A figurehead of British boccia for over a decade, trailblazer Claire Morrison was hard at work over lockdown balancing her Tokyo preparations with inspiring the nation’s new wave of female coaches.

The Dalgety Bay resident’s route to becoming the sport’s first full-time paid coach in Britain started in her youth, when a burning passion for hockey and football fuelled an initial desire to become a PE teacher. 

While those plans eventually changed Morrison began coaching towards the end of her school career, and securing a job as a development officer at Scottish Disability Sport thrust her into the boccia world for the first time. 

Having quickly risen through the Scottish and GB ranks to assume her current position in 2013, Morrison, 42, believes a succession of female role models helped inspire her success – but is wary of various barriers that have caused an under-representation of female coaches at all levels in all sports. 

“I’ve been lucky I’ve always been surrounded by teachers and coaches that have always wanted to get the best out of people,” said Fife-based Morrison, who has played a lead role in the UK Sport Female Coaches Leadership Programme, aimed at more than doubling female representation in the Olympic and Paralympic high-performance community by Paris 2024. 

“My PE teacher at school was very encouraging in terms of engaging me in a love of sport. One of my hockey coaches first got me involved behind the scenes, my mum was very supportive, and I’ve always had great people to look up to within boccia. 

“I do think that visibility aspect has played its part in limiting the number of female coaches, but it is picking up. I think there’s a fear about the ability to balance life away from sport with a coaching role, as well. 

“Also, I think there is something around the perception of female coaches that stands in people’s way. People think men and women should act in certain ways, and that’s something I’m keen to help change.” 

One of eight coach leaders to have led the UK Sport Female Coaches Leadership Programme, Morrison has worked closely with three of 20 of the most promising coaches in the UK from a range of sports. 

Having passed on her knowledge and support to fencing’s Katie Arup, golf’s Lysa Jones and goalball’s Becky Ashworth, Morrison is confident the initiative could prove to be a key turning point in the increased diversity of the high-performance community. 

Morrison, who has been busy nurturing Arup, Jones and Ashworth in the fundamental spheres of leadership, environment and transition, added: “When I first started in my role it took me a while to work out the best way to do things, so to be able to pass on some guidance to people in that position now was really valuable. 

“We all come from different sports so there are things that overlap and things that don’t, so we’ve been able to learn from each other and we don’t have any plans to lose touch. 

“Mixing with other sports and increasing that visibility is important. It’s partly about recognising that yes these coaches are female, but they’re the best in their field regardless of gender.” 

Morrison took part in the programme while she was busy preparing her squad for the delayed Tokyo Games, where David Smith successfully retained his mixed individual BC1 title. 

She said: “The athletes came out of lockdown really well, and had longer to work on things that put them in a good place for the Games. 

“I’d like to see an increase in disabled coaches in the future, too. There are lots of under-represented groups in coaching and it would make me really happy when I’m old and grey to see an ex-boccia athlete coaching on a court one day.” 

UK Sport’s female coaches leadership programme is positioning 28 coaches as role models for the next generation of female coaches. It marks a turning point of truly making the coaching workforce in the Olympic and Paralympic community far more diverse and gender equal. For more information visit www.uksport.gov.uk