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'They need the experience': U Sports prioritizing female coaches

Last Updated Feb 5, 2021 at 8:15 am MDT

(Mount Royal Athletics)

OTTAWA (660 NEWS) — Canada’s national governing body of university sport wants the future to be now for women coaches.

The deadline recently closed for the U Sports Female Apprentice Coach program, which matches recently graduated apprentice coaches, with a head coach in one of 11 sports.

“Canadian universities are the largest employers of coaches in Canada,” U Sports chief sport officer Lisette Johnson-Stapley explained. “We have 6,000 females that play university sports, and it’s the best opportunity to reach out and provide opportunities for them if they wish to be in any kind of coaching role.

“What we do is we provide funding to the institution that would like a female apprentice coach, and that goes towards development opportunities, field of play, any kind of workshops and any kind of training.”

LISTEN: U Sports chief sport officer Lisette Johnson-Stapley on growing roles for female coaches


In its first year, the program saw 18 apprentice coaches with playing or coaching experience at 19 different U SPORTS institutions, and Johnson-Stapley wants that momentum to build.

“Despite the participation of girls and women in sport, there is still a low percentage, too low, of a percentage of female coaches, and women, especially now, need female role models,” she said. “Women are very strong leaders. I think that’s evident in all kinds of different businesses, strong communication skills, team building, and female sport continues to need them as leaders.

“Women make such an outstanding contribution to the sport sector in general. Young girls need female coach leaders, and sometimes all it takes is to ask them and provide them with opportunities.

“I’ve been 30 years in sports and always said we’ve got to try and get female athletes to stay in the game and to give back to sport, as sport would’ve given to them.”

According to U Sports, the program’s first participants represented eight sports: soccer, cross country, track and field, hockey, basketball, volleyball, swimming and wrestling. All four conferences were also represented (Canada West for us here in Calgary).

And for Johnson-Stapley, the feedback has been great.

“They’ve said it’s a good opportunity and a good confidence builder to see that they’re valued, they’re needed, a good chance for them to grow, to develop,” she described. “They love the fact that you’re investing in young coaches.

“I think we all know in sport that people work in sport because they have a passion, a love for it.”

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The next step is finding work for these coaches. Recently, Rhian Wilkinson left Canada Soccer for coaching opportunities overseas. It came after over a decade of playing for Canada and moving into a coaching role with the program. How can Canada retain talented individuals within its borders?

“You’ve got to know how to deal with women,” Johnson-Stapley offered. “Working with women and empowering them, leading them, is very different than perhaps the old way of coaching. We all know that’s changed.

“We’ve got to provide these coaches with on the field experience. They need the experience, right?”