Opening Doors for Black, Indigenous Coaches

By Mark Smith, Director of Sport – Sport Nova Scotia

As sport organizations wrestle with racial disparities and look for ways to address a lack of diversity in leadership ranks, one step that can’t be overlooked is making sure potential new leaders have support, says Mark Smith, director of sport for Sport Nova Scotia.

“Repeatedly I hear, ‘Why don’t we get young Black people that want to come out and coach, or be referees and officials?’” Smith says. “But when you have certification programs where they’re going to be the only person who looks like them, it’s easy to decide, ‘I’m not comfortable in that environment.’”

That’s one of the reasons Smith is working with Indigenous sport leaders like Tex Marshall to put together a mentorship program for Black and Indigenous coaches.

Final details were still in the works as this issue of Sport Quarterly was heading to print, but the program is meant to be a two-year pilot where new and up-and-coming coaches can learn the skills necessary to become a confident and competent coach through the support of peers and mentors.

“It’s about building confidence, developing a (coaching) philosophy and leadership skills, learning to deal with systemic challenges and learning the ‘soft skills’ of coaching,” Smith says. “How do I manage people and relationships, and provide a safe space and inclusive culture that people can thrive in?”

Participants in the mentorship program will also have a mentor who meets with them formally and informally to support their development, challenge their thinking and provide advice or moral support.

“We want to allow these coaches to be able to step into the provincial sport system and coach with a high level of confidence,” Smith says. “That’s the intent of it.”

He’s aiming to have the program up and running by late October.

It’s important for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) coaches and leaders to have mentors and role models, agrees Lee Anna Osei, the women’s basketball head coach at St. Francis Xavier University. She launched the Black Canadian Coaches Association earlier this year to help connect coaches across the country.

“Visibility matters. Representation matters,” she says. “You can’t be what you don’t see.”

Osei is working with the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) to launch a mentorship program specifically for Black female coaches. “That would be huge,” she says. “Being female and also being Black, there’s a lot of challenges there.”
The CAC has taken similar steps to support Indigenous coaches through its Aboriginal Apprentice Coaching Program. Two Nova Scotians, volleyball coach Shaniya Vance and basketball coach Aiyanna Empringham, are taking part in the program, which provides young coaches with learning opportunities as a lead-up to apprentice roles at the 2021 Canada Games in Niagara, Ont.