From varsity player to Head Coach
After a long career of challenging herself, Jill Fast takes on a new challenge
Canada’s football space was recently blessed with one of the most dynamic coaches, Jill Fast. She has been appointed as the national coach for Canada’s U18 Indigenous women’s football team and is all geared towards bringing out the best in all her athletes. The team is thrilled to have someone like Fast leading them and Fast has nothing but success laid out in her plans and goals for the girls.
“My plan going into the tournament was to get to know all the different people that are part of this team; everyone from the President of Indigenous Football Canada to the team’s general manager and the coaching team,” said Fast. As she embarks on this journey of shaping the future of this team of youthful women, it is evident that there is a lot that they will get to discover about themselves; “I wanted the girls to have a positive experience at this tournament.”
Fast believes in true “team effort to contribute in” to the success of what they aim to represent and achieve. “I wanted to impart the spirit and essence of team sports – coming together for teamwork, team camaraderie and the team aspect of having each other’s backs,” said Fast as she continues to infuse these values in her team.
On discussing about the diverse backgrounds of Indigenous football players in Canada, Fast said, “It’s really amazing that we can bring these athletes from all across Canada to play for team Indigenous, and it’s exciting at the same time and the logistics that we are navigating,” Starting the pre-camp from Ottawa, she mentioned how the players connect from every coast of the nation coming together for a common cause and uplifting each other.
They all share many similar stories and backgrounds that connect to their value systems, and Fast connects to theirs too. Identifying as Métis from her mother’s side acts as a “grounding connection between everyone.” The values of team sports and Indigenous perspectives align well with the overall team’s views that add to their goals.
Despite the similarity of values and alignment, there will be challenges and limitations, especially for a program like the U-18 all Indigenous women’s team. Transitioning to a new space and connecting with so many people could be difficult, yet Fast encourages to “learn from your mistakes” and move ahead with a new mindset. This also applies to the limitations that women could potentially face due the physical tenacity of this sport. “This is one of the most inclusive sports and a lot of people say that there is a position for everyone,” said Fast, emphasizing how different athletes are better suited for different categories in sports.
She mentions identifying the core strengths in their play and positioning in the sport. “You have good hands, so you can catch the ball. You have a good arm, so you can throw the ball. You have good defense instincts so you could tackle people.” With Football Canada, they have a Safe Contact Program which coaches students on playing the sport as safely as possible. As she continues coaching the students, she believes the door is open to all and that coaching correctly could help them work their way up on the ladder of their sports career.
Panning out in different sports, Fast comes with a variety of experience from playing hockey, soccer, football to basketball, and volleyball but ultimately found her true calling in football. Some find aggressive tenacity as their calling card and choose a sport that fits accordingly, and this is what exploring what one likes is all about. “Get a good sample of variety,” recommended Fast, “and [find] which of those do you gravitate towards and then what other sports are similar to the ones that you are gravitating towards. Start with variety and narrow it down and explore other sports in those branches.” Finding the right fit in sports can be difficult, but exploring and learning what works for each individual through a journey of self-discovery is easiest by putting oneself out there to try different things.
Taking the first step and joining a team could be nerve-racking but the ease of access has made it simpler for people to get involved. Every province has a provincial football organization and people interested could reach out to them for advice and enrollment requirements through their websites and social media channels, or even phone and e-mail them. There it is possible to learn about the schedule, age groups, and to address any concerns or suggestions.
Fast started playing football at the age of 25 and wishes she had started playing when she was a teenager. Unfortunately, due to non-existent women’s football, she was spending her teens playing other sports like hockey where she played in the boy’s hockey team till grade 7. “That’s why I keep telling the kids I am coaching that take it all in and appreciate that there is a U18 Women’s National Football tournament now and that’s amazing!”
As the women’s football space continues to grow, Fast thinks on a similar pathway of its expansion. She believes that the space is still competitive and aims to win, finding no difference in the mindset between men and women when it comes to sports as it’s all about the collaborative effort to make it till the end. “We’re gonna play with heart and passion and just try our best and be there for each other and play together as a team and have each other’s backs,” reiterated Fast with her players, empowering them to adopt those values internally and build their confidence.
The U18 Indigenous Women’s football team seems to be all set up and ready to roll with their new Head Coach. As Canada wishes them to embark on a newer path and to take in perspective from Jill Fast, there is nothing but moving forward from here.