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AIS Women in High Performance Coaching Project reaches special milestone

22 March 2023

This month marks one year since the AIS Women in High Performance Coaching (WiHPC) Project kicked off and there’s been a tremendous amount of work undertaken to date.

Nicole Hannan headshot
Nicole Hannan OLY led the part-time talent pool pod as part of the AIS Women in High Performance Coaching Project.

Aimed at increasing the representation of women high performance (HP) coaches and improving their overall experience, AIS HP Coach Development Senior Leader Michelle De Highden is the driving force behind the project.

“The opportunities for women coaches at the high performance level are limited and there’s a significant number that leave and do not thrive…so we need to change that,” De Highden said.

Over the last 12 months the WiHPC team which includes strategy experts Patrick Sharry and David Joyce have taken a deep dive into the current coaching landscape to better understand the incentives, motivations and barriers for women.

“We’ve conducted 15 initial insight workshops starting with women coaches and then building it out to talk with high performance managers, athletes, young coaches and coaches who have left the system,” De Highden said.

“We learnt early on that having diversity in the room was absolutely critical. The voice of the young coaches was significantly different to those who had been there and done that. Furthermore the athletes provide a really strong case on the benefits of having a female coach.

“We’ve also engaged with people working outside the sector – so people working in law, tertiary institutions, in banking and not-for-profits who are working hard to achieve gender equity.”

The WiHPC team then conducted a system-wide survey to hear personal experiences, unpack key themes and better understand what kind of support is needed to help women coaches thrive.

In November 2022 the AIS then hosted a thought-provoking showcase bringing together 44 sporting organisations including the AFL, Football Australia and Paralympics Australia to share learnings and highlight initiatives working well.

Now the project has entered its fourth phase and earlier this month saw four focus groups come together to unpack specific areas.

“We looked into the part-time talent pool of women coaches, paternity or maternity leave, recruitment strategies and mapped out the women’s coaching pipeline,” De Highden said.

Assistant Coach of the Australian Women’s Indoor Volleyball Team Nicole Hannan OLY led the part-time talent pool pod.

“It’s about creating spaces for women who are really good at their job as a coach and create these amazing experiences for athletes…we need to find ways to keep them in the system while they’ve got young families or are on parental leave.”

“We get stuck in thinking it needs to look a certain way…we need to make sure we are creative in terms of what coaching can look like…and that might look like teams of coaches rather than one individual coach…focusing on the different skills and strengths different coaches can bring to the mix and the outcome that can have on athletes.”

Athlete Wellbeing and Engagement Manager at Squash Australia and Olympic Coach Lauren Soderberg OLY highlighted the benefits of intertwining family life into coaching.

“We’d really love to normalise family’s involvement in high performance sport and recognise the positive impacts that kids and family members can have on athletes and coaches…having them included in the high performance journey can be such a beneficial part of what it means to be an elite athlete or coach.”

Coach Development Advisor from Paralympics Australia Alex Jago helped lead the conversation around improving the recruitment strategies for women coaches.

“At the moment there’s very minimal representation of talent ID in coaching so we’re looking into ways we can improve the recruitment process of coaches who work in the high performance system to ensure there are more opportunities for women.”

The next phase of the project will see the AIS WiHPC group work with sports to develop a national strategy that ensures long-term sustainable success.

“We’re also looking to develop some resources that encourage organisations to reflect on their current practices and policies – are they equitable in what they do, is their language inclusive, how do they employ, progress and develop all coaches not just women coaches,” De Highden said.

The WiHPC Project forms part of the AIS High Performance Coach Development team. More information about their program offerings can be found here: Programs | Australian Institute of Sport (

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