Promoting opportunity and visibility for women in sport

Dr Samantha Hoffmann’s path in sport started in the pool, but these days you’re more likely to find her in one of Deakin’s classrooms or research labs supporting the next generation of sport professionals.

Moving from Queensland to Victoria in 2014 meant more than just switching allegiance from rugby to AFL for Dr Hoffmann – it also meant kicking off a successful career at Deakin. As a lecturer in applied exercise and sport science, Dr Hoffmann teaches into Deakin’s undergraduate exercise and sport science courses and co-leads the strength and conditioning major sequence.

‘I have quite a few different responsibilities within my current role … on any given day, my teaching role could see me delivering a lecture, teaching a tutorial or facilitating a practical class in the gym,’ she says.

She also supervises postgraduate students conducting research in sport and exercise physiology – a role that involves planning experimental studies, collecting and analysing data and writing up reports.

Choosing the right path in sport

As a young person, Dr Hoffmann tried a range of sports, including tennis, cross country, softball and water polo, before focusing all her energy on swimming. She says this approach – starting broad and then specialising – is also a good approach for women interested in a career in sport. ‘If a woman is passionate about pursuing a career in sport, she should absolutely go for it. However, she should spend some time figuring out the right avenue for her.’

‘For example, I wanted a sport career that allowed me to be actively involved in research. By pursuing an academic career, I’ve been able to continue with research projects that interest me while working with colleagues in the elite sport industry to make sure the research questions I’m answering are also servicing their needs.’

If you’re not sure what the right path is for you, my advice is to surround yourself with different opportunities.

Creating opportunities and visibility for women in sport

Women’s sport is still in its early growth phases. This means that role models aren’t always obvious for women hoping to pursue a career in the industry. Dr Hoffmann says this lack of visibility is one of the key things she’d like to see change in sport. ‘We still have a way to go to ensure women’s sport is equally represented in the media, and as much as possible on free-to-air platforms.’

‘A large percentage of girls drop out of sport entirely during their teenage years. There are many different reasons for this, but having greater access to role models may help to break down barriers and change both men’s and women’s perceptions of sport participation for women and girls.’

According to Dr Hoffmann, this lack of visibility is another reason looking broadly for opportunities is so important for up-and-coming female sport professionals. ‘As an undergraduate student I spent a season at a professional rugby union club learning from the strength and conditioning staff and experiencing the work demands and culture of this setting. At the time, this club only had a men’s team, and all the staff were also men. Although I had a great experience, it did make me question whether this career path would be “acceptable” for women. That didn’t discourage me, but I knew that I needed to keep exploring and experiencing other opportunities to make an informed decision.’

Being part of the solution

Being part of the solution

Ultimately, Dr Hoffmann hopes to be part of the solution. ‘I’d like to play a part in increasing the representation of female participants in high-quality sport and exercise research. Female athletes have different needs, requirements, challenges and preferences compared to male athletes. For female athletes to continue to evolve and maximise their potential, we need to recruit them into our research studies and acknowledge and accommodate their unique requirements, rather than excluding them and just implementing the findings from males.’

How excellence drives success at Deakin

Deakin is well known for its achievements in sport education and research. In fact, we were recently named the world’s best – for the third time – by the ShanghaiRankings Global Ranking of Sports Science Schools and Departments. Dr Hoffmann says this success is no accident, but the result of Deakin’s leading academic and industry experts and investment into facilities.

‘Deakin strives for excellence in all areas of sport – from the high-quality teachers and industry experts to the world-class facilities at both our Burwood and Waurn Ponds campuses. We also have some of the most highly regarded researchers in their respective fields driving our research programs and leading our research groups. I think all these qualities combined have contributed to Deakin’s continued recognition as a world leader in sport.’

Deakin gives you the opportunity to explore your options

Deakin’s range of sport offerings also gives students that all-important opportunity to explore their options, says Dr Hoffmann.

‘Deakin students have the flexibility to choose from a broad range of sport courses and subjects so they can tailor their studies to really suit their needs, preferences, and preferred career paths. They also learn from leading experts across a range of disciplines, have access to high quality facilities that will prepare them for future jobs in sport, and build connections with the sport industry through Deakin’s industry network and student placement providers.’

Interested in learning more? Find out more about Samantha's research.

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