Shireen Ahmed is a writer, public speaker and Sports Activist focusing on Muslim women in Sports. She is an athlete, advocate, community organizer, and works with Youth of Colour on empowerment projects and is an avid sports coach and mentor. She is a regular contributor to Muslimah Media Watch, a Global Sports Correspondent for Safe World For Women and works on the Muslim Women in Sports website.
Shireen shared her sporting story with us and her experience of coaching soccer in Canada…
What was life like growing up and was sport a part of your childhood?
Sport was a huge piece of my childhood. My father was an Oarsman and he encouraged my Mum to swim, bike, badminton and he taught her to play squash so they could play something together. She was the Table Tennis champ of her university. I learned from them. I started football at 5. I only stopped due to a ban on players with headscarves. I played unofficially- you never really ?leave? the game. I still play.
What are your current roles within Sport?
I am a sport activist and a writer. I speak about gender inequalities and racial disparities in sport and in Sports Media. I focus on Muslim women in sport and their lived experiences, challenges and barriers. I love coaching and committed to running the senior girls football program at my kid’s school.
What inspired you to become a coach?
I started when I was 15 because the club I played for encouraged youth to get some volunteer hours in. I worked with a friend. We started with an U8 squad of energetic girls. It was exhausting but I loved it. As soon I was finished Uni and settled, I started to coach again. The school team I work with exclusively was terrible when I first saw them. They had so much potential but no proper direction. I took over and we won the region-wise tournament five years straight. Last year we got 3rd. Rebuilding year. All my superstars graduated. It is a cycle. We are working.
How do you juggle your coaching / sport commitments with your professional job and family?
I have an incredibly supportive partner. Her understands my passions and he encourages me too. He also coaches our kids?, trains children and helps out whenever he can. We both come from an athletic background. We have a shared Google calendar and everything goes into it. We talk and communicate all the time. I would like to say it is seamless but sometimes there are hiccups.We work through. Four kids with different activities. We drive around a lot.
How do parents respond to you as a female coaching their children?
I have coached all kinds of kids from various backgrounds. I have coached Muslim boys and girls but I committed to working with girls only. I feel they don?t always get the support they require. I am not exactly a demure person and don?t back down from a challenge. After about 15 minutes of watching me coach, the parents are usually at ease. Once I had a father try to mansplain proper defense techniques but after I bantered with him, he gave up.
When my daughter was younger, I was the technical coach of her team. She was the only Muslim girl in the entire age group composed of three teams. The beautiful part was these amazing little girls saw absolutely nothing strange about being coached by a woman in a headscarf. They were learning basics, positioning, passing and ball control. For some of them, it was the first time they had ever interacted with a woman in a hijab. Fabulous introduction, I believe. The parents (Muslim and non) have always been incredibly supportive
The only time I faced open hostility, was when a man who was supposed to be the Team Coach (I was the technical coach) decided he wanted power of some kind. He was an arrogant, ignorant and uneducated man. He certainlyAfter we fought in private, I quietly decided to run my practices and teach the girls the proper skills. OK, not too quiet- I was furious. He could make the lineups and hold the clipboard if it made him feel better about himself. The girls continued to look to me for direction and feedback. Not him. He got over himself pretty fast.
What barriers do Muslim women face in taking part in competitive sport?
I need a few thousand words to answer this. Muslim women face challenges ranging from financial restrictions, to religious policing and opinions of their participation, to issues relating to access to female-only training and facilities, to being allowed to participate in whatever clothing they feel comfortable. They also face racial prejudice coupled with unfair stereotypes and gender tropes.
Do you think an increase in Muslim female coaches will increase the number of Muslim girls and women taking part in sport? How do you think we can encourage more Muslim women to take up coaching?
Absolutely. The way that families and young girls are encouraged is to see women, of all walks of life, participating. When women get involved it is such a clear and firm message that regardless of the barriers, we are there and we play. We can teach, compete and support.