“It’s hard to dream something if you can’t see it”: new initiative benefiting local female coaches

Written by Matt Johnson for Coaches Association of Saskatchewan

Through spending most of her life growing up in sports, Emily Humbert, an assistant coach with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies women’s volleyball team, is quick to recognize the significance of women in coaching roles.

Humbert, along with fellow Saskatoon-based coaches Jennie Waldner and Jennifer Robertson, were all recently selected to be a part of the High Performance Women in Coaching Mentorship Grant, a new initiative for 2020, made possible through funding from Sport Canada, the Coaches Association of Saskatchewan and the Canadian Sport Centre Saskatchewan.

“To be able to have programs like this, it’s just increasing the awareness of the importance of helping develop female coaches and it’s showing that it is becoming a priority and not just something that we hope happens,” said Humbert.

“We are making this a priority and institutions across Canada are making this a priority, which I think is incredibly valuable and it is very appreciated by young female coaches, such as myself, to be able to see myself in these positions in the future.”

The year-long program, which has representatives within volleyball, soccer, and swimming in the inaugural instalment, sets out to help grow opportunities for women to improve as coaches and progress through coaching ranks.

“We wanted to allow them to learn, grow and build together over the course of the year with some very specific objectives that they decide upon to help them to grow and develop throughout the course of the mentorship year and then beyond as well,” said Robertson, the executive director of the Coaches Association of Saskatchewan.

Robertson was a part of a collaborative effort that helped build a “made-in Saskatchewan” mentorship program for females in the province, which provided mentor and mentee free reign in the direction of their application for the program.

That self-directed aspect of the initiative is being taken advantage of by the mentees, who seek out a mentor to apply alongside. The participants are focusing on topics that range from developing aerobic capacity systems to supporting athlete’s mental health.

Finding a match for the mentorship program for Humbert was a no-brainer. She sought out Mark Dodds, who she coaches under with the Huskies. . Humbert first got to know Dodds as an athlete, when he took over the team.

“When I finished playing, we had an exit interview,” said Humbert. “Mark just told me that he saw me being part of this program and being part of a program that will achieve some level of success at some point. The conversation really stuck with me.

Humbert began teaching at Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon, where she also serves as a head coach for the senior girls’ volleyball team. But in the summer of 2019, Humbert sat down with Dodds and he outlined a potential return. As coaches, the pair helped end an 18-year Canada West playoff drought in the 2019-20 season.

Humbert, who hopes to one-day coach provincial teams within Sask Volleyball, credits Dodds with realizing the importance of always having at least one female staff member a part of the program and allowing her to learn alongside young women along the way.

Ambitions of coaching on the provincial stage is a sentiment shared by Waldner, who moved from northern Manitoba to Saskatoon in 2005 and has been a part of the local soccer scene ever since. After initially coaching with Hollandia Soccer Club in Saskatoon, Waldner now holds the role of head coach of Astra Soccer Academy’s university preparation program.

Waldner is being mentored by Rahim Mohamed the Director of Soccer with the Saskatchewan Soccer Association. She also had the opportunity to learn during the 2017 Canada Summer Games as a part of the Aboriginal Apprenticeship Coach Program.

“Without these programs, I don’t think I would be where I am,” she said. “The amount of learning, the experiences, the travel, the different people that I’ve got to work with – there’s just no way I’d be where I am today without the Coaching Associations of Canada and Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Soccer Association.”.

While Waldner credits the programs for her rise through the coaching ranks, she is cognizant that more needs to be done to promote women into positions of power in sport.

“It’s hard to dream something if you can’t see it,” she said. “Seeing other women be successful and be not just the token woman at the table, but, be totally invested and looked at for their expertise and their capabilities, I think that’s, that’s the biggest incentive for younger girls to look up to and, and for them to want to get involved.”.

Waldner is enjoying learning from other women including those in other sports. She sees similarities in their experiences as female coaches.

Learning from other women in sport is exactly what Robinson is doing with Marta Belsh.

Robinson, who is the head development coach with the Saskatoon Goldfins Swim Club, grew familiar with Belsh over the past number of years through events and initiatives on the national stage such as Canada Games and National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). The partnership made perfect sense for the two.

Robinson describes Belsh, who is the head coach of the University of New Brunswick Reds swimming team and the Fredericton Aquanauts Swim Team, as a “wealth of knowledge” within the field of physiology for athlete development, which has been the primary focus of their meetings. They also touch on subjects such as training protocols, energy systems, devising sets of training plans and club structure.

“It’s like being able to expand your knowledge base with the support of a mentor,” said Robinson, on what the program experience has been like.”They’ve gone through processes before themselves, so you can bounce off questions or just try to draw from their experience and really use them as a sounding board.

“I was absolutely thrilled to receive the acceptance notification. It’s a real honour to be included in this program. I understand it’s a pilot, so I’m anxious to report on the success of it.”

Plans to continue the grant program are being worked on for 2021.