Wanted: Female coaches
In her last three years behind the bench with competitive women's hockey teams in Nova Scotia, Alicia MacDonald has come across only one other female head coach. And she's been looking.
It's something the 25-year-old from Truro, N.S., is working to change.
"We're very scarce here, but you know, that shouldn't be," she says. "I think this is a goal women need to work together to achieve. I think female players react better to females, and it gives them someone to look up to.
"I'm trying to display that females coaching females is beneficial."
For the last three seasons, MacDonald was head coach of the bantam girls Antigonish Bulldogs while attending nursing school at St. Francis Xavier University. Her two assistant coaches were female because she made a point of recruiting women to work with her.
The trio attracted a lot of attention.
"The referees were always saying how great it is to see female coaches on the bench, and all females at that," she says. "I get a lot of parents commenting and saying 'Thank you, and you know, it's great that you don't have any biases on the bench and you're a role model for the players.' Even the other male coaches comment that it's nice to see a woman coaching women for once."
Two years ago, when Hockey Canada put on a clinic in Antigonish, MacDonald invited female hockey players who had recently graduated from university to watch her coach in hopes of inciting some interest.
"I had a few of them come out to my practices, just so they could get used to running a practice and seeing how to interact with the girls and whatnot," she says.
Her influence is working. One of her assistant coaches from last season is now coaching in Antigonish. She'll be an assistant coach this year with a male head coach and a male assistant.
MacDonald will be in a similar situation this year. As a first-year emergency nurse at Colchester Regional Hospital in Truro, shift work means she can't dedicate herself to the full-time position, so she's an assistant coach of the bantam Truro Cyclones.
A fan of the game since she started playing in a boys' league at age 7, MacDonald caught the coaching bug after working as an equipment manager first at a Team Canada training camp in 2003, and then for provincial under-18 squads in 2004 and 2005.
The next season she became assistant coach of Nova Scotia's under-15 provincial team, and she's been behind the bench ever since.
"When you work so closely with the coaches as a trainer, and you work with the girls, you get to see both sides," she says. "That's where my love of coaching started, being able to teach the girls something. Ever since I started I've really enjoyed coaching and teaching."
It's tough to fit into her schedule this year, with shifts at the hospital keeping her busy, especially considering the team will play two games every weekend, plus tournaments and practices. Regular-season games are as far away as Cape Breton, a four-hour drive from Truro.
"It's busy, but I think it's really important to be involved," MacDonald says. "I'm really pushing for females to coach females. I think that's probably the best way for this sport to go."