Women in Sport: Rachel Finlay

With three full-time roles in sport, Rachel Finlay is no stranger to hard work. She discusses the barriers to enter the sports performance industry, her experience at the U17 Women’s World Cup, and addresses what can be done to level the playing field of gender in sports science.  

Rachel Finlay is the Head Sports Scientist/Strength and Conditioning coach for Tasman United, who compete in the top league of New Zealand football, where she is responsible for their GPS performance monitoring, testing, and strength and conditioning. This year, Rachel will be combining her role at Tasman with a sports performance role at North Wellington FC. Alongside these roles, Rachel also owns and runs a small performance gym.

Getting a Foot in the Door

When she graduated university with her sports science degree, Rachel talks frankly about how difficult it was to get a job in the industry: “Everyone sort of has this big dream and idea that you’re going to go straight into an S&C role with a professional sports team, but in reality there just isn’t any of those roles available, especially in New Zealand or Australia. Even internships are hard to come by and usually it’s because of who you know that gets you a foot in the door.”

Commenting on other barriers, Rachel is of the opinion that in New Zealand, there are limited opportunities for internships, or even just volunteer work. Additionally, “those in S&C/sports science roles are scared to share their knowledge, in case someone new comes along and takes their spot.” Recognising this, Rachel has spent the past 18 months learning as much as she can in the sports science industry.

World Cup Success

The variety of Rachel’s current jobs did not come without hard work. She worked as a personal trainer for eight years, quietly doing volunteer S&C work for local league rugby and football. In 2018, she got her break, taking the New Zealand Women’s Football team to the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup as their Head Sports Scientist, where the team came away with bronze medals. 

She highlights that “the World Cup experience really cemented my interest in the sport and data side of things, especially being able to do it in the sport I love so much.” Although the role was a limited one – GPS or similar technologies weren’t used – Rachel had the opportunity to chat with other sports scientists and teams, take on more than her role required, and as a result, the role opened doors for her. 

Listing the tournament as one of her career highlights, Rachel laments how interesting it was to see comparisons between different countries’ resources. “It made even prouder that our girls came third, when we had a significantly smaller staff, and the girls only had three or four training camps together in the year before the tournament.”

Levelling the Playing Field

As far as Rachel is aware, she is the only female in a sports science/S&C role within the top league in New Zealand football, which makes landing the head sports scientist role with Tasman United even more impressive. “To be able to work with head-strong men, and footballers at that, an all-male staff, command their attention as well as get buy in – that’s an achievement I am extremely proud of.”

When asked what can be done to level the playing field of gender in sports performance roles, Rachel states that awareness is key. “Showcasing women in sports science and sports performance roles, and making other female students visually aware that this can be achieved, is what will increase the percentage of female practitioners.”

Openness & Inclusivity

She highlights that there’s not a shortage of jobs in the industry, but instead it’s about “making teams and coaching staff aware of the value of sports science, and emphasising the worth of investing in sports performance at all levels.” In turn, she says, “it will allow more sports performance practitioners to enter the industry and actually get paid for their work.”

The biggest thing in getting women into the sports science/performance industry, according to Rachel, is giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves in it. She leaves us with some important words: “Openness, inclusivity and sharing knowledge is not only going to help those wanting to get into the industry, but help raise the standard within the industry itself.”

Read our previous Women in Sport profiles:

Hannah Jowitt, International Pathways Analyst, ECB

Kate Starre, High Performance Manager, Fremantle Dockers AFLW

Tahleya Eggers, Sports Scientist, Parramatta Eels

Shona Halson, Associate Professor, Australian Catholic University

Cheryl Cox, Athletic Performance Coach, University of California-Berkeley

Naomi Datson, Senior Lecturer in Sports Performance Analysis, University of Chichester

Alivia del Basso, Strength and Conditioning Coach, West Coast Eagles

Michelle Truncali, Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach, University of Notre Dame

Tania Gallo, Head Sports Scientist, North Melbourne FC

Alice Sweeting, Research Fellow, Western Bulldogs

Júlia Vergueiro, President, Pelado Real Futebol Clube