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Women in Sports Vlogs

In the vast world of sports, where participation spans the globe, women constitute a vibrant force, although our representation remains a fraction compared to that of men. As female athletes, we navigate through a spectrum of barriers and challenges, whether rooted in history, fueled by cruelty and ego, or simply born out of a lack of imagination and resistance to change with the dismissive mantra of "That's how it's always been done." Fortunately, there's a noticeable shift in the tide as women's sports gain the attention they rightfully deserve.

This blog post aims to elevate that momentum, summarizing the insights gleaned from my Women in Sports vlogs project throughout February. Let's not just ride the wind of change; let's give it a powerful boost, shall we?

I initially recorded and released all the vlogs during the first week of February to honor the National Day of Girls and Women in Sports. The project left me thinking I need to do more. But what? The first step is to share what I take away from all these chats with these beautiful wise women.

Insights from Trailblazers

How to Get Young Girls Active and Stay in Sports, and How to Start a Movement with Chandra Crawford 

Chandra Crawford, Olympian skier, and founder of Fast & Female, recounted her journey of empowering girls in sports while challenging societal norms. Her trailblazing spirit serves as a beacon of hope for young athletes everywhere. We spoke about how we can all take those small steps to start providing girls opportunities in sports so that they can feel they belong just as they are, without having to confine themselves to a certain mold. Chandra highlighted the white privilege and bias that we may have as white people participating in sports run and designed by white males. There is a need to understand our own bias and be vulnerable to learn how it may affect girls’ & women' participation in sports. 

How Motherhood Has Affected Your Career in Sports as Organizer 

First of all, I think we all can agree that We Are Better Together When Women Have a Place in Sports, As Tenille Hoogland so eloquently highlighted. We need each other to provide sports that support all genders- organizing sports that cater to all and not just by and for men. Her words resonated deeply, reminding us that the strength of sports lies in our collective unity.

Jamaica Hansen shed light on the juggling act of motherhood and sports leadership, emphasizing the invaluable contributions of driven moms in sports organizations. She also shared personal challenges and barriers of how difficult it can be to turn down an interesting position to “finish the race” with young kids still at home. We can take on and hold on to big roles, but sometimes our hearts take priority over ego. Her honesty and vulnerability were both refreshing and inspiring.

Multiculturalism is perfect for supporting women from all walks of life

Sara-Lise Harris courageously shared her journey of overcoming adversity, highlighting the transformative power of community and resilience.  She shared her raw and vulnerable journey with sexual abuse and struggles with her body image. She showcased courage as she shared her journey and highlighted the courage to keep going, holding her chin up high, encouraging others to find just what they can do when they commit to a journey together with a coach and a community of like-minded people from all around the world, and all walks of life. Her story serves as a testament to the strength found in vulnerability. 

Buying into Athlete’s Dreams and Promoting Happiness 

Dr. Karin Hugo, an Olympic coach from South Africa, graciously shared her coaching philosophy rooted in heart and purpose. She eloquently described her approach to investing in her athletes' dreams, emphasizing the importance of balance in training. According to Karin's philosophy of thirds, athletes should experience fatigue, strength, and equilibrium in equal measure throughout their journey. Yet, above all else, Karin prioritizes her athletes' happiness and enjoyment of the process, regardless of their goals or skill level.

How Do You Do it All? 

We spoke about how important planning is to get our training done, work done, and still have enough energy for our kids and family. We reflected on how triathlon training was an emotional outlet for both of them when they lost their moms to cancer. Incredibly insightful and hilarious conversation climaxed to the “Ask Your Dad” sign on Stephanie’s pain cave. We also spoke about the importance of community and friendships that are formed even in the middle of triathlon races. Their anecdotes brought humor and warmth to the conversation, underscoring the importance of community and resilience.

How Women in Canadian Rowing Has Shown the Way 

Dr. Janice Mason introduced me to the thrilling world of Ultra Rowing, sharing innovative ways to ignite excitement among rowing enthusiasts. She regaled us with the tale of what could easily be described as the most adventurous and enduring first date in womankind's history. Her stories not only showcased the physical and mental fortitude demanded by endeavors from Olympic rowing to Ultra rowing like Race to Alaska, but also illuminated the deep bonds and transformative moments fostered amidst nature's majesty. Above all, her narrative underscored the pivotal role of community and mutual support in conquering challenges and accomplishing extraordinary feats on the open water.

Asking Silly Questions is Opening Doors to Understanding What Market Needs 

Nina Harmon, an experienced Brand Marketing Manager for Action Sports brought us invaluable insights about Marketing from a female athlete perspective, and what needs to be done to appeal to the growing female market in bicycle sports. She calls for education aimed at the female athlete while simultaneously urging women to ask seemingly silly questions. Our conversation highlights the need for marketing efforts, such as more photos and videos of females, and female-specific programs directed toward the growing market of female action sports athletes. 

We Deserve More than Female Inspiration Features

Piggybacking on Nina’s insightful conversation about being a woman in the sports industry, I also had the opportunity to speak with Kelly O’Mara, a sports media expert. We discussed the challenges still facing women in the coverage and participation of sports. As a pioneer in covering triathlon and other niche sports, Kelly provided insightful perspectives from her decades of experience in the industry. She acknowledged that while some sports like triathlon have historically been more welcoming to women, deeper systemic issues remain - especially in older male-dominated sports. Kelly also called attention to the need for more women in leadership roles across sports media. She noted the difference in coverage she has observed when more women photographers, editors, and producers are involved. Our thought-provoking conversation highlighted how far we still need to go to achieve equitable representation and analysis of female athletes. It also gave me renewed inspiration to continue elevating women's voices through projects like this one.

How Iron Moms Balance Guilt 

Iris Nafshi shared fascinating insights about her PhD research exploring the experiences of "Iron Moms" - women who balance training for Ironman triathlons with motherhood. Her work aims to understand the intersection between concepts like grit, guilt, and self-talk among these athletes. Iris is investigating how factors like maternal maturity and self-compassion may relate to levels of guilt experienced by mothers in highly demanding endurance sports. By giving voice to these women and their journeys, Iris hopes to provide valuable insights that can help coaches and psychologists better support mothers pursuing athletic dreams at an elite level.

A particularly thought-provoking part of the discussion centered around mindset strategies for overcoming challenges. Iris discussed the importance of self-talk for persevering through difficult training sessions or races. She shared a powerful example from an interview subject who tells herself "You deserve to win" as a way to boost confidence even on hard days. This phrase has clearly resonated beyond the research - Iris mentioned it being adopted by her own talented athlete son as well.

Trailblazers of Women in Sports - Olympians Pioneering Equity

Illoana Smith and Dr. Jen Walinga trailblazers in rowing, with Illoana competing in the 1976 Olympics and helping establish women's rowing in Canada. She shared some of the challenges early women athletes faced with strict weight requirements and lack of equal access to equipment. Dr. Walinga went on to have an illustrious rowing career in the 1980s and 90s before becoming an educator researching values in sports. She discussed ongoing issues like abuse, cheating, and prioritizing medals over ethics that can compromise athlete well-being. Her work studying how to create cultures of respect and honor in sports is invaluable. Both women emphasized the importance of advocacy and pushing for continued progress on diversity and inclusion.

It was fascinating to hear about their journeys and the lessons sports have taught them about leadership, teamwork, and overcoming adversity. The stories of the pioneers who paved the way remind us how far we've come and the potential for future advancement when it comes to representation, accessibility, and equity in sports.

One issue that was alluded to in the conversation is the lack of stability and longevity for female coaches in Rowing Canada. Illoana Smith mentioned that she has been a vocal advocate and "shit disturber" around this topic. It seems there is a pattern of female coaches being replaced after only a short time, not giving them a real chance to develop programs and athletes. Both Illoana and Dr. Walinga emphasized the importance of representation and role models. Not providing stability and opportunities for female coaches to have long careers negatively impacts gender equity in leadership. It also fails to give developing athletes the benefits of consistency in coaching.

The next steps forward

Moving forward, there are several key steps we can take to empower women in sports further and promote equity and inclusivity:

Advocate for Policy Changes

Lobbying for policy changes at both organizational and governmental levels can help address systemic barriers to women's participation in sports. This may include advocating for equal funding and resources for women's sports programs, implementing policies to address gender-based discrimination, and ensuring equitable representation in sports leadership positions.

This may initially sound out of your reach, but the road can be started as simply as writing an email, showing up at a general assembly, talking to your school board or local organization and JUST ASKING.

Promote Female Role Models, but demand for more than inspiration “porn”

Highlighting the achievements and stories of female athletes, coaches, and leaders can inspire the next generation of women in sports. By showcasing diverse role models across different sports and backgrounds, we can challenge stereotypes and demonstrate the vast potential of women in athletics. 

But as Kelly O’Mara called it, we deserve more analytical and in-depth analysis of women’s sports and not only the inspirational feature story about a mom with 8 kids and cancer who did an Ironman. Including women in all levels of media brings sports coverage to the masses the way we, as women want it covered, as Kelly writes in her LinkedIn bio.

You can your part and share epic videos, follow your favourite female athlete, and share her stories and posts. Sharing and engaging in social media goes a long way to show people in decision-making positions that female athletes are popular and that we engage in their posts!

Invest in Girls' Sports Programs

Investing in girls' sports programs from an early age is crucial for fostering a lifelong love of sports and providing opportunities for skill development and personal growth. This includes supporting girls' sports teams, providing access to quality coaching and facilities, and offering scholarships and financial assistance to ensure equal access for all. 

We can start small by providing programs geared towards female athletes where girls feel like they belong. Athlete athlete-centered approach where girls organize their events is but one example of how this can be done. 

Address Gender Bias and Stereotypes

Educating coaches, athletes, and sports administrators about gender bias and stereotypes is essential for creating a more inclusive and supportive sporting environment. By challenging outdated beliefs and promoting gender-neutral policies and practices, we can create a level playing field for all athletes. This is important to note: it is not about replacing the men, but capturing the life lessons of sports together as a team, educating each other on what we need. It is also not about "pinking and shrinking", or using the color pink to be attractive for women.

Increase Visibility and Coverage

Increasing the visibility and media coverage of women's sports is essential for raising awareness and attracting investment and sponsorship. This includes broadcasting women's sports events on mainstream media channels, providing equal coverage in sports media outlets, and promoting women's sports through social media and digital platforms. Anyone can do this by sharing and asking for more photos and videos of women. I do this constantly, and in general, 90% of the time my request is welcomed and appreciated.

Support Female Coaches and Officials

Providing support and opportunities for female coaches and officials is critical for increasing representation and diversity in sports leadership positions. This may include mentorship programs, leadership training, and initiatives to address barriers to career advancement for women in coaching and officiating roles. Instead of using excuses to replace a female coach, because they have family commitments, seek flexible solutions to support these female coaches at high levels of sports. Providing breast-feeding stations and free child-care on site of races, and coaching situations are some minor ways to support women.

Encourage Participation and Support Networks 

Creating supportive and inclusive environments where women feel encouraged and empowered to participate in sports is key. This includes establishing mentorship programs, peer support networks, and community initiatives to promote camaraderie and mutual encouragement among female athletes. One thing that came up several times during the interviews was that women feel like they need to be asked to do something. We often passively sit on the sidelines before stepping in. I’ve experienced this several times, but I would like to highlight that it is not that we are not valued, we just need to step forward to get noticed. 

By taking these steps forward, we can work towards a future where women and girls have equal opportunities to participate, compete, and lead in sports, ultimately building a more inclusive and equitable sporting landscape for all.

As I have spent the last two weeks digesting all these delightful conversations, there is one theme that emerges clearly: resilience. From overcoming personal challenges to advocating for systemic change, each woman embodies the resilience and strength inherent in sports. As we celebrate the achievements of women in sports, let us also recommit ourselves to creating a more equitable and inclusive athletic landscape for future generations. Together, we can continue to push boundaries, break barriers, and uplift women in sports.

Next steps? 

Webinar for anyone interested in bringing the conversation forward. 

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