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This blog post provides a recap of the third webinar in the 4‑part mini-series Engaging Girls and Women in Sport. SIRC and Canadian Women & Sport co-hosted the mini-series, which you can access or learn more about by visiting our SIRC Expert Webinars page.

Black girls and women face significant hurdles as athletes and coaches. Those hurdles are on top of barriers faced by all women and girls in sport. By engaging and empowering Black coaches in the community, you can have an immense impact on the positive sport experiences of young Black girls and women. In this webinar, panelists explored the lived experience of Black community coaches. The panelists discussed ways to decrease barriers and increase support for Black youth and adults to coach at the community level.

Webinar panelists included:

  • Shauna Bookal, Executive Director, Field Hockey Ontario
  • Mariah Wright, head coach, Farias Soccer Academy and Halifax County United Soccer
  • Brittnee Habbib, co-founder, Girl Power’d
  • Leisha Strachan, Ph.D., professor and Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Studies, University of Manitoba

Q: Why is the representation of Black women and girls in coaching important, especially at the community level and how can we achieve it?

Black female volleyball coach with her athletesAll panelists agreed that representation is essential for Black coaches. As Shauna Bookal put it, “See It. Be It. Achieve It. One of the main reasons why young Black girls do not get involved in sport is they do not see someone they can relate to.”

Having role models is especially important for young athletes. Role models not only build connections, but also provide athletes with guidance and help shape their life trajectories. Representation in coaching can be especially important at the grassroots level.

“It was great to have someone who understood what I was going through and understood what I had to face every day to make it out of my neighbourhood. I realized I was blessed to have a Black male coach to start with and then a Black female coach in my teenage years when I needed a role model.”

Shauna Bookal

One way to achieve better representation, according to panelists, is by increasing opportunities available for Black coaches and athletes. Another way is to foster interest and participation in administrative and management roles. Providing funding and scholarships, creating mentorships and focusing on early engagement can all help to move closer to this representation goal.

Q: What are unique barriers Black women and girls may face when getting involved in community coaching?

Some challenges that may discourage Black women and girls from becoming community coaches include language, accessibility and costs, as well as social norms.

Language is an important way to build inclusion. Participation levels are going to suffer if participants aren’t able to understand the language that’s used in coaching programs when it contains unfamiliar vocabulary and terms.

“…some of the language barriers are words I didn’t see on a regular basis growing up. I know for some people… if they get frustrated about what they’re trying to read or what you’re trying to say, that can turn [them] off.”

Shauna Bookal

The cost of participating in coaching programs can be a significant barrier for some participants. Other individuals may not be able to take time off from work to attend full-day courses. In addition to registration fees, access to programs can also be limited by physical barriers (such as getting to venues) and virtual barriers (limited access to computers, tables or the Internet). Finally, not knowing about available programs and opportunities is another limiting factor. “Allowing people to have the opportunity [and] making people aware of the opportunities [are] crucial,” says Mariah Wright.

Too often, Black coaches face the unique challenge of being compared to other coaches who aren’t Black. For example, their differences from traditional coaching styles are labeled as incorrect. “You can’t fit a circle in a square hole,” emphasizes Shauna Bookal. “You can’t have me be like all the other coaches [who] are out there because we aren’t the same.”

Q: What can be done to better support and increase representation of Black women and girls in coaching roles and as athletes at the national level?

Canadian thrower Camryn Rogers throws during the Women's Hammer Throw finals during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on Tuesday, August 03, 2021. Photo by Mark Blinch/COC *MANDATORY CREDIT*The panelists identified several areas where changes would have the most impact.

  1. Financial support and community outreach

Cost is a major barrier. If sport organizations can offer funding for individuals from marginalized communities to pursue coaching careers, especially over the long term, many of these individuals would welcome such support. In addition to financial support, organizations can enact change by cultivating symbiotic relationships. For example, hosting free clinics in communities, with the people who participate in these clinics volunteering in return, will benefit everyone and can increase community involvement and sport participation.

  1. Understanding Black culture and experiences

Recognizing Eurocentric biases in traditional coaching programs and certifications is another way of supporting representation. Panelists emphasized that coaching Black athletes can be significantly different from coaching athletes of other backgrounds. It’s important for coaches to understand Black culture and Black athletes’ experiences. Education programs can help address this for coaches.

“Black hair is a story on its own and in gymnastics, there is a typical hairstyle: a slicked back bun [that] you have to make nice and tight. Curly afros cannot do that. It hurts us to be able to do that. So, understanding that when you have a mandatory hairstyle that one Black girl cannot do, that now affects self-esteem. It starts adding in more things that’s not even dealing with our sport or the actual competition. It is so important to understand culture.”

Brittnee Habbib
  1. Engaging Black parents, guardians and communities

To help build diversity in sport, engage Black parents, guardians and communities. Engagement can help them see value in participating in sport and give them confidence that their child will be safe in that environment.

Q: What’s the appropriate and respectful language that sport organizations should be aware of and use around the Black community?

Asking your stakeholders is the best approach, say the panelists. Everyone’s different and it’s disrespectful to assume you know what’s respectful, as assumptions are often driven by societal stereotypes.

“If you don’t know, ask questions… Even if you have four Black athletes in your program, don’t just ask one and assume all of them want to be called the same thing. Humble yourselves and ask questions.

Brittnee Habbib

The language that coaches use can have a tremendous impact on the athlete, both positive and negative. For this reason, “as coaches, we need to be more intentional [and] speak with purpose when we do talk to our girls,” says Mariah Wright.

Q: How can community sport organizations engage Black communities to develop inclusion?

Clubs need to do their research and understand how they can best interact with the community. There are many avenues to build engagement. Clubs can participate in events, such as Family Day or Sports Day, or work with schools, established groups and local community centres. Another strategy can be organizing “try-it” days to let children try sports and providing information for parents and guardians to address common concerns. Clubs need to be proactive in helping families navigate barriers to participation, from cost to transportation to programs. Finally, a powerful way to reach out to Black communities can be by identifying allies and promoters, especially within the Black community, who can talk about the sport programs and their benefits.

This webinar highlighted some of the barriers that Black girls and women experience in sport. It also shared ways that organizations and individuals can increase support for Black athletes and coaches. The conversation among the panelists emphasized the need to have broader discussions about the lived experiences of Black coaches and athletes. These discussions can be an important step toward creating much-needed changes across sport communities.

About the panelists

Find out more about the webinar panelists, access a recording of the Engaging Black Community Coaches webinar or learn more about the Engaging Girls and Women in Sport mini-series by visiting the SIRC Expert Webinars page.

About Canadian Women & Sport

Canadian Women & Sport is dedicated to creating an equitable and inclusive Canadian sport and physical activity system that empowers girls and women. The aim is to empower them as active participants and leaders, within and through sport. With a focus on systemic change, we partner with sport organizations, governments and leaders to challenge the status quo and build better sport through gender equity.

About the contributor(s)

Annabel Chan is a SIRC volunteer and a medical student at Queen’s University. She graduated from Western University, where she studied business and science and played soccer. Through her experience as a student-athlete, Annabel gained a passion for encouraging youth sport participation, particularly among girls and women. She hopes to stay involved in the sports community and incorporate the principles of healthy active living in her future career.

Marina Khonina is the Senior Research Coordinator at SIRC. They hold an MA in Sociology from Simon Fraser University, where they studied sporting cultures and women athletes’ relationship with food. With a background in writing and communication, Marina has a special interest in knowledge translation in sport and health sciences. Marina is also a track and field athlete who competes in sprinting events.

The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.