIFA works. They are both areas, along with a knowledge of the women’s game and details of how other countries play, that I bring.”

Is Women's Football Still a Man's Game?

Gender of head coaches at 2019 Women's World Cup

Germany’s Martina Voss-Tecklenburg also has a female assistant coach in Britta Carlson, but France’s Corrine Diacre has two men - Michel Ettore and Philippe Joly - while Sarina Wiegman is assisted by three men at the Netherlands - Michel Kreek, Arjan Veurink, and Erskine Schoenmakers.

The USA’s head coach Jill Ellis also has a male-dominated team under her, Swede Tony Gustavsson her assistant, Graeme Abel the goalkeeper coach and Dawn Scott fitness coach.

With Sweden’s head and assistant coaches also male, the semi-finals, whilst split 50-50 on gender for head coaches, are actually dominated by male coaches. According to a report by UEFA, 80% of European women’s football coaching jobs are held by men, with 97% of pro licenses issued by the European governing body also held by men.

FIFA, the world governing body for football, says that only 7% of its coaches are female, and in the US, where once 90% of female sports teams at college level were coached by women, now it’s 43%. But even the men employed by women’s football teams are considered of lower quality due to a lack of pay.

Former England forward Kelly Smith has said it is particularly difficult to get good goalkeeping coaches, with her teammates opting to train with the men’s team and their staff instead.

“Even at the elite level, so they're hard to come by,” she told Betfair. “I remember at Arsenal too, when Emma Byrne was the goalkeeper she wouldn't train with us because we didn't have a proper goalkeeping coach. She would go over to the men's side to train with their academies.”

Bridging the Gender Gap in Football

Gender of head coaches at 2019 Women's World Cup

Right before the last Women’s World Cup in 2015, FIFA agreed that all teams competing at the following year’s U17 tournament must include at least one female coach and one female medic among their staff.

They have committed to improving gender parity within their own organisation and across world football, and that seems to be filtering up from the grassroots, judging by the gender quotas agreed above.

Three years later, at the U20 Women’s World Cup, there were only four female head coaches, but 13 assistant coaches were women. Developing women at that level should, in theory, lead to them one day moving up to senior level.

But there is a catch to the growth of women’s football: as it grows, and player pay and sponsorship opportunities increase, so too do coaching salaries. The closer they get to the men’s game, the more men become interested in taking those roles, meaning fewer women - who are growing the game the men now want to get into - bridge up from the grassroots.

The environment was not attractive to many when the FA were recruiting for a new England Women’s Senior Team head coach, but in the top duo of Phil Neville and Bev Priestman, they have stumbled upon one of the most successful teams at France 2019.

Before Tuesday’s semi-final against three-time World Cup winners USA, the Lionesses are among only three teams to have won every game they have played, and the only side managed by a man in that trio.

Despite their flawless performance, the odds suggest that this year's final will be fought out by two female head coaches for the second time in tournament history. It was Sweden and Germany fighting it out then, back in 2003, with Marika Domanski-Lyfors and Tina Theune Meyer at the helm. But who will it be in 2019?

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