Assisting the game

Team Canada experience part of helping the game grow for O’Leary 

One of the modern day builders for women’s football in Atlantic Canada, Cheryl O’Leary has served as a player, coach and executive in the Maritime Women’s Football League. She would reach a new milestone in her career as she had the opportunity to serve with the coaching staff of the Canadian national women’s football team.

As a female mentor coach under the guidance of special teams coach Olivier Eddie, O’Leary is helping to break ground in the much needed field of female football coaches. Part of her experience as a mentor coach included being part of the international stage as Canada competed at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland. In getting the opportunity to serve as a mentor coach, it has proven to be a very positive one.

“My experience so far as a Football Canada Female Mentor Coach has exceeded my expectations. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of Team Canada and to have had the opportunity to meet and work such and incredible group of athletes, coaches, trainers, GM’s, Equipment managers and fellow mentees.

From the moment we boarded the bus at the Helsinki Airport and headed to training camp in Pajulahti there was an overwhelming sense of TEAM.  We all knew what was ahead of us and everyone switched into game mode and executed the game plan.

The coaching team and the players all worked very hard, all playing key roles in the realization of Team Canada 2013.  Our days were full of practices, chalk talk sessions, meals, coaches planning meetings.  We also made time for some awesome team-building activities and even some mandatory rest. I primariy worked with the Special Teams Coach, Olivier Eddie for the duration of the tournament.  We spent countless hours strategizing.”

As Canada helped to set a precedent by introducing a highly meaningful mentorship program, it made an impression among other competitors. Of note, it even gained the attention of a film crew in Finland that was conducting footage for a documentary about the US national women’s team. Although it is hard to determine what will pass the cutting room floor, O’Leary was interviewed by the film crew.

“Throughout the tournament I was approached by several coaches from the other teams and even some of the IFAF leadership who all wanted to ask questions about the mentor program and all thought that it was excellent to have female coaches. I was also asked to be part of a documentary being done on the USA team about their journey to Worlds. I did a 20 minute on-camera interview.”

With Lady Gladiators teammates such as Alex Black, Shot Chatterton and Robyn Neill on the Canadian team, it fostered a strong sense of friendship and belonging. Having seen these players start as teenaged phenoms and become accomplished young women has made the journey of football a remarkable one for O’Leary. Seeing them compete on the global stage definitely made her feel like a proud mother.

“Yes, my door was always open to any of the players, literally!. My roommate was with the team Massage Therapist, good friend and fellow MWFL player Melissa Daley.  When the MWFL players needed her services I would get them to stay a little longer and check in with them to make sure they were doing ok.

Every day I would check-in with them to make sure they were taking care of themselves.  Before each game I had a little pre-game pep talk with them.  Before our first game I received several message from home including a couple from their Team Atlantic Coaches.  As I gathered them all together to share messages from home I was a little emotional, and shed a few tears. I absolutely felt like a proud mother and enjoyed every minute of it.”

Perhaps the most unique part about Team Canada was the blend of players from three different leagues. Ranging from five teams within the Western Women’s Canadian Football League, the Montreal Blitz from the Independent Women’s Football League and a handful of MWFL players, a diverse background helped to define the squad. The opportunity to comprise membership on a roster with players that she had not been familiar with resulted in tremendous growth for O’Leary.

“Football is a great sport.  Meeting and gettig to know coaches and players from the WWCFL and Montreal Blitz was the key to success of the mentor program for me. I got to work with exeptional coaches and players, the best in the country.  I am a firm believer in personal and professional growth and life-long learning.

At the beginning of the process the Mentor Coaches were asked what we expected to get out of the program. My response was to watch and learn from other coaches, to be a sponge so that I could enhance my coaching knowledge and skills.  Looking back I had no idea of the magnitude of learning that I would experince. Every one involved with Team Canada played a part in making me a better coach and person and I am eternally grateful to each and every one of them.”

As O’Leary has spent this past autumn coaching high school aged girls, the lessons learned as a mentor coach for Team Canada paid remarkable dividends. Having jotted plenty of notes about her experiences in Finland, it shall prove to be an invaluable reference in what promises to be a sterling coaching career,

“The passion and dedication for the sport of football displayed by all of the teams that participated is unparalleled and I am extremely proud to have been witness to that. I kept a journal while I was in Finland and wrote something every day. On the plane ride home I wrote,

“WOW I have learned so much over the past two weeks. My coaches’ notebook is very full and I hope I wrote things down well so that I will be able to make sense of it all when I get home and where will I begin?” 

Coaching this fall with the high school aged girls; I have reached into my new coach toolbox several times.”

In discussing if one particular moment at the Worlds stood out as a highlight, there was not one that could be defined. Having absorbed so much from a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, gracing the global stage over several days served as an amalgam which provided O’Leary with many memorable moments.

“Honestly there is not one in particular; the entire experience has definitely had an impact on me as a person and as a coach. We all felt that this was a worthwhile journey to take and made this a priority in our lives. I think it is safe to say that we all came home from Finland with so much more than a silver medal.

These are very exciting times for Female Football in the Maritimes, Canada and the World! We are truly BREAKING BOUNDARIES in female football, and our journey has just begun.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Jodi Spring Steeves, Alex Black (left) and O’Leary after a
 Capital Area Lady Gladiators contest

Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

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