U of R athlete in women’s coaching initiative

Go recreate this scene by feeding geese at Wascana to really get that “drop it and get out” technique down. John Mcarthur via unsplash

Hockey player Sorestad to participate in Creating Coaches mentorship program

Ireland Sorestad, a student-athlete in the Faculty of Education who plays hockey at the University of Regina, has recently been nominated along with five other student-athletes across Canada for a mentorship program intended to turn players into coaches. Aptly named, the Creating Coaches program was created through a partnership of the Hockey Canada Foundation and U SPORTS, and aligns with the former’s Hockey is Hers initiative. 

There are multiple focuses in this two-year mentorship program, the first being to strengthen the game of each player involved. Sorestad, who has already played three seasons with the Cougars – 83 Canada West games, to be exact – undoubtedly has a strong game going in. She has also assisted with the U of R Cougars Cubs program and camps, which speaks to both her passion for the game and for passing on what she’s learned through her experiences so far. However, receiving mentorship from people who’ve been playing, coaching, and studying the game for decades can only serve to improve both her on-ice play, and her strategy on and behind the bench. 

The other focuses for the program are borrowed from the Hockey is Hers initiative, which commits “to help the girls and women of Canada get involved with hockey. Hockey has undeniably positive impacts on the people who play, and we believe those impacts should be shared by all regardless of gender. To ensure we achieve a long-lasting and genuinely positive impact on the female game, we have focused our funding into three strategic imperatives – the development of female coaching, recruitment and retention of girls in the sport, and the support of our Canada’s Women’s National Team.” 

Creating Coaches was created specifically to increase the number of women in coaching positions across Canada. It’s easy to think that since we have teams for women in addition to teams for men for most sports that inequality must be over and sexism in sports doesn’t exist anymore, but easy thoughts aren’t often accurate. In the 2013 article “Where are the female coaches?” for the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching, Bruce Kidd outlines just how inaccurate it is to believe all is well.

“While often ridiculed, marginalized in inadequate facilities, and woefully underfunded, [women’s-only sport departments] kept the traditions of women’s leadership alive. As late as the 1960s, the majority of the coaches in women’s sport were still women.” writes Kidd. So, women in coaching and leadership roles had a rough go, but it’s all figured out now, right? Pay attention to the wording though – he uses “were” when speaking on coaches specifically. He goes on to write that “In intercollegiate sports, the number of coaching jobs in women’s sport has more than doubled in the last 40 years, but the percentage of female coaches has fallen sharply from an estimated 60 per cent in the 1960s to 40 per cent in the 1980s to the 19 per cent reported last year.” 

Kidd quotes Beth Ali, director of intercollegiate and high-performance sport at the University of Toronto at the time, who is of the opinion that “it’s less a case of women dropping out of coaching than we lose them before they even have a chance to consider making it a career. [There are] so few examples of women enjoying rewarding coaching careers that even those who really want to be coaches plan something else for their future.” Some of the barriers women pursuing coaching careers currently face include:

-lack of recruiting and retention efforts

-job insecurity

-low salaries, or solely volunteer opportunities

-male control of the sport

-employers’ unwillingness to hire

-homophobic stereotypes of women athletes 

-gender-based stereotypes and violence

-difficulty in work-life balance
-lack of networking, group practices, and job-sharing
-lack of women role models in the career path
-lack of mentoring programs for women  

Pursuing a career in sports presents much the same difficulties for women that are present in other career path pursuits, especially for student-athletes. Balancing a course load, practices, games, and one or more jobs makes it difficult to find the time to take on volunteer opportunities, which can offer vital experience for those with coaching as a goal. Because of this, Kidd explains that “We need to make the conversation about the gendered nature of sports – and the discussion about how to make sports more inclusive – much more explicit and frequent. This is difficult because the social structures of sex and gender touch every one of us in deeply sensitive ways, and they are inextricably related to social power, but it is long overdue if we are really to be transparent about the sport culture we are nurturing.” 

Creating Coaches is a program with the goal of challenging the gender norms that have been nurtured over the past decade. Executive director of the Hockey Canada Foundation, Donna Iampieri, said that “We have seen the positive impact hockey has on those who play the game, and we believe it should be accessible to everyone, regardless of gender.” While there are currently only six spots in this mentorship program, those involved will receive support while pushing against the previously mentioned barriers they face, ideally resulting in more women hockey coaches who can act as role models for all who have career goals and don’t currently see many people like them in their desired role. 

“Being selected for the Creating Coaches program is an absolute honour and an opportunity that I am blessed to be a part of,” said Sorestad in a story for the Cougars, citing mixed feelings but an overall sense of optimism and excitement. “I grew up playing a male-dominant sport where being the only female came with many challenges, and because of this I’m driven and determined to help female hockey grow in Saskatchewan and across Canada. I dream of communities and cities where little girls have role models not only on TV, but right next door.” 







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