I decided that for this blog that I would interview someone who can help us identify how to keep girls in sports as players and why females coach. I sent out a group of e-mails to women that I look up to as coaches. The first one I got back is from a long-time family friend and former club mate Steph Gervais. We met when she joined the Edmonton Clansmen Rugby Football Club. Steph embodies the coach who coaches for the sake of sport and the development of quality ladies.
Steph played 9 years of competitive boy’s hockey before picking up rugby in her grade 12 year of high school. Now at the age of 28, she is still playing rugby with the Edmonton Clansmen Women’s team, with three straight Edmonton city championships and 1 Alberta provincial title under their belt. In 2010, she made the Rugby Alberta U-23 team that placed 4th at Nationals. Her coaching career also began in 2010 at Archbishop O’Leary High School in Edmonton. she was co-coach her first year and have been head coach since that year. She also coached the U-19 Clan Junior Girls team from 2010 to 2012. In the past few seasons, she has lined up to play alongside several of the girls that she has coached. She considers this to be her greatest coaching accomplishment. In the picture that accompanies this blog is Steph (holding the trophy) alongside ladies that she coached.
From our interview, we can see what sport can do, as a player and as a coach.
There is a trend that girls are not continuing into sport once they become teenagers. What sports did you play as a young girl and what kept you playing as a teenager? What role did coaches play in that role?
Growing up as a tomboy, I played just about every sport in my front and back yard. My parents were very athletic when they were growing up so I was encouraged to play outdoors. I spent a lot of time playing kickball, catch, and riding my bike as a child. I began playing organized hockey at 10 on all-boys teams and continued until I was 17. I also played a couple seasons of outdoor soccer, and began playing rugby at 17.
I continued playing hockey as a teenager simply out of a love for the game. I was fortunate enough to attend a US college scouting camp in BC when I was 15 which gave me some aspirations to play at a post-secondary level, but ultimately I continued playing out of a love for the game and wanting to remain part of a team.
I began playing rugby in my last year of high school just because I wanted to give it a try, and one of my gym teachers had told me that I would probably make a good rugby player with my full-contact hockey background. After my first practice, I was hooked, and 11 seasons later, I am still a rugby player.
My hockey coaches were very accepting of me growing up as I was always the only girl on the team, and usually the only girl they had ever coached. I had a different coach every year but they always treated me as just one of the guys. I was named assistant captain of one of my pee wee teams and the following year, my coach referred to me at our year-end team banquet as the heart and soul of our team.
Stats show that girls who stay in sports become successful in their chosen career path and are more likely to form positive relationships with friends and significant others. What are your thoughts on this?
I absolutely agree with these statistics. Playing on a team kind of forces you to make friends with other people you might not have always chosen as friends. Playing sports lights a fire of competitiveness and wanting to succeed, no matter what is happening. In my opinion, team sports teach commitment and dedication more so than the individual skills needed to play the sport.
How did sports prepare you for gender and cultural boundaries? How did coaches play a role in this? Did you find that Male and Female coaches helped you prepare in different ways?
My situation is unique in the sense that I mainly played on all boy’s teams growing up. I learned quickly of my physical limitations of a female hockey player going up against boys who were all heavier than I was, taller than I was, and stronger than I was. I had to learn to play smarter and quicker than they did to make up for it.
I have found that the male coaches I had growing up were a lot more straightforward with what they needed from me on the ice or on the field. Their instructions were mostly direct – do A, then B, then C. I didn’t have a female coach until I started playing senior women’s rugby at 18. It was the first time it was really explained to me why I was supposed to do what I was doing in certain situations. It was the first time that I was ever exposed to a sports psychologist to help us understand why we were thinking what we were thinking of the field. This was all news to me – you mean people thought about what they thought about while they were doing work during a game?
There is a movement to guide parents into a more supportive role in youth sports. What role did your parents play with your sports and what was their relationship with your coaches? Were / are your parents active?
My parents were both very active as children and teenagers. They both grew up in small towns in Saskatchewan where everyone played every sport. My mom was Female Athlete of the Year in her last year of high school and my dad played Junior B hockey. My mom went through military police training and my dad is a 35-year military vet who still plays old-timer hockey.
My mom always worried I would get hurt playing hockey and had to struggle to get me to hockey practices and games while taking care of my 3 sisters at home while my dad was away on military exercises. My dad actually refused to sit with the other parents in the stands and would take his spot behind a net, giving me hand signals as to what I needed to do better during my next shift. When I started playing rugby, my mom was not too pleased with the idea. However, she saw how much I loved playing the game, how much I loved going to practice, and how being part of a team was helping me to make friends and renew my focus at school. She never watched any of my high school games but she always made sure I had a ride home from practices, games, and tournaments.
My parents were always friendly with my coaches, but that was about the extent of it. My parents made it clear that they were there to see me play, and not to be judgemental of whoever was coaching me.
What role does being active play in your current lifestyle?
Being active is a big part of my current lifestyle. During rugby season, I spend 3 days a week at rugby practices or games, and try to get my strength and conditioning in 1 to 3 times a week. For the past year, I’ve also began taking some MMA classes. As a general rule, I try to hit one of my gyms 6 days a week. Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t, but my overall health improves if I’m able to keep up that pace.
What advice do you have as a former player to those coaching teenage girls?
My advice would be to focus on the human side of coaching, especially when it comes to teenage girls. As a high school coach, myself, I’ve become very aware that most girls who come to play rugby aren’t there to be lifelong rugby players. They are there to try a new sport, to make new friends, and to play on a school team. While learning the skills of the sport at hand is important, I think the emphasis needs to be on having fun and trying their best. You probably won’t be able to churn out a ton of high calibre athletes in your position, but you are probably very likely to improve the confidence and self-esteem of most of the girl’s you coach. Finally, my advice for coaching teenage girls would be to help them grow into young women. More than anything, I believe that is what they need from coaches at that age.
Bio: Tina Prescott is a Level 2 Certified NCCP and Rugby Canada Coach from Carstairs, Alberta Canada. She is the Head Coach to the Calgary Mavericks U – 18 Ladies Rugby and Assistant Coach to Calgary Knights Rugby Football Club Sr. Mens Team
In high school and college, Tina took part in lots of sports including swimming and track&field (sprinter) with her most success in rugby having played senior women’s rugby for 13 years and being forced to retire due to injury.