Ensuring that golf courses are welcoming places, where participants feel included, is important for driving women’s golf participation. Beyond offering flexible membership options and informational packages with advice for new members, research shows that clearly marked directional signage and an opportunity to learn the course layout helps to make golf courses welcoming places for women.
A positive social environment has a big impact on girls’ sport participation. For many girls, a sense of social belonging enhances their performance. Girls are also motivated to stay in sport to make friends and be part of a team. Knowing this can help coaches keep girls engaged in sport.
Golf offers health benefits and opportunities for social connection, but the time commitment and cost of lessons, practice and memberships can be a barrier for moms with busy family schedules. Flexible opportunities, such as family-friendly events or playing fewer than 18 holes, can make golf more accessible to women.
If you type “lone girls in sport” into Google, you’ll find several newspaper articles and social media posts about girls creating #HERstory competing alongside boys. But on the academic front, there are few studies focused on girls who play in boys’ leagues, and until recently, none exploring the “lone girl.” Check out new research that explores the experiences of lone girls on sport teams in the SIRC blog.
The Government of Canada is committed to achieving gender equity in sport at all levels by 2035.
Ongoing research has demonstrated the majority (over 90%) of Canada’s sport’s media coverage is focused solely on men’s sport, and that women and girls have lower sport participation rates than men.
This article provides an overview of women and girl’s involvement in the Canadian sport sector and uncovers opportunities for future research and equity-driven work.
Signals = the truth Noise = what distracts us from the truth (Silver, 2015)
The answers to these questions lie in the ability to gain reliable and accurate data. These data points are known as “signals” and they show where we’re on the path to achieving the goal. However, these signals are often muffled by “noise,” or other information offering little value or distracting from the original goal.
Within the sport system, researchers intentionally look for signals about women and girls to assess their advancement in this traditionally male-dominated sector. However, this isn’t easy work, because signals must be uncovered amid the noise. Signals and noise are 2 variables that are both independent and co-exist within systems (Wolfe, 2020).
To understand the presence or absence of gender equity within the Canadian sport system, there must be a quest for reliable data signals in areas that affect the system. Where do we look for reliable data? And how do we minimize noise in the system? In this article, we’ll take a look at the data we have in some areas, where noise still exists, and how we can chart a path to achieving clarity in the system.
Signals, noise and the search for clarity
This useful metaphor of signals versus noise was first introduced by Nate Silver, an American statistician. It’s the theme of his 2015 book The Signal and the Noise: Why so many predications fail – but some don’t (Silver, 2015). Silver argues that both science and self-knowledge are required to distinguish signals (truthful information) from noise (distracting information). Distinguishing them will provide clarity in a data rich system (Silver, 2015; Wolfe, 2020).
To illustrate this metaphor, here the y-axis shows low to high noise and the x-axis shows low to high signals. Within the graph, the 2 opposing axes create 4 quadrants of possible information scenarios.
In the “mystery” quadrant, the system is characterized by both low noise and low signal. That’s where the Canadian Sport system was when the goal of gender equity by 2035 was first announced. When a system is facing data “obscurity,” high levels of noise and low signals are experienced. And, in a space of “distraction,” there are high noise and high signals. Distractive scenarios are tricky, because lots of noise may create confusion, steering individuals away from the important and valuable signals they’re aiming for.
Optimally, the Canadian Sport system aims to operate in the quadrant of “clarity,” where signals are high and noise is minimal. This ideal outcome ensures the availability of true signals or noise-free data. This is the focus of the work of the E-Alliance, a knowledge sharing hub made up of scholars and partner organizations from across Canada. They’re dedicated to gender+ equity in sport and to providing clarity to the Canadian Sport system on gender equity.
Women and girls in Canada
High signals for demographic information come from Statistics Canada and present the diversity of Canada’s population. According to census data, over half of Canada’s population (50.9%) identify as women (Statistics Canada, 2016). This nearly even gender distribution is evident across children’s age categories: 49% of children under the age of 14 are girls, and 49% of teens (aged 15 to 19) are also girls (Statistics Canada, 2021). One in 4 Canadians identify as BIPOC (Black peoples, Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour) and 1.7 million identify as Indigenous (Statistics Canada, 2016). Further, depending on different data sources, between 3% and 13% of Canadians identify as LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Queer) (Jasmin Roy Foundation, 2017). Based on these signals, the Canadian population includes diverse individuals with intersectional identities.
But, what do we know about how many women and girls are participating in sport? And what do we know about the participation of women and girls with intersectional identities? Below, we dive into the signals for women and girls’ participation and leadership in sport, the role of sport media in providing signals or noise, and the path forward for gender equity in Canadian sport.
Women and girls in sport
Researchers have been working to provide good data or signals on women and girl’s involvement in sport. This cumulative work has led to strong signals on participation rates, changes and the reasons why women and girls may be missing from sport. We now know that girl’s sport participation rate drops by 22% as they enter adolescence, leading to a dropout rate of 1 in 3 girls leaving sport by their teens (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). These changes are more staggering for girls with intersectional identities, as Indigenous girls have the lowest participation rate at only 24% (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020).
Ongoing work has provided insights on the complex reasons why girls choose to leave sport. These include socialization and gender expectations, lack of consideration for social identities, structural barriers and psychosocial barriers (Trussel et al., 2020). A strong signal for girl’s decreased participation came recently in work uncovering how COVID-19 affected girl’s sport: 1 in 4 girls aren’t committed to returning to their pre-pandemic sports (Canadian Women & Sport, 2021). Just imagine, if you looked at all Canadian girls in sport nationally, then this is the equivalent of every girl in Alberta deciding to stop participating in sport. A shocking value a time when sport may be more important than ever.
It’s thanks to the work of scholars dedicated to uncovering signals on girl’s participation that we now have these insights. We can use the insights to move forward with creating more inclusive sport environments and more sustainable sport experiences for girls. This ongoing research is critical to filling in signal gaps we have about girls who leave sport.
Importantly, this work prioritizes creating equitable sport experiences for all Canadian girls. That’s an important goal because we know that those with intersectional identities face more barriers to inclusion (Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, 2022).
Moving on, we take stock of how women are involved in sport leadership. A 2019 study, surveying over 20,000 people across 11 countries, found that Canadians were the most comfortable with women as leaders (Vultaggio, 2019). Canada’s results were higher than any other nation surveyed, as 53% of men and 65% of women reported they were comfortable with women in leadership positions (Vultaggio, 2019).
So how does this translate to the Canadian Sport system? Returning to the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, we find that 47% of Paralympic coaches and 17% of Olympic coaches were women (Canadian Paralympic Committee, 2021c; E-Alliance, 2021). These findings are similar to the representation seen in university and college sports, where the majority of coaches are men (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). The only exception was in the assistant coaching positions for women’s sport teams, where the number of women coaches is slightly higher than men (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020). Recent work has also shown that the overwhelming majority of the coaches in our university system are White (Joseph et al., 2021).
This overwhelming percentage of male coaches isn’t a sign of capability. Research tracing the performance of basketball coaches suggests there’s no gender gap for winning games. In other words, while men aren’t more capable, they still hold the majority of coaching roles (Darvin, Pegoraro & Berri, 2018).
Outside of coaching, we can also review board member composition to look for signals around who is leading and providing oversight to Canadian sport organizations. In reviewing sport board membership and leadership, the number of board members who are women is increasing, with current estimates at 41% representation (Canadian Women & Sport, 2022). That value is encouraging. After all, it takes 30% of board membership to be individuals from diverse groups before changes toward equality are experienced (Tepper, Brown & Hunt, 1993). Importantly, gender-equal boards are associated with higher revenues and more financial resources (Wicker & Kerwin, 2020).
The role of sport media in providing signals or noise
Using these signals as a baseline, we turn our inquiry to how media represents women in sport, questioning if the Canadian sport media reflects women and girls’ participation in sport. Undoubtedly, Canadian sport media doesn’t accurately represent women athletes, and is a system full of noise. Arguably, the Canadian sport media may be labeled as a system of distraction, depicted by its high levels of noise and signals.
We’re currently conducting longitudinal research tracking print and online sport media coverage in Canada. While the data has yet to be published, preliminary findings show 92.6% of content is solely related to men’s sport coverage. However, concurrent research demonstrates that Canadians want to watch women’s sport content. But, they can’t find a place to watch it, despite 61% of girls (aged 13 to 18), 54% of women and 45% of men, wanting more women’s sport content available on television and online platforms (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020).
And when women’s sport is broadcast in Canada, viewership records are consistently broken. That demonstrates consumer demand. During the most recent US Open women’s single championship game, 1.1 million Canadians tuned in to TSN to watch the match between Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez (Dunk, 2021). This is a higher viewer turnout than for the CFL game and Toronto Blue Jay’s game which aired at the same time (Dunk, 2021). On ESPN in the United States, the game attracted 3.7 million viewers, a value higher than the 2.7 million who tuned in for the men’s match (Reuters, 2021). Further, in the United Kingdom (Emma Raducanu’s home country), there were 9.2 million streams of the match on Amazon’s Prime Video, demonstrating that viewership of women’s sport takes place across viewing platforms (Reuters, 2021).
And what happened to these athlete’s personal following on social media platforms as a result of the final? Both amassed huge follower numbers on their social media profiles, with Raducanu gaining 363,300 and 1.2 million new followers on Twitter and Instagram, respectivelu. Leylah Fernandez had equally impressive gains of 72,000 on Twitter and 250,000 on Instagram, despite finishing second to Raducanu (Shitole, 2021; Akabas, 2021). These strong signals suggest the Canadian public is both interested in watching women athletes and in continuing to follow and engage with them after games.
In Canada, perhaps the most recent example of monumental support for women athletes was from the women’s gold medal soccer match during the 2020 Olympics. That game drew 4.4 million viewers, an audience of nearly 12% of Canadians (CBC Sports, 2021). To put it in perspective, far more Canadians watched the women’s soccer team win gold than watched the 2021 Stanley Cup final, which only captured an audience of 3.6 million (Tirabassi, 2021). This evidence provides a strong signal for women’s sport and Canadians’ desire to watch women athletes compete.
Why is this disconnect between sport media coverage and consumer interest in women athletes so important? While the media doesn’t tell us “what to think,” it does tell us “what to think about.” And today, our sports broadcasters are telling us to think a lot about men’s sport.
Despite this current climate, there’s a potential disruptor in the system. In 2020, on the eve of International Women’s Day, CBC Sports announced that it was committing to gender-based sport coverage across all its platforms (Butler, 2020). At the time Chris Wilson, CBC’s Executive Director of Sports and Olympics stated that the CBC was committed “to providing audiences with equal opportunity to watch, read about, meet and hear from female sporting heroes.” At the time, Olympian Jennifer Heil commented that this change may be integral in keeping more women and girls in sport (Butler, 2020). Now, we need to track this commitment and hopefully add more signal than noise to the Canadian sport media landscape.
The path forward
In this article, we summarize the current state of signals and noise in the Canadian sport system around the federal goal of gender equity by 2035. What do we know? That we still have a long way to go. While we may be close in some areas (such as board composition), when we dig further into the numbers for a true signal, we see there are just as many boards achieving high grades as there are achieving low grades for gender equity.
The same is true for senior staff in these organizations. While many organizations perform well in terms of gender equity, an almost equal number perform poorly with women in under 24% of senior positions.
The continued prevalence of weak signals and loud noise in the system is the reason that Sport Canada established E-Alliance. Its mission is to “provide credible thought leadership and generate an evidence base to support gender equity in sport through innovative, transparent and sustainable research activities, data curation, network building and partnerships, to effect pan-Canadian behaviour change.” E-Alliance’s initial research agenda has been formed around 4 pillars:
Longitudinal data on participation and leadership
Evaluation of programs and interventions
The nature of the experience of women and girls in sport
Transforming the system to meet the goal of gender equity
To advance gender equity in sport, it’s critical that more longitudinal studies and work investigate the lived experiences of all women and girls with sport. Specifically, research focusing on women and girls with intersectional identities must be prioritized so that all Canadians can experience the benefit of sport. We must continue to track how the global pandemic affects sport participation and ensure that sport rebuilds in a gender equitable way. That will safeguard that any gains before the pandemic aren’t lost, nor are women and girls set back further.
E-Alliance is a knowledge sharing hub dedicated to gender+ equity in sport. It’s made up of scholars and partner organizations from across Canada. E-Alliance is led by 3 co-directors: Gretchen Kerr, Ph.D. (University of Toronto), Guylaine Demers, Ph.D. (Université Laval) and Ann Pegoraro, Ph.D. (University of Guelph).
E-Alliance strives to:
Act as the central resource hub for research on gender+ equity in sport and movement cultures in Canada.
Build a sustainable pan-Canadian network of researchers on gender+ equity in sport, including graduate students and emerging scholars.
Work with key partners in the sport community to translate research to practice.
Fund innovative research that provides new ways of looking at persistent problems.
Share research findings and data in accessible ways.
Deliver consistent, trusted information about gender+ equity in sport and movement cultures to audiences nationally and internationally.
Photo credit: Conestoga College Condors Athletics
Some coaches are the “only” in their organization: the only woman, only racialized person or only racialized woman. Being the “only” relates to feelings of otherness and isolation, threatening coaches’ confidence.
Social support and environmental comfort can build coach confidence. Racism and sexism in sport in Canada can make support and comfort harder to achieve for Black women coaches.
Mentorship offers a way to develop confidence in Black women coaches, fostering professional development and personal growth, encouraging coaches to be their best selves.
Providing opportunities for (racialized) women coaches to learn from others can build confidence and competence in coaches, and encourage more women to enter and stay in coaching.
Anyone involved in sport knows that confidence is key. Whether coach, athlete or participant, the importance (and fragility) of confidence can’t be overlooked.
The vital and tenuous nature of confidence means steps must be taken to safeguard the confidence of racialized women coaches, who are sometimes the “only” in their organization. They’re facing isolation and otherness that can hinder their confidence and wellbeing.
Mentorships are shown to enhance confidence in racialized athletes (Brandon, 2012) and women coaches (Allen & Reid, 2019). Yet, no current research details the benefits for Black women coaches in Canada. This article builds on previous research (Joseph & McKenzie, 2022; Joseph, McKenzie, & Brown, 2021; Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021) examining barriers faced by and resilience of racialized coaches in Canada.
Here we share findings on the importance of building knowledge and nurturing confidence for sport coaches who identify as Black women. We also offer best practices for optimizing bringing in (racialized) women coaches across sport and retaining them.
Race, gender and confidence in coaching
Sport coaches aim to build confidence in their athletes. Coaches need self-confidence to optimize the support they can provide. To this end, confidence is among the most influential, extensively studied psychological concepts (Machida et al., 2017).
Confidence has been shown to be associated with many positive attributes and outcomes, including goal orientation (Vosloo et al., 2009), lower cognitive and physiological anxiety (Cresswell & Hodge, 2004), and ultimately, optimized performance (Moritz et al., 2000). Improving confidence has been identified as a pivotal component of sport performance for athletes, however, coaches must also have self-confidence.
Because coach self-confidence and performance are important parts of athlete self-confidence and performance, programs that support coaches can be critical to the success of an entire sport organization. Coach confidence can be built through social support and environmental comfort. This can be harder to achieve for Black women coaches, given racism and sexism in sport (Fielding‐Lloyd & Mean, 2011; Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021).
In the U.S., gendered racism has been found to influence the access, opportunities, retention, promotion and overall experiences of racialized women, specifically in sport leadership roles (Cunningham et al., 2021; Nesseler et al., 2021). This body of research emphasizes it’s important to provide more opportunities for racialized women to coach, so they can learn from others who share their experiences. And also so that they can influence more women to enter and stay in coaching.
There’s scarce research on the intersections of race, gender and confidence in Canadian coaching. What little research has been done shows that coaching leadership is predominantly white and male in Ontario University Athletics (OUA) (Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021). For example, only 22% of OUA coaches who responded to a survey identified as racialized (Joseph, Razack, & McKenzie, 2021, p. 8). Another study of university athletics across Canada showed only 17% of head coaches and 22% of assistant coaches identified as women (Donnelly, Norman, & Kidd, 2013).
The major takeaway is that more work is needed to make Canadian sport coaching more equitable and diverse, from grassroots to high performance. Mentorship programs can be a buffer against cultural norms and social inequities affecting the confidence of underrepresented sport stakeholders, such as women and people of color.
Research with the Black Female Coaches Mentorship Program
Mentorship is designed to enhance the recruitment, retention and promotion of coaches across sport by advancing coach skill, comfort and confidence. In 2020, the Black Female Coaches Mentorship Program(BFCMP) began as a way to address the gap in mentorship for Black women coaches in Canada. We aimed to further understand Black women coaches’ experiences through research with the BFCMP.
As part of this research, we observed 3 mentorship sessions and conducted semi-structured, 1‑on‑1 interviews with 15 of 27 inaugural mentors and mentees. One of our objectives was to determine what role mentorships play in building confidence among Black women coaches.
As the only woman coach or only racialized coach in their organization, most participants in the BFCMP described feeling alone and unable to connect deeply with other coaches in their organization. However, there are dozens of Black women sport coaches who share their experiences across many sports organizations in all provinces. And there’s significant potential for the coaches to learn from each other. They just needed an opportunity to meet.
Coaches joined the BFCMP wanting to network with other people of their racial background and gender. An unexpected outcome for many participants was the range of knowledge they acquired by interacting with other coaches. Even seasoned mentors learned from mentees. Knowledge about self-care, navigating racism and sexism, and understanding how sport systems operate was imperative to improving their coaching.
Another essential area of learning was in building confidence. Because of the discrimination they had previously faced, some coaches doubted their skills, abilities, decisions and even self-worth. By seeing others in similar situations who have succeeded, the coaches in BFCMP could shift their lens from diffidence to confidence.
Below, the 3 main themes of our findings (friendship, learning and speaking up) point to the importance of building knowledge and confidence in Black women’s communities.
Theme 1: Friendship
Many BFCMP participants have few sport coaches in their communities who look like them. Mentors and mentees expressed learning through the experiences of other Black women was the biggest boost to their confidence. The learnings ranged from coaching best practices and communication techniques to styling hair and sharing home-cooked recipes.
“[The] best part was connecting with women [who] look like me, learning best practices, and celebrating everyone’s accomplishments.”
– Tiffany, mentor
Mentee Nika echoed a similar sentiment: “That was super cool, learning about other people’s experiences. … I realize that a lot of things that I have been feeling, everybody [in that] group has felt. … On the calls, I would see some girls in bonnets. I would see some girls in braids, twists. … We talk about ‘How do I make fufu?’ … It was great vibes. Then we had [a mentor] talking about what it’s like having two kids and being a successful coach.”
Participants felt they really got to know other women through the power of storytelling. For example, mentor Jolene and mentee Ella both thrived because the program was one of the first opportunities they’d had to connect with other Black women coaches to support their learning. They emphasized the interpersonal support gained through individual and group mentorship. For example:
“I loved meeting with my mentees because we got to really talk … really dive into understanding who they are, not only as a coach but as a person, … giving them the objective view of what situations [they] are going through and giving them a different scope to look through. I loved going through that with my mentees and they’ve taught me a lot in return.”
– Jolene, mentor
Ella noted, “The best part of the program for me was the conversation and mentorship I had with my mentor in particular. … [Monthly sessions] provided an opportunity to reconnect with the other mentees and see how they were doing.” Knowing the mentees “as a person” with a regular “opportunity to reconnect” was critical to the program’s success.
By reflecting, connecting and offering advice, mentors and mentees can impart knowledge to each other. Mentor-only sessions were part of the training for the mentorship program. But Ariel reveals that mentees would have appreciated “a better opportunity to connect with other mentees to socialize on our own on a zoom call and ask each other questions and get to know each other our own way.”
The importance of spaces to connect can’t be understated. Combating loneliness is a key way to build confidence. Learning about others allowed for learning about the self.
Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:
Promote means for Head and Assistant Coaches and aspiring coaches to talk and socialize
Connect coaches internationally with a mentor who shares some of their experiences
Create mentee-only sessions as well as mentor-only sessions to encourage individuals to connect with one another
Theme 2: Learning
Participants in the BFCMP discussed the ways their confidence soared through learning. Many anticipated they would expand their knowledge of coaching tactics and techniques through the program. Instead, they were surprised to learn a wide range of self-directed soft-skills, important components of professional development (PD).
“Because my mentee was actually in my sport, I thought, OK, it’s going to be technically focused … and it wasn’t at all… There’s so much beyond that’s self-development, self-perspective, self-confidence.”
The skill Jolene taught and reinforced with her mentees was positive self-talk: “I taught them to make sure they’re reflecting on their self-talk because, as Black women, we often have self-deprecating thoughts. And that made me check myself. How often do I check-in with … how I think about myself or how I talk to myself?”
It can be difficult to navigate barriers related to becoming a certified coach. The process can also be costly and confusing. Sarah believed Black women coaches can be discouraged by the complex National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) process. However, she suggests mentorship as a way to gain comfort and confidence. “[I needed] a little bit more understanding of the NCCP process and how you get your levels, and I know that other women were more comfortable with it because … they’ve probably done the coaching stuff. … I worked with a [mentor] so I could feel more comfortable with it.”
When rules and practices are confusing for some outsiders, systemic discrimination can follow. Hauck (2020) found that the NCCP is inherently racist as inequitable policies including expensive training, on-site education and complicated websites disadvantage some excellent Indigenous coaches who are unaware of how the system operates. Mentorship is a way to help overcome barriers to coaching entry presented by lack of certification. Mentors and mentees noted both formal PD sessions and informal PD conversations were a valued part of the program that increased coach learning and understanding.
“[BFCMP] changed me tremendously through the wonderful conversations I had with the mentees and mentors as it gave more understanding and comprehension about myself, the world and perception of the world towards Black women in sport. Through their mentorship, they assured me with great words of wisdom on how to tackle the negative perceptions and how to leverage my identity as a Black woman in sport to get through the doors of opportunity.”
Participants of mentorship programs clearly benefit from a wide range of knowledge about self, about processes, and about navigating racism and sexism in sport. All are important aspects of coaching and self-confidence.
Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:
Invite coaches for training on formal and informal aspects of the work, openly acknowledging that race and gender factor into the field of coaching
Include psychological concepts like ‘self-talk’ in training as an essential coaching skill
Theme 3: Speaking up and public speaking
Participants supported each other by providing strategies to improve their experiences and their representation as knowledgeable experts. Mentee Nika discussed how Black women can become siloed within society
“[We talked about] creating more spaces for minority groups to speak out, not just on topics about Black Lives Matter. There’s so much knowledge that [we] have that I feel we are kind of boxed in … You’re only reaching out to me for this [anti-racism work]. It’s not for the other things that I have knowledge on … In a sense, [mentorship built] up my self-worth … I’ve learned to stay true to myself, stand in my own shoes, and speak up for myself more too.”
– Nika, mentee
Nika believes that if more Black women coaches are invited to share their knowledge, that will elevate how they’re seen in the broader sport community. For Black women coaches, being heard and seen in public means that they can be role models for others. When Black women are the only ones in their organization, and are doubting themselves, they may see their inclusion as tokenism. When they’re confident, they see their inclusion as merited and an opportunity for the next generation of coaches to imagine their own potential and future inclusion. This aligns with what mentor Jolene stated:
“I’ve been turning the idea of tokenism into a chance for me to open up as a representation, a reflection of those who maybe need me in that space to know that they too can take up this space and be confident in it … Playing at the national level and coaching at the provincial level gives those kids who look up to me a chance to think that hey, I belong here too. See it, believe it, achieve it.”
Nora mentions the advantage the program provided her in speaking truth to the experiences of Black women coaches because she finally understood her situation wasn’t unique. Now, she has a network of people to use as a sounding board: “I [was] stressed out like, ‘OK, how do I do this? I wonder if people understand this?’ … When dealing with a man, ‘Is [he] gonna take it the wrong way because of my race or because I’m a female?’ I was always second guessing myself. But now I have the confidence to … bounce this idea off of someone else, or ask a coach or another female [who] might have gone through the same thing and get her point of view. I feel more comfortable attacking these situations and it’s giving me more confidence. Now I speak out against stuff. [I’m] more vocal about my passions and the things that I believe in.”
Through the program, coaches built their confidence in speaking up and speaking out about their shared experiences. They came to understand the benefits of being seen and heard.
Action items for coach educators and sport administrators:
Encourage honest sharing about experiences of racism and sexism, and strategies for change
Provide opportunities for Black women coaches to speak publicly about a range of topics
Practical takeaways for putting research into action
Safer spaces: Create safer spaces that promote belonging and community, particularly among racialized women, given the isolation and otherness to which they’re susceptible and to which they’re subjected. Opportunities for knowledge exchange can prevent the loss of great talent and can stimulate peak performance and retention.
Sponsorship: Provide opportunities for professional development and coach licensing, assisting coaches in overcoming the financial and systemic challenges of becoming a certified coach. Information sessions and discussions about how to navigate certification processes are essential, especially if the aim is to promote equity and inclusivity.
Platform for dialogue: Provide a platform for racialized women coaches to speak up and speak out on various topics inside and outside of sport. Black women coaches are capable of being subject matter experts on conversations outside of anti-racism or sexism. Holding space to engage in many topics benefits the confidence of women coaches, both personally and professionally, and demonstrates that organizations value their voices.
Mentorship programs offer Black women coaches a one-stop shop: a safe space, sponsorship, and a platform to dialogue and deliberate. These factors all greatly contribute to enhancing coach confidence. And, making them available through mentorship is a win for all stakeholders involved.
“What it’s done for me? It’s just I, I can’t put it in words. It’s amazing, an amazing program.”
– Nora, mentee
The Black woman mentor “goes beyond the institutional goal of solely promoting cognitive growth and focuses on the socioemotional well-being … understanding the marginalization and invisibility that Black [women] face” (Greene, 2020, p. 2). Through mentorship, the development of relationships among Black women can nurture self-confidence to better position them to navigate society. If sport is to be more equitable, feminist and anti-racist, then increasing opportunities for building confidence and relationships must be a focal point.
Based on their lived experience, women participants understood the profound effects of racism and sexism in sport. Through their conversations, the participants gained knowledge of how to address trauma and pain through self-care and self-confidence, how to conceptualize their goals and ambitions, and how to resist systems of domination. Having obtained that combined knowledge, they can help close the gap between anti-racism and feminist theory on one hand, and lived practices, speech habits, and ways of occupying space in sport coaching on the other.
Mentorship offers a methodology to develop the confidence of Black women coaches, fostering professional and personal growth through formal and informal means. Race-specific and gender-specific mentorship programs protect and promote the confidence of racialized women coaches, cultivating optimal performance in both athletes and coaches.
It has been almost a quarter of a century since women’s ice hockey debuted at the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Despite a heartbreaking loss for Team Canada in the final of the first Olympic women’s hockey competition, it was a big step forward for women’s hockey on the international stage. Since then, Canada has established itself as a powerhouse of women’s hockey, earning a place in every Olympic final to date and earning 5 gold medals, with the recent Beijing Olympic gold (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, 2022).
But what’s driving participation in women’s hockey? Despite the success of our national women’s hockey team, the fact remains that women make up less than 20% of the players in Canada. To maintain our status as a world leader and continue promoting our national sport, we must better understand the motives and factors that influence girls’ and women’s participation in hockey
To this end, we conducted a study of women hockey players in Quebec with the support of a SIRC Match Grant. We received survey responses from 290 women and interviewed 10 of those women who were involved in different levels of hockey. In this blog, we provide an overview of the findings. We’ll discuss what’s motivating women in Quebec to participate in hockey, the factors that drive or limit their participation, and possible solutions to increase the number of girls and women in hockey.
Barriers to girls and women’s hockey participation in Quebec
In 2021, it was reported that Ontario had 8 times more girls on its hockey teams than Quebec. Girls’ registrations represent 21% of all registrations in Ontario, while they represent around 10% in Quebec. One possible reason for this discrepancy is that hockey is more difficult to access for girls and women in Quebec.
For example, in Quebec, many girls who want to reach the highest levels must play with boys. Let’s take the most recent example of an athlete who made the news with her achievements on the ice: goaltender Ève Gascon. Gascon is the first woman in 22 years (since Charline Labonté in 2000) to not only lace up her skates, but also record a win, in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). Ève played hockey with boys her entire life, eventually progressing to the men’s NCAA Division 1 college network where she currently plays. In 2020, she signed her first women’s hockey contract with the University of Minnesota, which she committed to join in 2022 or 2023, once she graduates from college. Her journey is remarkable, but it also shows how difficult it is for girls and women to progress to the highest levels of the sport.
In the study conducted in Trois-Rivières, we found that accessibility to the sport of women’s hockey is a very real problem. Participants who reported playing in men’s leagues did so primarily because there weren’t women’s leagues in their area or because the calibre of men’s hockey was more appropriate for their development. Our findings indicate that girls and women’s hockey in Quebec isn’t only difficult to access, but also doesn’t offer enough variety of competitive levels to meet the needs of all girls and women. Athletes who did play in women-only competitive networks were often forced to move away from home or travel long distances to practices and games. Consequently, many girls and women abandoned the sport.
Key factors driving girls and women’s hockey participation in Quebec
So, what motivates or inspires girls and women in Quebec to jump on the ice, despite the challenges they face? The Quebec women who responded to our survey identified 3 primary sources of motivation for their participation in hockey:
Desire for self-accomplishment (to progress, to improve)
Acquisition and mastery of new skills
Some women also identified positive emotions, stimulation from being exposed to something new, learning and recognition (winning) as additional motivators. In our sample, these trends were similar regardless of the athlete’s competitive level.
In addition, the women in our study cited the importance of having role models who inspired them in hockey. While the term “role model” might bring to mind professional athletes like Marie-Philippe Poulin or Kim St-Pierre, our study revealed that Quebec women hockey players, whether at the recreational or competitive level, tend to consider their parents, guardians and coaches as the most influential role models. Nonetheless, respondents indicated that they would also welcome opportunities to connect with elite players by attending international games and having the opportunity to practise with champions.
If girls and women’s participation in hockey is to be encouraged, coaches and sport leaders need to be sympathetic to girls’ and women’s needs and motivations. Access to supportive environments with positive role models is crucial. So, how can we ensure that women and girls have access to a healthy environment where they experience success, fun, excitement and learning? We offer suggestions to help bridge the gap between the concerns of researchers and practitioners who care about girls and women’s participation in hockey.
Thinking outside the box
Knowing that girls and women in Quebec are motivated by having fun and learning new skills, one solution might be to consider alternatives to how hockey programming is delivered in the rest of Canada. Indeed, it may not be necessary to divide girls’ teams into age categories like the boys. For example, teams of girls with wider age ranges and programs that focus on individual skill development could create a competitive model that encourages girls and women’s development in Quebec’s hockey environment. Such a model could also help to create a competitive environment for girls and women at higher levels of the sport.
We also know that the social environment is critical for promoting girls and women’s sport participation. With this in mind, regular social events could be integrated into girls and women’s hockey programming to recruit and retain participants. For example, women’s leagues could organize practices where athletes and participants are encouraged to bring their families and friends. Such events would help to expose a wider population to girls and women’s hockey, and potentially recruit new participants.
These are only a few suggestions to increase girls’ and women’s participation in hockey. It remains to be seen whether such measures will be implemented in Quebec or in the rest of Canada, even though they draw attention to an important issue for our national sport. Canadian women’s hockey has seen significant success on the international stage, but there’s still a long way to go to grow the sport in Canada.
The authors would like to thank the direction of Hockey Québec (female hockey) for their collaboration in the development of this project. The authors also thank all players who participated in this study.
What “works” for advancing women into sport leadership positions? E-Alliance is conducting new research to answer this exact question. E-Alliance is exploring how allyship, mentorship and sponsorship, more “formal” and gender equitable hiring processes, and implementing quotas for women as leaders can help to increase women’s leadership in sport.