Ever try and write something and just can’t seem to get the words out?

There’s times that ideas and opinions just flow hard and fast out of me.

But lately, I start to type and an unmotivated feeling clouds everything.

The voice in my head that pulls my fingers from the keyboard and whispers (sometimes yells) the question what’s the point?

That asks if there is any point in writing because it just feels like nothing ever changes. It’s the same shit again and again. And the amount of effort it takes to move the needle even a tiny bit feels like trying to move a Mount Everest size mountain and so the voice inside my head asks over and over again: what’s the fucking point of sitting down and writing about any of it?

But here we are. I’ll give it a shot. Because I’m getting sick of the conversations I’m having.

I’ve had chats with a few men lately about why there are hardly any female coaches in Canada.

I don’t bring it up. They do.

In the form of trying to unravel some mystery that they can’t wrap their heads around.

And after a few of these conversations, I can’t help but ask myself if the men that are asking are truly ignorant or if they don’t want to face the answers. Because knowing the why behind something implores one to take action. A change that may not benefit them, and could even hurt their opportunities or finances. Ignorance gives safety: an excuse for inaction.

I see the answers so clearly, but I also recognize that my perspective as a woman may make the view I’m staring at far clearer.

But I’m finding these conversations repetitive, triggering and tiresome, so I feel compelled to share what I do know. Perhaps it will enlighten some; these concrete answers serving to see if men truly want to be a part of the solution. Or maybe it will just serve as acknowledgement that despite answers, no one in a position of privilege gives a shit enough to do something meaningful and change the paradigm.

So to the men out there who are wondering why there are few women involved in coaching in Canada (or all the places that we are under-represented): if reading any of this resonates at all with you: Spread the word. Tell your friends. Stop asking us why. Start doing something to change things within your world if it’s something you truly give a shit about and want to change. And not just because it makes your program look better to be able to check the box of a female face on your website.

Do it because having diversity in gender and race in leadership positions and everything else makes the sport better. For everyone.

—–

I also recognize that my strong feelings on this go deeper than soccer. I believe my sensitivity and annoyance of these conversations come simply from being sick of the bullshit that exists from 41 years of being a woman on planet earth.

The scraps that we are just expected to take in whatever capacity they are handed to us.

The extra fight that seems to exist just to survive and live in some semblance of peace and safety in all capacities at times.

I’ve felt emotional this weekend reading about Sarah Everard. She’s a 33 year woman that was murdered in London recently. Who was kidnapped and murdered after walking home alone in the dark in the evening. Murdered by a policeman no less. The pain was further deepened watching women get arrested for having a vigil in her honor this weekend in, ironically, “the name of health and safety.”

Reading the Sarah Everard story has felt extra triggering as I continue to reflect on my soccer experience, a processing and healing of a deep wound that flowed fast and hard since I wrote my blog 2 years ago. Processing that continued after the asshole coach I wrote the blog about was arrested in December almost exactly 4 months ago.

4 brave women willing to press charges and disrupt their own lives, having to relive awful memories.

9 sex charges over 20 years. 1988 to 2008.

Trying to process why instead of it making me feel better, I haven’t slept well since his arrest. And I’m not even involved in the criminal charges but I’m angry. Angry that this went so much deeper than the terrorizing that he did to me and so many of my teammates and friends. Wondering what life would have looked like if someone so shitty didn’t have control and total power over something that mattered so much to me. Knowing with certainty that he would still have full access to vulnerable, teenage girls if I hadn’t written the blog, and how unfair it was that I was put in that position. Speaking to victims that have to deal with the bullshit court system that favors the accused and allows their lawyers to push back court dates, disrupt the lives of victims and play the oldest defense tactic in the book: to draw things out as long as they can.

Women always seeming to have the shit end of every stick.

My processing and anger continues with conversations that I’ve had before and since the arrest of people in the Vancouver soccer community, both those who hired him and put him back on the field and others that saw him coaching every weekend. With exception of the tiniest handful, almost every single one, a man.

The excuse from most? Many of whom I want to scream at and ask if they would be so laid back about it if it was their daughter, or sister, or wife or girlfriend who was at the other end of the consequences of such a total lack of action.

“We heard the rumours but we thought it had to do with a sexual relationship with an adult player.”

I imagine them saying it in a representation of washing their hands of any kind of role they had in the situation. A sprinkling of holy water absolving people from responsibility or accountability. The salve that allows them to put their head down and sleep every night without having to acknowledge the role they played in allowing him out there. In not investigating it further or asking more questions.

In my weaker moments I’d like to scream the question as to how and why someone would be fired for a sexual relationship with an adult player, or if they considered how the adult player involved if he was coaching the u20 Canadian team would have been a 18 or 19 year old under his full power and control.

Ask them if that made it ok in their mind since no “rules” were broken. But those are questions I just don’t have the energy to pose anymore.

This shit gets tiring and it gets old. Fast. Having to still exist amidst a community that has taken very little responsibility or acknowledged in a meaningful way the harm that their total inaction and enablement caused.

——

But let’s go back to many men not understanding why females aren’t interested in coaching in Canada.

To give some background context into my own personal experience of existing in the world that belongs to men, let me give some of my own experiences. These have nothing to do with the soccer world. But I think it’s important for men to understand the baggage that most women are forced to carry around before they even get to the field.

My introduction that it wasn’t safe to be a woman started when I was 16 and was grabbed by a creepy old man at a bus stop while waiting for the bus to school one morning. He asked me what time it was and then proceeded to invade my space and grab me and ask for a kiss. Shocked, I pushed him away and I ran, waited for him to walk down the road, and then my bus came. I hopped on it like nothing had happened, got to school and stared blankly into space for 2 classes trying to process what had happened before breaking down crying to one of my friends in the cafeteria at lunch. I spent my afternoon giving a statement to the police.

The police called to follow up to see how I was doing and that was it. My first taste of the kind of shit that women are supposed to face, and then put it in their pocket and move on.

There was a memorable summer in Colorado when I was 19, that my friend and I took a 70 year old Yale alum up on an offer to take us to see Yellowstone National Park and then ended up running away from our shared hotel room with him on the second night we were there. It was a grand finale of sorts that morning after a weekend filled with inappropriate things being said to us that creeped us out progressively as the weekend moved on. We eventually landed at the police station to tell a shocking story about how creepy men come in all ages and forms, and had a stern police officer named Anne Field, who’s name I noted because it was the same as one of my parents friends, tell me and my shell shocked teammate that you never could trust men because they always wanted something. “May this be a lesson to you girls, no man ever does anything just to be nice. It doesn’t matter their age, if there are two of you. You need to always be on guard and not put yourself into vulnerable situations. I can’t tell you how many women have sat in the chair you’re sitting in, similarly in a bad situation and needing help.

It seemed harsh in the moment but as life went on, it morphed into completely reasonable advice. My friend and I took our one way bus ticket back to Boulder, Colorado, from Cody, Wyoming, and on no sleep went to our jobs the next day acting like nothing had happened.

That same summer we had a guy approach us at the park where we were training together offering to help train us. Although we didn’t ask or need the help, he insisted and we tamely, and politely like we as women had been trained to do, reluctantly accepted.

He proceeded to spend the summer stalking us, landing with me encountering him in a forest by myself when I was out for a run in the foothills of the mountains around us, terrified at the vulnerable situation I found myself in, but trying to play it cool. Let’s grab a drink I said and smiled just wanting to get the fuck out of being by myself in the forest with the creep.

He pushed his bike behind me, and as soon as I hit a stair case, I told him I’d meet him at the top. I took off sprinting up the stairs and not stopping til I got home, pulling my best Forrest Gump and running a record time to safety where I shook under my bed for an hour, home alone, convinced that he was going to bust through the door and harm me.

Myself and my friend Megan spent our last night in Colorado that summer with a baseball bat between us and a dresser pushed in front of the door convinced that one of the two men would come flying through the door to violate us, more than they already had, before we left the state and went back to school.

A few years later, traveling in Asia, my friend and I were chased by men on a remote island in Indonesia terrified until we got to our car, jumped in and drove as fast as we could to get away from them, praying they didn’t have the means to catch us.

The sad thing is that so many of these moments of feeling unsafe are just woven into my memory as unremarkable. Repressed until I started to do my own inventory of them.

I could keep going, but I won’t. You get the point. But I share to just know the lack of safety and support that we as women feel before we even step into the male-dominated soccer world that is a representation of the greater world, and why sometimes there’s other places we’d just rather be.

———

In terms of how these experiences weave into soccer, a few years ago, I hung out with a friend in Thailand who had nothing to do with the soccer world. Playing professionally until I was 34, I really only started to spend significant time with people outside of the game after I retired. My conversation with her was about a year prior to the blog and I was only starting to get the kind of perspective that comes with distance from something.

We were an interesting pair.

She was a gorgeous, six foot tall blonde yoga instructor. She owned every inch of her sexuality and her beauty, wearing little and dressing in a way that almost dared every guy riding past us on a scooter to almost fall off, most of whom did, trying to catch a look. And she loved it.

It was all so foreign to me. I admired her confidence to attract attention to herself and examined it like I was at some kind of an art museum trying to unpack a Monet.

At one point I said to her. “I think it’s so fascinating hanging out with you and how you so confidently draw male attention to yourself and love it. I feel like I’ve lived my whole life doing the opposite along with all the girls I played with.”

I said this to her dressed in my baggy soccer shorts, t-shirt, hair in a ponytail and no make up ensemble that was my signature look for the good part of two decades.

But what she said so casually next blew my mind for the accuracy and the deep impact that to that point I didn’t see.

Do you think it’s just a habit and you never want to draw attention to yourself or your looks because of all the creepy soccer coaches you’ve told me about? She asked innocently.

If there’s a sound that a truth bomb makes when it explodes, that’s what I heard.

I reflected back to all the coaches that constantly blurred and pushed lines of personal and professional, many of whom used our teams as their potential dating pools and how as someone that just wanted to play, it almost became instinctual for my safety not to draw any attention to myself so I could be left alone.

How that behavior became ingrained.

A normal that I couldn’t see until she pointed it out.

It was a revelation confirmed later in many conversations I had with teammates who similarly had their mind blown when I pointed it out and asked them about their experiences.

More former teammates than I can count, upon reflection, felt the same. Realizing that they too camouflaged themselves like prey trying not to be noticed by the predators around them.

——–

So now with some background let’s get right down to the nitty gritty.

The question that I feel like I’ve been asked ad nauseam over the last few weeks:

Why there aren’t more women coaching in Canada.

I’ll go micro again here, from the perspective of what I’ve seen and my own experience in North and West Vancouver, BC. I’m guessing if this is what I’ve experienced in a community of about 150,000 some version of this is playing in cities across the country.

  1. I was involved with North Shore Girls Soccer Club from when I was 7 years old to the week I wrote my blog. I played as a 7 year old at the club through my youth career and on and off for the next 32 years. I served on the club board in 2016/2017, and I coached in various capacities at the club since I was 16 years old. The Thursday night, 3 days after I wrote the blog, I went to my women’s team practice for North Shore Girls and a photographer from the local paper came to take a photo of me in the bubble where we were practicing. As he was doing so, the TD of the club, a man, came up from behind me, blew right past me without acknowledging me (something I knew with certainty he never would have done to a fellow white male in his 50’s like him) and told the photographer he needed to leave. When I introduced myself, he said abrasively, “I know who you are.” When I asked him what the problem was and if it had to do with the blog I wrote, explaining that it was just a headshot, his response was, “we don’t want to have the club associated with the blog and people will recognize the bubble in the background.” So I left with the photographer who was ordered out, and spent the night crying to a friend, shocked to have been shamed in a place where I should have reasonably expected support. It’s worth noting it was the only time since I wrote the blog that I didn’t feel supported and was shamed. The next day the TD, who was in the first year of his contract and not from the area, walked into what he didn’t realize was my workplace at the local soccer academy the year before, that the North Shore Girls Club staffed, and surrounded by my former co-workers, asked if anyone knew who I was. He started disparaging me before someone awkwardly piped up (as my friend who was there told the tale) and let him know that I had worked there the year before and everyone knew me. Later I asked a male friend and former high level player why this TD would have been so clearly antagonized by me and the blog and he started laughing sympathetically. “He’s a former teammate of the Whitecaps president and does the play by play of the Whitecaps games on TSN Radio”. Subsequently I had a conversation with the male president of the North Shore Girls Board a few days later who confirmed his full support of the TD. A nice close-up example of the old boys network hard at work supporting and defending each other, ironically in a club financed entirely by girls.

So that club that I spent 32 years of my life at? I won’t go anywhere near it again as long as that TD and President are involved. And while we are at it, I ask in this hunt for female coaches: why is there a male TD of the biggest girls club in Canada? What did the club do to find a suitable woman for the position and why wasn’t that a priority? I’d be hard pressed to believe that there wouldn’t be a highly qualified woman interested in a position that is close to, or over six figures.

Instead I believe it’s another representation of how if soccer in Canada was a financial pie, women are rarely offered the good slices and instead are told to be grateful for the scraps.

2. I had friend go on maternity leave for a year. She was a well established local coach, a former high level player and exactly the kind of woman that was on the road to making coaching a career that everyone says are so hard to find. She was well positioned with a great job until the male that replaced her for the year she was out for maternity leave made her return so uncomfortable, with the clear intention of wanting to keep the job that her maternity leave had allowed him, that she decided to leave the profession entirely.

3. I had many of my friends involved in coaching through my 20’s and 30’s and watched them leave the profession one by one. One example was a handful of women leaving coaching after dealing with a less knowledgeable and qualified male TD. He did not like that they voiced concerns on aspects of sessions, as they had played pro and recognized things that were lacking and so he promptly used his power to reduce their coaching hours and bring in women who wouldn’t question him. He didn’t last more than a year, but the damage had been done and all the women who he’d power tripped on, never returned to coaching.

4. I’ve heard from many friends that went to coaching courses over the last decade that they dealt with such condescending instructors and an unpleasant environment that they just couldn’t be bothered to continue as it was a space that they didn’t feel respected or supported in. I had a bad experience when I took a coaching course in Canada in my 20’s (differing completely to an amazing experience I had with UEFA in my 30’s) and I personally don’t feel compelled to take another coaching course in Canada because of it.

5. I had another friend tell me about working for a local club. A couple of her male co-workers were extremely hostile to her to the point that she dreaded going to coaching. After asking one of them what their issue was, he was honest and said, “I feel like at any moment you’re going to take my job because you’re the only female.” She reassured him with 2 kids at home that she had no desire to take his job, and only after that did her workplace become somewhat bearable to deal with.

These are real scenarios that have happened in the last 10 years in ONE community. From what I’ve witnessed or first hand accounts from my friends. My guess is there are similar things happening around the country.

We are 50 percent of the population and close to that in terms of participation of men and women in soccer in Canada, yet in leadership positions at the Provincial Board level the figure of women on boards is around a quarter, and at the Canada Soccer Board level it’s at 17%.

Furthermore, my guess is if you took the financial pot of money available to be made in the game in Canada, 10 percent would be a generous figure to quote in terms of how much money women are making of that whole pot. Realistically I’m guessing it would be closer to 5 percent.

Finally, in Canada, we don’t have a women’s pro league.

At this point I can’t think of a country in North America or Europe that doesn’t have a women’s pro league that gives a legitimate pathway to the national team. In fact, for girls now, there is LESS, far far less opportunities to play at the next level than there was 15 years ago.

At some point last year I posed a question on Twitter why there wasn’t a CPL for women, and got a level of kickback I wasn’t expecting with the same message I’ve essentially heard over and over again when it comes to women in Canada asking for playing opportunities:

Be grateful for what you have, and let the men have the chance to be successful and then we can talk about the women.

And this is not even addressing the fact that the organization that theoretically is the leader of the culture that flows beneath it have sent a massive message to all women in their country that they don’t matter.

I say this as it has never been addressed in ANY capacity that the Canadian Soccer Association allowed a coach who is now charged with sex crimes to go back into coaching directly in the pathway that they mandated players to go through despite letting him go for sexually harassing players who had given up everything to represent the country.

So I ask every man mystified as to why there are such few women involved with coaching in Canada:

Would you as a woman want to be a part of this kind of environment? Would you feel safe? Appreciated? Compensated at a level that would make you want to dive in and make the game a career? If you’re searching for female coaches are you compensating them in a way that is respectful of the value that no male coach can bring as a female with lived experience in the game?

So in closing, I have come to the conclusion that soccer in Canada is a representation of the world that as women we have been forced to exist within our whole lives.

Quite simply, at it’s fabric it is incredibly sexist. The foundation has been written by toxic white men who don’t have any ideas of what the lived experience is as a woman and don’t truly have a desire to make it any better, especially if it would affect their slice of the pie.

I’d argue if people did care it wouldn’t have felt like it’s gotten worse over the last two decades instead of better.

And I’ll speak for myself and the most of the women I know.

We are tired.

We search for space where we can have safety, security and peace and unfortunately the soccer world is not a place many of us have found those things. Both in the situations we have found ourselves in as coaches (see above) and as players. Often female youth players exit the game having experienced some kind of trauma (magnified further if they were the ones that truly loved the game). As adults women remember those playing experiences and seek a career elsewhere.

So there are the answers. Some of them anyways.

Please don’t ask us anymore or say you don’t understand why we don’t want to be involved. There’s enough information above to do something. Take action. Be an ally. Help us get our voices heard, make our experiences feel like they matter. Give up your power and privilege to give us a meaningful seat at the table.

Til then, please don’t ask, instead understand why many women choose to walk away from the game.

One thought

  1. Thankyou Ciara, don’t think I have the right words or can express enough my appreciation for your words and taking the time and immense energy it takes to put all of this down and to have to go through it all again.

    If it helps (and it will) even one man shift how they show up and even one woman (🙋🏼‍♀️) feel a little less crazy/ not heard or understood – it changes our lives, so Thankyou.

    Foe what it’s worth, I am sorry you have had to go through all of this, and so much more.

    Sincerely, Haleigh

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