Female coaches play a key role in inspiring achievement in girls and young women, but their numbers are few and they often burn out and quit, sports leaders said on Thursday.
Women who coach sports like soccer need better support to stay in their jobs, said participants at a Beyond Sport conference, held ahead of meetings at the United Nations this month on development goals including gender equality.
Globally, fewer than one in 10 registered soccer coaches is female, according to FIFA, the international governing body of the game, and most coaches of the U.S. National Women's Soccer League's nine teams are men.
The U.S. women's soccer team won this year's World Cup in July.
"We need more women in leadership positions in sport," said Courtney Levinsohn, founder of Growth Through Sport, an organization that supports girls' access to sports as athletes and coaches.
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Coaches play a formative role in building the confidence of young players and set an example of what leadership looks like, she said.
"I want to create a sport culture that women not only enter but stay," Levinsohn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A dearth of female coaches means they struggle with being isolated and have to fight negative cultural stereotypes on their own, she added.
"You could go months without seeing another female coach," she said. "You burn out because there's no collective."
Almost 30 members of the women's team filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation in March over a pay gap between the men's and women's teams, accusing it of gender discrimination.
In Norway, star player Ada Hegerberg quit the nation's team in 2017 to protest for gender equality.
Also just this month, an Iranian soccer player set herself on fire after being arrested for sneaking into a soccer stadium dressed as a man.
Iranian women have been banned from stadiums when men's teams are playing since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
The World Cup victory by the U.S. women has boosted sponsorship and given female athletes tremendous visibility, said Amanda Duffy, president of the National Women's Soccer League.
"I think it's something we're still learning - the value of female athletes," Duffy said at the conference. "The No. 1 thing we have to think about is investment."