The 2020-21 season is like none other in Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) history.

Nonetheless, the CCAA’s successful Female Apprentice Coach Program (FACP) is providing terrific opportunities this year to 19 apprentice coaches who are being mentored by CCAA coaches across the country.

Coach education and training, which is key to the FACP, is being further supplemented this season via the Leadership Development Program. This pilot program was developed and being facilitated by former CCAA student-athlete and current CCAA head coach Danielle Cyr, who is currently doing her Doctorate in Social Sciences at Royal Roads.

The goal of the Leadership Development Program is for the apprentices to feel more competent and confident to lead in sport while understanding and identifying the barriers women face in sport and therefore, being equipped to overcome them.

Cyr’s primary motivation for launching the Leadership Development Program with the CCAA came upon reflecting on her own journey as a young female head coach. Some of the toughest coaching situations she’s faced have had nothing to do with x’s and o’s, but rather relationship building, managing conflict and leading others effectively. The program is structured to address some of the gaps in the literature and help build on previous research, addressing and overcoming barriers for female coaches. The Leadership Development Program is an effective way to combine that passion for sport and research to help support and learn with the next generation of CCAA coaches.

Apprentice coaches, mentors and athletic directors from across the CCAA have been participating on Zoom development sessions this fall. Topics have included women leading in sport, transformational leadership and relevant sport/coach leadership topics. There have also been monthly Zoom calls to debrief leadership learning and challenges.

This program has been especially important during the pandemic, according to Grace Scott, Director of Athletics and Head Coach of the Women’s Volleyball program at The King’s University. It allows those who share similar challenges to connect from across Canada and share what they are learning.

The King’s has two apprentices this season in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC) – Katelyn Hehn who is being mentored by Rick Haxby (Women’s Soccer) and Brynelle Barrs, who is being mentored by Scott herself.

“It has been great to meet with and get to know other mentor coaches in the CCAA, and to hear all the positive things that they are doing with their own programs,” said Scott. “The Leadership Development Program sessions have acted as a catalyst for good discussion and sharing of best practices.”

CCAA apprentice coaches have been engaged, bringing great insight and discussion to each session.

“They’ve been challenging themselves and challenging each other to grow, think and push beyond their current comfort zones,” said Cyr. “Collegiate sport is in great hands with these passionate and capable coaches.”

Amelia Crawford, an apprentice coach at Langara College in the Pacific Western Athletic Conference (PACWEST), has found the program and sessions beneficial as they have helped her become more comfortable in her coaching and aware of her leadership abilities.

“The sessions allow us to learn and discuss topics with other female coaches who are at similar stages in their coaching journeys, so it has been fantastic hearing their experiences and learning from them,” said Crawford, who was mentored this season by Women’s Soccer head coach Mark Eckerle at Langara.

Another positive outcome of this program has been the opportunity for the apprentice coaches to create a safe positive space, share stories and valuable resources while building their own network of other female coaches from across the country.

While the global pandemic has impacted all of our day-to-day lives, varsity athletics is certainly no exception. The Leadership Development Program comes at a unique time when there is an opportunity to reflect on how we support women leading in sport.

“As a coach, having the chance to connect with other coaches and sport leaders has been energizing,” said Cyr. “Through this process, we’ve also been able to share and hear stories of the great work that’s being done throughout the CCAA, which is so important, especially in challenging times.”

For Crawford, the scheduled check-ins and resources available to her are greatly appreciated especially during these challenging and uncertain times. They’ve allowed the apprentices to continue growing as coaches even when they’re unable to see their teams in person.

“The pandemic makes it difficult to connect with others, so I’m very grateful that we have this program to develop our coaching and leadership skills together even if some of us may not be able to coach in person at this time,” said Crawford.