A powerful new tool for coaches helps them provide support for their racialized players

Racialized athletes need support and protection with everything from racial attacks to cultural understanding. The Coaching Association of Canada hopes their on-line education module will equip their members to better help.

Coaching Association of Canada has just released new online education module

Racism in sports can be devastating, particularly for younger participants. (Getty Images)

This is a column by Shireen Ahmed, who writes opinion for CBC Sports. For more information about CBC's Opinion section, please see the FAQ.

The first time I was ever racially abused was on a soccer pitch. An opposing player called me a slur and I responded by punching her. I was 11 years old.

The ref ejected me from the match immediately but because he hadn't heard the comments directly, nothing happened to the player who racially abused me. She smiled smugly as I walked off the pitch with angry tears stinging my eyes. The experience was humiliating and incredibly isolating. I have talked about this before and speak of it still because the ways in which I felt abandoned by my coach still haunt me. 

Racialized athletes need support and protection with everything from racial attacks to cultural understanding. Yes, we lost the tournament, but I lost any confidence in my coach that day. Had he possessed some understanding of how to handle the situation instead of directing his ignorance and frustration at me, the situation would not have left me feeling so alone. But now, decades later, coaches and athletes will be getting the education and training they need and deserve.

The Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) just released an online module dedicated to anti-racism learning. The impetus for this online learning tool came from the CAC, which oversees 65 amateur sports associations. Sports Canada mandates that the CAC provide coaching education to coaches across the country. 

I spoke with Isabelle Cayer, CAC's director of Sport Safety, who explained why there was a shift toward EDI — Equity, Diversity and Inclusion — in the internal organization. The CAC's strategic plan, crafted in 2018, emphasized a gender balance but not as much attention to issues of race and discrimination.

Lee Anna Osei founded the Black Canadian Coaches Association in 2020. (Courtesy Lee Anna Osei)

"We took the time to [ask] what do we want to do to support our staff, and our partnership, and the larger coaching community, not only now but into the future," Cayer said.

The CAC applied for funding from Sport Canada and received a grant. They also created an anti-racism task force comprised of staff members committed to this initiative. 

Cayer knew that the lived experience of racialized experts would be required. It may seem as if this would be easily understood, but Canada's sports world lacks a basic understanding of these simple steps.

In 2020, the Black Canadian Coaches Association (BCCA) was founded by Lee Anna Osei. The current director of BCCA is a former collegiate basketball player and Varsity-level basketball coach. The work of the BCCA underlined the gaps in support for Black coaches and Black athletes in Canadian sport. The CAC reached out to the BCCA for advice and direction which is how this project began. 

How can coaches support racialized athletes?

Dr. Janelle Joseph is an assistant professor of Critical Studies of Race & Indigeneity, and the founder and director of the IDEAS (Indigeneity, Diaspora, Equity and Anti-Racism in Sport) research lab at the University of Toronto. She is also the director of research of the BCCA. Her work includes research on anti-racism in athletic initiatives in University Athletics.

Before crafting the module itself, Dr. Joseph and her team tasked themselves with reporting on the state of knowledge on anti-racism in coaching in Canada. Within two months they had put together a report that included a literature review and a gap analysis. She notes that there is very little literature on race in sports in Canada, and even less on race and coaching in Canada. Her team drew from existing scholarships in the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S. 

The research team looked at how coaches can support racialized athletes, the barriers and challenges of Black women and how they are not valued, but also examined the intersectionality of discrimination.

"We looked at how racism manifests nuances," Dr. Joseph said. The intersections of race, class and gender are very complicated and need to be understood with more context of sport. 

Dr. Joseph explained how the relationship between athletes and their coaches can also contribute to a system that is problematic, particularly when the current system assumes that the coaches know everything.

There are also barriers and instances where coaches are trying to mobilize their peers to take anti-racism seriously, or that they need to access policies that don't exist.- Dr. Janelle Joseph

"Athletes look to the coaches as though they know everything and can solve every problem," she said. "There are also barriers and instances where coaches are trying to mobilize their peers to take anti-racism seriously, or that they need to access policies that don't exist."

The initial report discovered that all coaches may not feel educated and or supported to do anti-racism work. One of the things that surprised her was the ways in which some coaches were "helpless", and became a foundational need for the module. In addition, the report found that racialized coaches are pushing forward despite the system they are embedded in. The educational online model was ready this past March in French and English and fully developed.

The module addresses intersectionality and relied heavily on the talk force and ideas from those spaces. The online training takes between 60-75 minutes to get through. It includes reading, quizzes and discussion questions to think about. The module incorporates case studies that incorporated issues of race, gender identity, class and how they can intersect. It offers guidance on how coaches can identify microaggressions and intervene, and how can they support athletes and dismantle racist, sexist or homophobic systems. 

The dominant culture of sport in Canada is a white, male and heteronormative one but that doesn't represent what sports in Canada actually are. 

According to Cayer, some of the goals of the project would be to get a grant for EDI work and to create coaching development opportunities for racialized coaches, coaches with disabilities and other coaches in the margins. A secondary piece is to create a blended learning approach and then engage in dialogues about anti-racism that according to Cayer, reflect the reality. 

For Dr. Joseph, the best outcome of the module would be to move some of this language and resources of Truth and Reconciliation and anti-racism go into the mainstream.

"That we don't have to debate whether touching a Black person's hair is an issue," Dr. Joseph said. "In some communities, we are still at a place of explaining racism and explaining the lived experience of microaggressions where it has an impact on me and my communities."

Systemic alignment

She hopes that coaches can disseminate this information to their athletes so that they can do something. Dr. Joseph insists that sport is so rich as a resource for transforming broader cultures. 

Cayer hopes that this will be shared widely with partners and the language and terminology will be understood and create a systemic alignment across sports which comes from information flow.

"The sport sector needs this. We are a sport nation," Cayer said. "Sport needs to be a place where people come, have a positive experience and feel safe. It just has to be a place where people show up and have fun."

Dr. Joseph says that there is a predominance of white men in positions of power and should be looked to for leading the shift in culture. Empowering those who are racialized and also ensuring that everyone across the board has the same information is crucial.

The Anti-racism in Coaching training costs $15 and is available on the CAC website.

I can't think of a better way to incorporate anti-racism into sport than with this powerful tool for coaches. As a lifelong soccer player who looked to her coaches and trainers for support and guidance during the formative years of my life, this is an immensely helpful toolkit that can help shape sports in Canada for the better. 


Shireen Ahmed

Senior Contributor

Shireen Ahmed is a multi-platform sports journalist, a TEDx speaker, mentor, and an award-winning sports activist who focuses on the intersections of racism and misogyny in sports. She is an industry expert on Muslim women in sports, and her academic research and contributions have been widely published. She is co-creator and co-host of the “Burn It All Down” feminist sports podcast team. In addition to being a seasoned investigative reporter, her commentary is featured by media outlets in Canada, the USA, Europe and Australia. She holds an MA in Media Production from Toronto Metropolitan University where she now teaches Sports Journalism and Sports Media. You can find Shireen tweeting or drinking coffee, or tweeting about drinking coffee. She lives with her four children and her cat.

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