By Medicine Hat News on January 4, 2017.
Female athletes were excluded from the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 because its founder, Pierre de Coubertin, felt their participation would be inappropriate. Many things have changed since those first games 121 years ago. The 2016 Rio Olympic Games had both the highest ever number of women competitorsand the highest percentage, with womenmaking up about 45 per cent of the total participants, according to the International Olympic Committee. As a female coach and ex-athlete I cannot help but be excited about this statistic. Each year women are pushing the boundaries of what the generation before them thought was possible.
One thing, however, that I have noticed while helping to establish women’s sports both locally, provincially, nationally and internationally is who my counterparts are at the administrative level. When I walk into a coach educator’s course or do a presentation for top level executives I find myself as the only female in the room.
I am not going to discuss the many reasons that have been hypothesized as to why we are still finding a small number of women in sport leadership roles. I think one thing that can help is female mentorship programs because when you see someone who shares similar characteristics to you it is easier to imagine yourself in their position.
One thing that often gets overlooked is to recognize and celebrate the men in those rooms who are excited about female sport.
I was mentored by two male coaches who helped me to be the coach I am today. Howie Draper, from the University of Alberta Panadas hockey team, took me under his wing to teach me all that he could about coaching elite level hockey and what it means to be a servant leader. Jim Loughlin, who I played under for the Medicine Hat College Rattlers soccer team, taught me on and off the field about how to be a great leader. He believed in my potential which still gives me strength when I get frustrated with a system that is not always the kindest to young female coaches.
More recently, I have had the pleasure of coaching with an extraordinary man who is an advocate through and through for women’s sport. Derek Whitson has been my assistant coach for the last three years with the Canadian women’s sledge hockey team. Derek also happens to be a two time Paralympian in men’s sledge hockey and a goalkeeper for the men’s Paralympic soccer team. He has travelled the world representing his country for more than 10 years and brings a lot of knowledge to the table. As a male coach in the sport that he is a decorated athlete in it is often common for individuals to look to him first for his opinion.
However, Derek is always quick to redirect the referees down the bench to speak to me, the head coach. He is the only male on our leadership team which keeps him busy with redirecting people to our female managers and therapists when going somewhere new. These gestures, while simple, make a huge statement of his trust and respect for the roles of our female leadership team. Our female players see his example and it creates an expectation that they too should be respected for all their talent.
Gender equity can seem like a daunting concept. People get stuck on big picture thinking of implementing policies and rules about gender. These do have a place and a time, however, I think it is important for people to realize that small gestures, from both men and women, can create ripple effects that can be end up being just as large.
Tara Chisholm is the head coach of the Canadian Women’s National Sledge Hockey Team and a member of FAME. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.