Female Athletes - My Story as a Woman in a Man's World
Updated: May 31, 2019
Women’s sport is notoriously under-represented. Being a female athlete is not glamorous and does not have a sense of celebrity, but instead it involves pushing your own boundaries, learning the importance of dedication and resilience, finding time to train when there’s no time at all and never giving up. The position I have found myself in has certainly not been handed to me, which is why I am so proud to say I will captain my country on the international stage, and not leave an ounce of effort behind.
Standing on the court I’ve trained so hard to be on. Wearing the dress in my country’s colours I’ve waited so long to wear. Looking up at my country’s flag as I sing the national anthem. Nothing beats the feeling of reaching a goal you’ve been so determined and committed to achieving.
My name’s Caroline Buckland, and I work as a Marketing Manager at a Premier League Football Club. My role is centred around Fan Engagement in sport, and I am extremely driven and dedicated to achieving the greatest results in business. Oh, and on the side I am the Co-Captain of England’s Indoor Netball team.
Indoor Netball (or ‘Nets’) is a variation on traditional 7-a-side netball, played within a high tension net, so you can throw the ball off the sides and it never goes out of play. With a higher scoring system and one less player than traditional netball, this new style of the game is exciting, fast-paced and exhausting!
I have the fantastic honour of being named as England Co-Captain, competing in the World Cup in August as defending World Champions. The squad will travel to Cape Town, South Africa for the tournament, run by the World Indoor Netball Association (WINA).
Being an elite athlete performing at the top level and representing my country does not come easily. Myself and the rest
of the squad are either in full-time professional work or full-time education, and it’s likely to be because female athletes are not privy to the same opportunities as male athletes are. Being a woman automatically puts a number of barriers in place for athletes wanting to reach their full potential. There is limited visibility and therefore respect for women’s sport, with a common misconception that the female game is not as entertaining or highly-skilled and competitive as male sport. In reality, this can be quite the opposite!
All variations of netball are fast-paced, energetic, grueling and extremely physical, with high-scoring and close-scoring games a regular part of our competition. It’s exciting to watch and it’s demanding on the body, but the lack of visibility and over-arching stigmatism that female sport is ‘slower’ or ‘less-exciting’ than male sport means it does not get the coverage or the plaudits that it deserves.
Alongside fighting the battle to prove the worth of female sport, individual athletes have a second barrier to face on a far more personal level. The prevalence of social media and ideals that the media put on body shape can be a further hurdle for female athletes, due to the negativity regarding strong feminine muscular body types. When performing at the highest level, female athletes will be weight-training multiples times a week, on set nutrition plans and taking on additional protein and nutrients to help their muscle growth. Social media opens up a minefield for negative comments and ‘body-shaming’ for females with strong, muscular bodies who may not be regarded as ‘feminine’.
Female sport has come a long way in recent years to try and break down some of the barriers mentioned, however many athletes would say that the biggest issue for women in sports today is closing the pay gap between genders. While we see equal pay in some sports such as tennis, there is still a long way to go to helping support female athletes financially to allow them to be successful in sport and compete at the highest level. In many sports, being ‘professional’ and having your sport as your full-time job is simply not sustainable. The financial aspect plays a huge part in committing to continue to train and perform, as it’s an outgoing that
not all women are able to sustain. When there is no financial support in place for you competing in your sport, you have to decide whether it’s a luxury you can continue to afford. For me personally, I’ll work a corporate job during the week which will help fund my travel to training across the UK at the weekends, staying in ‘bed & breakfasts’, as well as pay for my kit and my flights to any major competitions. This is not something that all athletes can afford to do, therefore we see a large drop-off in talent even at elite level, simply because of financial constraints.
More support financially could help to make sports more professional, increase participation and offer girls and women the chance to promote themselves as real role models in society. Countless studies have shown the role that sport and leading an active lifestyle can play in helping improve mental health, and increased participation in sport from a young age can help improve mental health from a young age. Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression and anxiety, as well as improving memory, helping sleep and relieving stress, and having female athletes as role models to look up to would actively encourage young girls to engage in regular exercise themselves.
There are role models in sport currently who are doing their bit to help remind others of the successes within women’s sport – British tennis player Andy Murray made a point of correcting a journalist who overlooked female achievements in a recent press conference when asked about a male player ‘becoming the first American to reach a grand slam semi-final since 2009’. Murray pointedly stated ‘male player’, to correct the journalist on omitting the face that this had occurred in the women’s game. Manchester City Football Club’s Manager Pep Guardiola made a similar comment when asked how he’d feel about being the first Manager to secure a domestic treble, to which he responded ‘the first time in men’s football – the women have done it.’ It’s examples like these show there’s still a media bias towards the men’s game, but having male role models stand up and remind society that there is a female game too and that it should be viewed with equal importance, makes significant inroads into the development of women’s sport. One day hopefully this won’t be necessary, and women’s sport can just be sport.
To help support Caroline's personal journey to the World Cup, Grammig Advisory is actively seeking sponsorship to alleviate some of the financial pressures that have come with her selection, in return for logo placement on all training kit, links on her England Netball player profile, social media coverage, interviews and appearances. Sponsorship packages can be tailored to meet the requirements of the business, ensuring it’s beneficial and worthwhile.