The inaugural Black Female Coach Mentorship Program (BFCMP), a program run by the Black Canadian Coaching Association (BCCA) in partnership with the Canadian Coaching Association (CAC), has announced its first cohort of 17 mentees. From this list of remarkable female leaders, two are from the East Coast of Canada, but only one can call the King’s women’s rugby team her home team, Head Coach Lysa McGrath.
Initially McGrath was hesitant to apply for the program.
“I was already involved in the N.S. Black and Indigenous Coach Mentorship Program. I didn’t need anything else on my plate, but I had friends from rugby who knew about the program and really encouraged me to apply.” she says.
The program focuses on three main pillars: providing Black female mentorship; advancing coach professionalization among program mentors and mentees; and providing a sustainable model of formalized mentorship that increases accessibility, support, and leadership development for Black female coaches in sport. Being a part of the program gives mentors and mentees access to a deeper level of community within the sports world—a level that is brand new to McGrath.
“[Before the BFCMP] I had never been in a room with only Black female coaches and athletes—it’s incredible, and a huge step,” says McGrath.
“When I applied, one of the questions asked was ‘What is it like to be a Black female coach?’ I had never been asked a question like that before. I laid it all out and talked about my experiences.”
“Being a Black female [coach] while speaking with referees, coaches, and parents, it’s just different.”
Participating in the BFCMP opens the door for McGrath to discuss her experiences as a coach in a community of women with similar backgrounds, but the value of this experience goes further still. Being recognized as a Black female coach is also an affirmation of McGrath’s efforts to be a positive influence and resource for Black athletes—especially Black athletes who aspire to one day become a coach themselves.
That commitment to being a positive influence and resource for Black athletes—and McGrath’s leadership skills—are qualities she offers throughout her life. And McGrath’s life is busy: in addition to being a BFCMP mentee, continuing her involvement in the N.S. Black and Indigenous Coach Mentorship Program and coaching at King’s, McGrath also coaches women’s rugby at Sackville’s Millwood High School and the Dartmouth Pigdog’s senior women’s team. In her career as a social worker, she works as an attendance support worker with the Halifax Regional Centre for Education in four schools.
McGrath’s involvement with King’s began in 2015, after she spent the summer season playing alongside several members of the King’s team as part of the Halifax Tars Rugby Football Club.
“One day … I saw one of the King’s players with their rugby gear. I asked what was going on, and they said they just finished rugby practice. They suggested that I should come out and help coach. At that time, I had only coached high school and had fallen in love with coaching and wanted to coach wherever I could,” she explains.
After that, McGrath contacted the head coach of the King’s women’s rugby team, who was more than happy to have her join the team as assistant coach.
“I really fell in love with King’s and the team. Next thing you know, [it’s 2017 and] I became the head coach. It’s six years later and I still love coaching and the [King’s] team.”
McGrath and assistant coaches Carolyn Dawson and Courtnay Malcolm make it a priority to get to know their players.
“We want to know how their mom is doing, how their partner is, what their plan is for after university,” she says, “we want to be there for our girls, all of the time.”
This focus on relationship building is positively transforming the team.
“In my first year, there were eight girls. Last year, we had 28. The work ethic is incredible, and the girls come back year after year to push themselves to do better.”
As a former university athlete herself, McGrath says that sport was key to her personal development, and the development of other young women who were her peers.
“Especially with females, I think sport builds character. Through learning your sport, the rules, how to be precise and articulate, it carries over into your adult life. If I didn’t play sports, I wouldn’t be working in a university, I wouldn’t be a social worker, and I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says McGrath.
“Playing sport helps females find their voice. It’s okay to be muddy and dirty, to push yourself and see yourself as strong and confident. Sport gives women the chance to step out of the systems imposed on us by society and to see themselves win. You can take on any task in the real world as easily as you can on the pitch.”
Through her participation in the BFCMP, McGrath will have the opportunity to push herself even more than she already has.
“Being a part of this program will grow my network and skillset, while helping me be seen as a Black coach.”
You can learn more about the Black Female Coach Mentorship Program on the BCCA website, and follow the UKC Blue Devils’ progress through the season.