OPINION: How women coaches at Ryerson are changing the game

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By Ella Bonaldi

Behind the glorification of the sports arena, there are a lot of inequalities within this profession—one of many is the lack of women in leadership positions. 

According to the Coaching Association of Canada, women are still underrepresented in coaching, despite making outstanding contributions to Canada’s sports sector. “Although female athletes make up about half of the players on national teams (and sometimes more), the percentage of women who coach at that level is dramatically lower.” As March marks Women’s History Month, gender equality is at the forefront of many companies and teams’ agendas, yet Ryerson has been supporting women coaches for years. 

University-level athletics have seen some progress when it comes to women in coaching roles in recent years. Ryerson specifically has made the effort to hire women coaches for their Ontario University Athletics (OUA) sports teams, with five women in full-time coaching positions during the 2021-22 OUA season. Additionally, women coaches have taken on new roles, such as Kori Cheverie, former assistant coach of the men’s hockey team, who recently was an assistant coach for the Canadian National Women’s Hockey Team at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

You have to see it to believe it”

Ryerson is a great example to other OUA teams that it’s important to hire women coaches who have the qualifications needed to succeed behind the bench. Take head coach Lisa Haley as an example; Haley is the coach of the Rams women’s hockey team and coached with the Premier Hockey Federation’s  Toronto Six in 2020. 

Women’s sports on television have grown more popular, as seen with Team Canada’s recent gold medal game at this year’s Winter Olympic Games. The U.S.-Canada gold medal game averaged 3.54 million viewers on NBC according to Sean Shapiro on Twitter, which makes it the most-watched hockey game in the U.S. since 2019. 

Nicole LaVoi is a senior lecturer in the area of social and behavioral sciences in the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota. She is also the director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls & Women in Sport. 

In her research, she found that currently, women represent 42.6 per cent of the head coaches in women’s sports while men represent 57.4 per cent of the head coaches in women’s sports. In contrast, women represent less than three per cent of the head coaches in men’s sports.”

Rams women’s basketball head coach Carly Clarke, said role models are extremely important especially for young female athletes, and believes that you have to “see it to be it.” It’s harder for young athletes to see them succeeding in those roles when there is no representation. 

“Why is it accepted in the sports world for men to coach women, but so rare and novel for a female to coach males? This is a serious double-standard to me,” said Clarke.

Women coaches at Ryerson have spearheaded this regard, as the university has hired women as coaches for male sports teams in the past. Cheverie became the men’s hockey team’s full-time assistant coach in 2016, making her the first woman to be named to this position in a men’s hockey program in U Sports history. 

In November 2019, she stepped up to coach the Rams men’s hockey squad to a 2-1 win over Laurentian, as head coach Johnny Duco was absent that game. This made her the first woman to individually coach a men’s U Sports hockey team to victory. Duco said he believes he has grown as a coach while working with Cheverie and that having her as a leader for young girls, such as his daughters, to look up to is crucial. 

“I have been very proud of our program for being leaders in this space,” Duco said.

Natalie Bukovec, who coaches the Rams women’s soccer team, said she never had a woman coach growing up playing soccer, and now she is one of the only woman soccer coaches in the OUA. While she said she has never dealt with discrimination because of her gender in such a male-dominated coaching community, she hopes there will be more chances for women to get into coaching sports in the future.

Ryerson boasts a list of other talented women coaches in the varsity coaching space, such as Haley Irwin, the women’s hockey assistant coach, who is also a three-time Olympic medal winner for Canada. These coaches on Ryerson teams have a plethora of skills on and off the field, court or ice. 

“We are very fortunate to have some of the best female coaches in the country leading programs, who were hired based on their qualifications for the position,” said Brian Finniss, Ryerson’s former director of sport, who now works at Acadia University. “Having a female head coach leading a program can be very impactful from a role model perspective for young female student-athletes who maybe didn’t think they could remain in their sport after they finished playing.”

Ryerson continues to be innovative and forward-thinking in all facets, and “creating space for the growth, development and opportunity for women in sports media is definitely an area where this is happening,” said Haley. 

“I have been very proud of our program for being leaders in this space

Off the court, ice or field, the university has also held events to increase the awareness of the need for women in coaching roles. The Global Experiential Sports Lab through The Creative School hosted an event in January 2020 called the “She Can Coach” panel, which according to its website, “highlighted the underrepresentation of women in coaching positions across the sport industry.” 

The panel featured Jen Welter, the first woman coach in the NFL; Kayla Alexander, a former player for the Chicago Sky in the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA); Brittni Donaldson, a current assistant coach with Raptors 905; and Shireen Ahmed, who is currently a sports journalist with CBC Sports. But besides the importance of having more women coaches, is also the need to develop strong female athletes in hopes that they might someday be interested in coaching themselves. 

Despite a multitude of amazing moments and gold medal wins, almost all of the Rams coaches look back on stories of watching their student athletes grow on and off the court as their proudest moments.

The sporting industry still has a long way to go, but it’s impossible to deny that Ryerson coaches are at the forefront of this change, motivating other universities to give women the opportunity to coach and to give young women athletes more role models in leadership roles.


  1. Good work on an important topic. And I bet those women coaches who are working with male teams don’t inflict the body shaming that is so common to male coaches in female environments.

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