A total of 19 women attended the WISH programme recreational week at the University of Hertfordshire ©IOC

Commonwealth Games Federation vice-president Kereyn Smith has stressed the need for a "cultural change" in sport to ensure there are more female coaches at the elite level.

Smith’s calls came when she spoke to members of the first cohort of the Women in Sport High (WISH) Performance Pathway in Britain.

A total of 19 women from seven sports and 17 countries spent a week at the University of Hertfordshire's Institute of Sport as part of their 21-month programme.

Smith, the former chief executive and secretary general of the New Zealand Olympic Committee, was the guest for the question and answer session on the final day where she underlined the importance of moving from a "fix the women" mindset to changing the entire sporting system.

"We are now seeing a more joined-up approach," said Smith.

"WISH is a fabulous programme. If we empower, support and develop women, this will facilitate cultural change."

Smith praised the International Olympic Committee’s commitment to gender equality as the Olympic Solidarity has set aside $1million (£800,00/€930,000) to support the WISH programme.

Female representation has improved on the Olympic stage with women making up 48 per cent of the competitors at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

But this improvement has not been matched in coaching, with 11 per cent at Rio 2016 and 13 per cent at Tokyo 2020.

"We’ve seen good advances in medal opportunities and media coverage, but coaching is lagging a long way behind," said Elizabeth Pike, project director for WISH and professor of sport, health and exercise at the University of Hertfordshire.

Staged under the banner of "Empowering Women Coaches", the 19 women spent the week looking to further develop their leadership skills, confidence and careers.

Modules covered ranged from self-assessment and creative problem-solving to positive coaching culture and how to lead under pressure.

Commonwealth Games Federation vice-president Kereyn Smith believes there needs to be a
Commonwealth Games Federation vice-president Kereyn Smith believes there needs to be a "cultural change" in sport to boost female coaches ©Getty Images

"It’s down to our values - collaborating, supporting and networking," said Pike.

"WISH provides a safe space where coaches and course facilitators can discuss challenges and share insights.

"They go back to their sports and regions as role models, with the confidence to knock down whatever barriers they face. 

"And the network connects all the women who go through the programme."

Filoi Eneliko, one of Samoa’s most-capped female rugby players, is among the programme's alumni as she credits it with changing her mindset.

She became the first female head coach of an elite Samoan men's team and now manages the Lakapai Samoa Women's Academy.

"These women are incredibly good coaches but don’t necessarily see themselves as leaders," said Jane Booth, leadership mentor and course facilitator for WISH.

"They need to recognise that their everyday leadership can lead to big changes; combining competence with quiet inner confidence, they can be even more effective."

Coaches involved in the WISH programme are expected to benefit from one-to-one leadership mentoring plus ongoing support from a sport-specific mentor over the next eight months.

"They’re seeing things differently from when we started - understanding the impact they can have on others," added Booth.