Shifting sides

Evolution in WWCFL football as players assume coaching duties

As the Western Women’s Canadian Football League continues to grow, it is an exciting time for everyone involved. Part of the growth in the league is the role that women are starting to play as coaches. While no female is currently serving as a head coach in the league, the road towards making that dream a reality is beginning to culminate.

For the Calgary Rage, two of its players are taking on the duties of laying that foundation. Linebacker Alanna Doyle and defensive back Connie Fekete have joined the coaching staff. Despite the fact that it is the off-season, practices and team building sessions is a year-long reality.

With the club looking to build a championship team, the veteran presence of Doyle and Fekete can only help to improve morale while instilling confidence. During this past season, Doyle was a source of motivation and a rallying point for the Rage.

Employed as a chemical pipeline engineer, Doyle was named to the original Team Canada roster that would compete at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. When the roster was first named, she was one of only two Albertans that comprised it. Sadly, her dream was sidelined when she suffered an injury. As a show of solidarity, the Rage played valiantly for her during the rest of the season as she still contributed to the squad in a coaching role.

Having gained a new perspective on the game through coaching, it is one that Doyle hopes will bring positive results to her game and the team in the season ahead. While she continues to hone her skills in the craft of coaching, one aspect clearly stands out as her most favourite,

“Definitely the learning curve. In any setting, I think you understand concepts far better once you have had to teach them to someone else. Anyone who has made the transition knows that you reach a deeper understanding of the game when you begin coaching, compared to what you see as a player.

Unfortunately, for many players, it is a one lane highway – they do not begin to coach seriously until their playing days are over. By doing both, I will be able to bring that knowledge to the field and take my game to a new level.”

Employing a willingness to learn, Fekete is looking forward to the start of next season. Having worked as an educator, she brings the right blend of patience and compassion to a demanding yet rewarding responsibility. A veteran performer from the squad and one of its biggest boosters, she was able to reach a significant milestone before hanging up her cleats; logging her first career interception.

“I am incredibly excited about becoming part of the coaching team. Ideally, the men who coach us now would love to see the Rage being coached by women. I am very happy to be part of the start of that development. There is a huge learning curve for me right now.

Yet, the coaches we have are very well educated and extremely supportive so I am confident that they can help me grow into an effective part of the coaching staff. Being a teacher makes this a very natural fit for me,” said Fekete.

With Fekete not suiting up as a player, her transition to her new role as an assistant defensive backs coach is one that assumes a full-time capacity. Although she is a novice at coaching, it is a comforting thought to know that she can consult with Doyle.

“As I have literally just made the switch from player to coach, I really do not have any experience on the coaching side. I am looking forward to collaborating with Alanna and learning from her. She is an amazing player and a natural leader, both of which make for a successful coach,” remarked Fekete.

Juggling the demands of being a player and a coach represents the need to prioritize and a dedication to take on an even bigger commitment. Such is the spirit that Doyle has in preparing for the 2014 season. Having observed first-hand the duties of coaching during the off-season, it adds a new element to her role as a strong leader.

“Admittedly, though we are still only in the off-season, trying to be a player and coach at the same time has already been challenging. I have learned that the amount of time and energy that coaches put in is immense, and I do not think you realize that as a player.

Since officially signing on as the linebacker position coach a couple of months ago, I have probably averaged 8-12 hours a week meeting with coaches and discussing team philosophy and personnel, planning camps and in-class sessions, and developing the defensive the play book.”

Doyle is certainly a remarkable athlete. When she was a student at Alberta’s James Fowler Junior High in the 1990’s, she earned a roster spot on the junior boy’s team, eventually becoming the defensive captain.

One of her great qualities is that she includes a necklace with a talisman carefully placed under her uniform. It is a reminder of her sister Kristin, who sadly lost her battle with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2011. In a sport that is still struggling to earn respect, Doyle is a tremendous example of how an athlete can be more than a coach, but an inspiration to her teammates and a role model to young girls that they can pursue their dreams.

The predominant presence of male coaches covering a wide spectrum of athletic disciplines is one of the great ironies of women’s sport. Meanwhile, the thought of a female coaching a group of men is a rarity. For the growth of women’s football in Canada, the role of women in coaching is essential to its growth.

Inspiration can be found across the country in the Maritime Women’s Football League. Lisa Harlow of the Saint John Storm is not only the President of Football New Brunswick, but she is the head coach for a team of girls in their teens. Many of her teammates from the Storm assist in Fundy girls’ football also. Cheryl O’Leary, a player with the Capital Area Lady Gladiators served under mentor coach Olivier Eddie at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds. It is a legacy that Fekete hopes to build on,

“I believe it is crucial to the development of women’s football (and any sport) to have women assume coaching roles. At the risk of leaning on stereotypes, there is a great deal of difference between the ways that men and women communicate.

Female coaches would not have to worry as much about that type of issue. Also, having women in leadership roles set an outstanding example for young girls, as well as giving them something towards which they can strive.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Candice Ward Photography

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