On Monday, 22 female coaches from seven Olympic sports will congregate on the outskirts of London for the next stage of the WISH Women in High Performance Pathway programme.

The Olympic Solidarity course aims to increase the number of women in coaching roles at both winter and summer Games and follows on from a successful pilot in 2020.

Five rugby coaches will be among the cohort that arrives at the University of Hertfordshire for the residential week, while representatives of bobsleigh and skeleton, cycling, judo, snowboarding, volleyball and wrestling will also be present.

World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Carol Isherwood, meanwhile, will also be in Hatfield in her role as a WISH Facilitator.

The programme launched in May and with participants hailing from across the globe, interaction has so far been limited to online sessions.

Each coach has now been assigned a leadership mentor, and the residential week will give them an opportunity to meet their fellow coaches and share experiences.

WISH participant and former Ireland international Katie Fitzhenry admits she did not envisage becoming a coach until she retired in May 2021, primarily because she did not see many female coaches while playing.

“It's great to see so many women trying to get involved in coaching because I don't think it's visually something that's there in the open,” Fitzhenry told World Rugby.

“Thankfully we're getting there now, with more and more women coaches. I think something like this really opens that up and the more people hear about it, the more others will want to get involved in coaching.

“Not only at national and higher-end levels but also at that club level and those school levels, that actually are generally male dominated. We actually could have a massive amount of females involved if they just saw it.

“So, I think that's massive, that visual effect that it can have to get more women involved in coaching and involved in the sport in general.”

Making lasting connections

One of the aspects of the programme that appealed most to Fitzhenry was the opportunity to learn from and make connections with coaches from a range of sports.

“It's good to be involved with like-minded people because we're all kind of in the same boat,” she added.

“Ultimately for me it's probably [making] connections to a certain extent… learning from different sports, but also just different people who think differently.

“Learning and having those connections that hopefully we can bring forward into the future that we're now a group of people who can support each other in everything that we do.”

Fellow participant Jenilee Limada is also keen to tap into the network provided by being part of the WISH programme.

“Sometimes we think that within our own sports or within our own team that things happen that are just happening to us,” she explained.

“But when you talk to people and you get to interact with other people around you, you realise that it's not just you going through this.

“It's not just your team, it's not just things that are happening within your circle, but it's things that are happening around the globe and they have different perspectives on how to be able to challenge that or be able to solve it.”

Personal development

Unlike Fitzhenry, Limada worked under several female coaches during her playing career in Trinidad and Tobago. She is now part of the senior women’s programme’s technical team and is keen to use her time on the programme to improve her leadership skills.

“To help me better organise myself and be able to articulate what I need to articulate to my athletes better,” Limada said.

“I haven't had too much experience in terms of coaching at such a high level, but it's going to be a great opportunity to be able to get some feedback from some other coaches who have more experience than me and will be able to guide me and kind of give me that edge that I need to be able to go forward.”

Englishwoman LJ Lewis has recently been promoted to head coach at English Premier 15s club Wasps and says participating in WISH will help her figure out what kind of boss she wants to be.

“I suppose I'm in this transition period where I'm with players that know me very well,” she said.

“But I've got to make sure I come across in a way that I still want to come across and don't necessarily change too much.

“So, I think it'll be good for me to have that time and space away from my normal day to day environment to really focus on that. And really work towards what kind of leader I want to be.”