World class coach

Walton brings world-class game to the coaching ranks

Having participated with the Canadian national team at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, Erin Walton is a true living legend in the sport. As a member of the Calgary Rage, Walton has played at quarterback, running back and also contributed on defense. With such a versatile game (akin to Trina Graves with the Saint John Storm), she is an invaluable component to any team’s roster.

With a focus towards sitting out the 2014 Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) season in order to recuperate from the accumulation of various injuries throughout seasons past, her love of the game could not be extinguished. Making the decision to remain involved with the WWCFL as a coach, it would be of great benefit to the new-look Calgary Rage, whose season featured sharp new uniforms and a handful of new players eager to make their own mark in the game.

“It took me a while to commit to coaching to be honest. My original plan was to step away from the tackle game completely this season and really just focus on healing the injuries I had piled up over the last few years. Between torn shoulder ligaments, a stress fractured food, broken bones and other “tweaks” of various forms, I just knew I had to take some time off.

Yet, inevitably in the spring, I felt the football “pang”, but it was not the pang of wanting to play necessarily. More so, a desire to try to help the Rage out on the field and help develop some of the young talent we have coming up.”

Considering that Walton is a pioneer in the game among Western Canadian circles, it was only fitting that she would serve as one of the first coaches in WWCFL play. Of note, this season has resulted in a watershed year for women to tackle the next aspect of the game.

Emma Hicks, who played with Walton on the Canadian roster at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds became a coach with the Regina Riot this season. Kessie Stefanyk, a former quarterback with the Lethbridge Steel served as the offensive coordinator. Helping contribute to the silver and purple’s third consecutive conference crown, Stefanyk also helped to shape rookie pivot Michaela Dilworth-Baum into an effective component of the offense. Walton reflects on her decision to take the plunge and give coaching a try,

“I have always wanted to coach and have been very fortunate to have had some excellent coaches to learn from over the years, so I gave Rob Perry (our Head Coach) a call and asked him if I could help out on Offense and the rest is kind of history. So, for me coaching this season has been my first official step into applying my knowledge of the game in a very foundational, targeted and strategic way.

I primarily worked on offensive skill development and was able to coach our RBs, receivers and QBs. It was an unbelievably challenging and rewarding experience and it reignited my passion to play again like I never thought it would.”

In addition, former Rage cornerback Connie Fekete joined Walton on the Rage’s coaching staff. The two have been through many gridiron battles together and would help break barriers in the female game by shaping a new era in Rage history as the club’s first female coaches. With Walton, an exceptional running back and quarterback ensuring execution on the offensive side of the game, Fekete brought her experiences to the defensive unit. Walton acknowledges how the coaching staff were very accommodating in making both feel welcome,

“We had a coaching staff that gave us the autonomy to apply our knowledge. They also taught us a lot about the game in the process. It was a win-win and it was great to have a good friend (like Connie) who has been involved with the Rage, for about as long as I have been, to share it with.”

For the Rage, the efforts of Walton and Fekete could not have come at a better time. As the 2014 edition of the Rage roster featured many new faces, the veteran presence of Walton offered a sense of comfort, confidence and trust for players new to the game. With rookies such as Ashley Kellsey-Shoemaker, Mallory Watson, Pelletier Medel and multi-sport star Kendall Fellinger, the opportunity to tap into Walton’s knowledge of the game would prove to be a rare privilege that rookies on other squads would be highly envious of.

“The Rage DID have a lot of rookies this year!! We also had a lot of good (albeit hard!), lessons learned because of our youth! I always love to talk about football and have been lucky to have had some pretty incredible experiences playing the game and in a variety of positions.”

Perhaps more significant is the fact that the opportunity for the rookies to learn from coaches that were also established female players builds a sense of respect for the game, bringing with it a growing importance. It would also reciprocate for Walton, as an eager group of athletes were willing to learn,

“In terms of making the adjustment, it felt pretty easy from day one! We had a group of players very open to us as women coaches.”

One area where Walton had to approach the game differently was camaraderie. While it is a completely defining aspect of what makes playing so special, the responsibility of being a coach results in a different relationship with players. Although there is nothing wrong with a coach being empathic, forthcoming and gracious with the players, there is an element of authority that defines the boundaries in any sport. While it is a role that not every player is comfortable adapting in their second career as a coach, it is one that Walton understood had to be accepted.

“It was a lot of fun helping our players develop a better understanding for the game by being able to draw from my own experiences; it always helps to have those in your back pocket! I have to admit though, I was kind of nervous about coaching only because I intend to play again. So, I found myself take a very clear step back from engaging too much with the players outside of coaching them.

If they were going to respond to me and find me credible, I knew I had to approach this whole season from a perspective solely focused on coaching them and helping them get better week to week. What I received in return was one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in football to date.”

Despite a winless campaign for the Rage, it was one defined by transition rather than frustration. The ability to recruit new players and provide established stars such as Walton the opportunity to coach them signified the strengthening of the team’s great culture into one of acceptance, where the seeds are being sown for a promising future.

“This group of women not only challenged me to “bring it” as a coach, but they fully accepted what I tried to coach them to become and they worked their butts off every day to try to meet some lofty expectations.

Unfortunately, our record does not accurately show the progression this young team made throughout the season, but if we can keep this core together and continue to add pieces, the Rage is going to flourish immensely from it over the next few seasons. That is our goal anyway!”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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