WCIP Virtual Reunion: Unique Bonds Reinforced

By Sheila Robertson

Despite the Covid19 pandemic, a happy gathering took place recently, thanks to the wonders of modern technology. Sixteen of the 20 women coaches from Commonwealth Games Federation’s (CGF) inaugural Women’s Coaching Internship Program (WCIP) dialed in to Skype for an eagerly anticipated 90-minute virtual “reunion”, the brainchild of WCIP’s program director Sheilagh Croxon of Canada, and enabled by the technical wizardry of Malaysia’s Lini Kazim.

“It was timely to celebrate the second anniversary of our shared experience in Gold Coast and to connect and offer support to one another in these uncertain times,” said Sheilagh. 

WCIP, a breakthrough program of the CGF launched at the 2018 Commonwealth Games was, according to the intern coaches, an outstanding success, not least for the powerful and enduring bonds of friendship and support that have resulted. 

To recap, the WCIP concept was included in the CGF’s Gender Equality Strategy endorsed by the Executive Board in 2016:

“Create a Women Coach Internship Program for Gold Coast 2018. Earmark quota positions specifically for Coach Interns that CGAs could apply for over and above their Team Size Calculator allocation for team officials.”

“It was only natural that women in coaching be included in our ground-breaking Gender Equality Strategy,” said CGF President Dame Louise Martin DBE. “We know that coaches are essential to athlete performance.”

Consequently, some months before the Games, Commonwealth Games Associations were asked to recommend women coaches whom they felt would benefit from the opportunity to “fill a specific and meaningful role within their country’s coaching team and on the field of play.” The intent was to ensure the interns were fully embedded within their teams, thereby guaranteeing a tangible international coaching experience that would augment their resumés. Support would be provided by a carefully selected mentor, usually the relevant teams’ head coach, and a volunteer female program director with a strong coaching background who would prepare an educational program for delivery throughout the Games. 

“Sheilagh was an outstanding choice for the director role,” said CGF Vice President Bruce Robertson CM, CPA, CITP, who developed the Gender Equality Strategy and the WCIP concept. “She has a wealth of coaching experience, from the community to the Olympic Games. She also led the Coaching Association of Canada’s Women in Coaching program for eight years.”

So it was that on April 5th, 2018, 20 women intern coaches from every corner of the Commonwealth crowded into a small room in the Gold Coast Village for their first meeting with Sheilagh (see Appendix A - The 2018 WCIP Intern Coaches and Their Mentors). Immediately a powerful connection was established.

“The energy in the small room was palpable, and quite surprising since only Sheilagh and I knew each other,” recalled Sheila Robertson, who supported Sheilagh throughout the program and handled the communications role. “We have been friends and colleagues for many years, so it was natural for me to be involved, but neither of us anticipated the strong bonds that emerged so quickly. It was (and is) remarkable.”

The connection strengthened with each passing day and, during the last session on April 15th, the interns pledged to sustain their emerging network through WhatsApp, Facebook, and regular reports to the CGF. “We know through research and anecdotally the vital role of ongoing, supportive connection in sustaining women in coaching careers,” said Sheilagh.

Greeting the interns at their farewell reception, President Martin was struck by the camaraderie. “The CGF are very proud of all of our initiatives to support women’s coaching,” she said.

"WCIP was a great platform for me to meet other young up-and-coming international coaches,” said Dumisani Chauke of South Africa. “It was refreshing to learn how coaches from other countries handle the challenges we all go through as women coaches. One thing I will forever be grateful for are my experiences at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and being part of WCIP, which has certainly paved a way for me to get to where I am today, assistant coach of the Spar Proteas Netball team." 

As time passed, WhatsApp became a regular meeting place and the interns frequently turned to each other for advice and support and sharing their successes, which are considerable. (See Appendix B – Sharing Success Stories)

As the second anniversary of WCIP approached, Sheilagh canvassed the interns to ascertain interest in a Skype reunion; the replies were a resounding “yes”. Lini, confined to her Kuala Lumpur apartment because of Covid-19, quickly set to work organising the call. The challenge was to coordinate across so many time zones, but within a few days, the arrangements were complete, and April 18th was chosen for our reunion. 
 

As each dialled in, our images appeared on-screen - those who could not use Skype were able to listen to the conversations – and almost immediately the bonds were rekindled. One by one, we brought each other up-to-date. As is typical of committed coaches, much of the commentary focused on the importance of finding ways to engage with their athletes in this time of physical distancing; coping with challenges that vary from sport to sport and from individual versus team sports; and describing current realities. Several interns shared resources they are using during the pandemic (see Appendix C- Shared Resources).

As the 90-minute reunion came to an end, it was clear that the connections forged in Gold Coast remained as strong as ever and there was eager agreement to “meet” again, and quickly.

Lini noted that “coaches’ ability to perform in a highly pressurised environment is important for athletes’ performance. Therefore, coaches are performers in their own rights. Just like the athletes who require psychological support to be positive, so do coaches, especially female coaches who are grossly under-represented and sometimes marginalised. The connection I share with the WCIP coaches has provided me with positive reinforcement so I can deliver my best performance!”  

Cordelia Norris of New Zealand echoes Lini’s enthusiasm. “WCIP is one of the best things I have been involved in and is potentially one of the best things I will ever be involved in!” she said. “Often we are led to develop our coaching in technical courses run by males in the discipline which we are focused on. WCIP was a multi-disciplinary group lead by females, for female coaches. The range of different sports broadened my understanding of sport and not only what it takes to be a successful coach, but to be a successful leader and mentor. Attending WCIP has given me further opportunities in my coaching career. For example, I have just transitioned into the role of Performance Coach in our club (which currently ranked #1 in New Zealand), meaning I am now working with our country’s best divers. Additionally, it has given me a group of women whom I can use as a sounding board, who support each other, and bounce off each other to grow. This is an essential aspect of keeping women coaches in sport.”

As requested by the interns, plans are underway to repeat the “reunion” shortly. “It was such a moving experience to see each other again, and people left with a renewed and shared sense of purpose and knowing they are not alone,” said Sheilagh. “We have always felt that what happened in Gold Coast was unique and real, and now we are certain that WCIP produced something special. It is a wonderful example of what is possible, notably for women intern coaches at future Commonwealth and Commonwealth Youth Games. And, importantly for the future, those from 2018 are eager to mentor the next generation.”

CGF Vice President Chris Jenkins, chair of the Development Committee, said: “We are delighted with the positive impact of this project from Gold Coast 2018 and look forward to continuing to develop and support appropriate coach leadership programmes in Commonwealth Sport.”

Appendix A – The 2018 WCIP Intern Coaches and Their Mentors 

WCIP Intern CoachesCGASportMentor Coaches
Tina HoebenCANSwimmingMartyn Wilby
Martine DuGrenierCANWrestlingTonya Verbeek
Jill PerryCANBoxingDaniel Trepanier
Evangeline CollierENGTable TennisAlan Coooke
Bah Chuh MeiMALLawn BowlsZuradi Puteh
Lini KazimMALTriathlonPeter Lau
Laura KerrNIRAthleticsJackie Newton
Amanda BoothENGSwimmingGrant Robins
Sheila GakiKENBadmintonJohn Odihambo
Carolyne KolaKENAthleticsJohn Anzraq
Soraya SantosMOZSwimmingLeonel Matonse
Victoria GrantNZLRugby 7sStu Ross
Cordelia NorrisNZLDivingSteve Gladding
Amanda MurphyNZLAthleticsDale Stevenson
Grace MmolaiBOTBoxingLuza Lechedzani
Dumisani ChaukeRSANetballNorma Plummer
Mpho MadiRSAWrestlingNico Coetzee
Isabelle AdnreMRITable TennisSahajasein Aladd
Mildred GambaUGAAthleticsNalis Bigingo
Endurance TeyeNGRAthleticsSule Oluyomi Oladimeji

 

Appendix B – Sharing Success Stories 

Amanda Booth, England, Swimming
I learned that I'm not alone; many other women across different sports have had similar experiences to mine. That I'm as good as my male counterparts. I have been working as a coach mentor with coaches from other Clubs & Coaches within my own programme. I travelled with the Swim England team to one of the EURO swim meets in Nice as Head Coach. My role was very much around mentoring the swim coaches and ensuring that the swimmers got the most they could from the support staff. 

Dumisani Chauke, South Africa, Netball
I was appointed Head Coach of the South African U-20 netball team and we won the 2018 Region 5 games in Botswana. I have been featured in the "Her MOJO" booklet founded and produced in the UK and distributed at the netball World Cup in Liverpool. I graduated with a Bachelor of Technology in sport management. I have been appointed as the assistant coach of the Spar Proteas Netball team, the South African Senior National Netball team. I was named in the 2019 Top 100 most influential young South Africans in the category of Social Enterprise and Philanthropy for the work that I am doing through the Dumisani Chauke Netball Foundation and ended up in 21st position. I completed my honours degree in Sport Management and my application for a master’s degree in Marketing has been approved. 

Evie Collier, England, Table Tennis
WCIP gave me the confidence to push for coaching opportunities in order to inspire others and to keep learning from others. I am doing more coaching opportunities such as in the England development camps and more coaching opportunities abroad. I am going to be leading a development programme at my local club and have been asked to become more involved in the youth programme for England Table Tennis. I was asked to be head coach for the cadet girls’ team at the European Youth Championships, the only female of four coaches. I am heading to Sweden to coach the youth squad at the Swedish open. 

Martine Dugrenier, Canada, Wrestling
I went with the junior National team to the Pan American championship and the Junior World Championship. My athlete ended up wrestling in the final and I was the main coach in the corner having my mentor from Gold Coast as the support coach. We made history being two female coaches coaching a man in the final of a world championship. 

Sheila Gaki, Kenya, Badminton
I have been selected in the Youth Olympics Commission in Kenya. WCIP’s WhatsApp group has been a great platform to learn how to handle different situations affecting women coaches, not to mention staying in touch with the most wonderful coaches I ever met. I have been accepted into the Olympics Youth Development Commission in Kenya, a major milestone for me as a young coach since I am interested in developing a juniors badminton team and getting them ready for the Olympics in the next six years. I am grateful to my National Olympic Committee and WCIP for giving me the opportunity. The NOC, in preparation for the 2022 Youth Olympic Games, held an elite youth training camp and I was appointed coach for the junior badminton team. 

Mildred Gamba, Uganda, Athletics
In October 2018, our federation gave me opportunity to do a basic coaching course and later I was invited for the Level 1 IAAF course and excelled as 2nd best. I became a member of the Athletes Commission for the Uganda Athletics Federation. More athletes are being referred to me for sprints training in sprints after being part of the coaching staff during the Commonwealth Games. I was named among the most influential women administrators in Uganda. I was selected as the team manager and coach for team Uganda to the IAAF world relays in Japan in May. I credit WCIP. The US embassy in Uganda nominated me for the global mentorship program in October 2019. I was supposed to lead a team for the 6th Council of British International Schools competition in football, athletics, and swimming; however, this has been postponed to 2021 due to the pandemic. 

I have registered my foundation after being inspired by the amazing WCIP women. It is called Gamba Athletics Foundation. The club I founded in 2014, the Tartan Burners Athletics Club, was awarded 3 grants this year by the US Embassy to run Baseball, celebrating the legacy of Jackie Robinson and non- violence, Tennis, celebrating Arthur Ashe and HIV AIDS awareness and empowering girls through sports; and celebrating the legacy of Wilma Rudolph overcoming adversity to excel in life. I continue to work with U-16 athletes to help them achieve their dreams of becoming future track stars. The relay team won 4x4 bronze at the All Africa Games. The women’s 4x4 team I coached won a bronze medal, the first in history. 

Victoria Grant, New Zealand, Rugby 7s
I was co-coach NZ Development Women’s 7s, which is one place off the national sevens coaching roles. I went to Japan as a coach of the Black Ferns Sevens Development Team. I coached full time in Tokyo at a women’s 7s club team and continued as head coach of Bay of Plenty women’s 7s team. I was chosen to attend the Women’s Sports Leadership Academy leadership program in London – a great week with 23 other female coaches from the Olympic sports and from all different countries. I am also coaching provincial 7s, which placed fourth at the nationals. Bay of Plenty Rugby is holding Coaching Forums every ‪Tuesday night‬ during the lockdown. I was a special guest and my topic was “Leading your players, people and community”. ‬‬‬‬‬

Tina Hoeben, Canada, Swimming
I have been included in the Canada Coach program, four 4-day sessions over 18 months geared towards becoming better high performance coaches. I have been selected for Professional Development by Women in Coaching and am currently taking an online course in Women and Leadership from Cornell University. KISU Swim Club had a successful Trials meet with four swimmers being placed on three different Canadian teams, quite the achievement for a club from a small community. At the Canadian Juniors (top 18&Unders), we placed fifth overall out of more than 100 teams. We had only three swimmers; the teams ahead of us had between 12 and 26. 

Lini Kazim, Malaysia, Triathlon
WCIP was an eye opener for me and indirectly a booster to my confidence as a coach. My athlete qualified for the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires 2018 and I was selected as the national coach to accompany him. I was elected as a member of the Coaching Committee of the Malaysian National Triathlon Federation. This appointment is a big step for me as now I have a platform to be heard to ensure fair athlete selection for all major events and that all programs are inclusive. I have been nominated to undergo a Facilitator's course so I can train other coaches. I am participating in the mentorship programme spearheaded by the International Triathlon Union. Following the CGF empowerment programme, I have two female mentees I have opted to develop and am going to develop elite athletes at the national level. I attended a sports science course and have applied to be an intern coach during the Olympics Games. 

Laura Kerr, Northern Ireland, Athletics
I led Northern Ireland’s review process after the Commonwealth Games and have been the lead coach as seen below. I believe the WCIP  experience helped me to gain the respect and trust of my colleagues and athletes on our team.

  • Athletics NI Warm Weather Training Camp January 2018
  • Athletics NI U20 International Team
  • Athletics NI Combined Events International Team
  • World University Games - Great Britain Team Staff & Throws Coach-Naples
  • European U-20 Championships 
  • Personal Coaching - a silver medal for Kate O'Connor in heptathlon with a national record in Javelin
  • Great Britain Team Coach for European Winter Throws Cup
  • National Camp Lead for Athletics NI Youth Academy Warm Weather Training 
  • Secured a grant for 100,000 euros to fund Athletics NI Youth Academy Camps for 2020/2021.

Carolyn Kola, Kenya, Athletics
Because of my experience in Gold Coast I was given an opportunity to travel with the Kenyan team to Asaba, Nigeria, for the African senior athletics championships. I am now involved with Tegla Lorupe Foundation training/coaching refugee athletes and coached the Refugee team at the World Relay Championships in Japan. I attended a cross country camp in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. Ten of my Paralympic athletes qualified for the Paralympics.

Tegla Loroupe Peace Foundation, is a Peace and Development organization that promotes peaceful co-existence and socio-economic development of poor and marginalized individuals and communities in Northern Kenya and the Greater Horn of Africa Region.

Isabelle Lindor, Mauritius, Table Tennis
While in Gold Coast I was appointed as Chairperson of the National Women Commission of Mauritius. As chairperson, I am on the board of the Mauritius Sports Council. I have continued my work as coach of the National Women Table Tennis team for the Indian Ocean Island Games assisting the Technical Director.

Mpho Madi, South Africa, Wrestling
I have started my own club; I feel like I have created an opportunity, not only for myself but for everyone included. United World Wrestling invited me to be part of the organising committee for the Africa Championships. I delivered the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Athlete Learning Gateway to all wrestlers. Thanks to the WCIP! I have been working with the United World Wrestling development department. I did a lot of camps for the Cadets (boys and girls). I am preparing for the World Cadet camp and did the Athletes Learning Gateway with the athletes and was coach for the South African team. I am the only female coach to go to a Cadets World Championship. My club is going so well. The female wrestlers have increased from 10 to 25. The club has since won 3 competitions and I have been invited to help organise the training camp for the African qualifiers and attend the competition.

Bah Chui Mei, Malaysia, Lawn Bowls
I coached the para-athletes of lawn bowls and participated at the Para Malaysian Games. I was offered to be an instructor (first time for a woman coach) Level 1 specific coaching (Lawn Bowls). 

Grace Mmolai, Botswana, Boxing
I can now say proudly I am a coach and I don’t need to be reminded all the time of my gender. I recommend:

  • Keep in touch with our federations to trace the developments of mentees and mentors as a way of making federations account for the coach's growth because money was invested into WCIP.
  • Encourage federations to make use of the female coaches to allow female athletes to be motivated through the involvement of women in sports since a girl child is still not seen as having potential compared to a boy child.
  • Before each Commonwealth Games, advance a programme in Africa to sensitize federations to the importance of WCIP.

My school club did very well at the National Finals with 11 medals for all my boxers - 2 Golds, 5 Silver, and 4 Bronze medals. In December 2019 I took 2 female and 4 male boxers for Games held every 2 years with all sports represented by all 16 districts win Botswana. I was the manager and coach for the team which performed at 100% delivery because the female boxers got gold medals, one male a silver and 3 males got bronze medals. They scooped position 2 under boxing and with all the sports they got position 2.

Amanda Murphy, New Zealand, Athletics
My contract was extended, and I gained more coaching paid hours.

Cordelia Norris, New Zealand, Diving
I was the sole NZ coach taking two divers to Montreal for the 2018 CAMO Invitational Competition. I was selected as coach for the 2018 Youth Olympic Games. Our athlete just missed out on selection, but the nomination was a great honour. I've been appointed head coach for the Diving New Zealand Junior team competing at Australian Age Groups; it was a big deal for me as I was announced over other coaches who are older than me and have over 20 athletes. I have run a New Zealand Diving Level 1 Coaching Course and am now helping my mentor Steve Gladding and James Hardaker - the top two coaches in the country - put together the Diving New Zealand Level 2 Coaching Course. I am currently in the process of completing Level 3; there are only 2 Level 3 coaches in the country. I was in Kuala Lumpur for a FINA diving Grand Prix, my first time coaching a senior event. My athlete came 8th, which is phenomenal considering she is just 14. I am completing a Bachelor of Science Degree majoring in psychology.

Jill Perry, Canada, Boxing
WCIP was the turning point of my coaching career. Prior to the program, I was part of Boxing Canada’s coaching pool and within a span of six years was assigned only two smaller tournaments. While I have gained many things from participating in WCIP, the number one thing it gave me was the confidence that I could be the coach I aspire to be, and that I am not alone in my struggles to gain valuable and relevant experience. The programme’s contents broadened my thinking and exposed me to different tools and approaches to advance my coaching career; the unique setting of being at a major Games allowing me to work with and support my national team and this made for a very rich and rewarding hands-on experience.  
My involvement with WCIP has led to more opportunities:

  • 2018 Youth Continental Boxing Championships in Colorado Springs, USA. I was the ONLY female coach at the 21-country tournament.
  • 2018 National Team training camp in Puerto Rico 
  • 2018 Silesian Cup and training camp; (qualifier for World Championships)
  • Training Camp, Puerto Rico
  • Indepencia Cup, Dominican Republic
  • Golden Girl Tournament, Sweden
  • Youth Tournament and Training Camp, Hungary. Of 32 countries participating, I was the only female coach.

At an international tournament in the US, I was the only female head coach. Mine was the only coaching team to also have a female assistant coach. I am long-listed as a coach for the Tokyo Games, the only female coach nominated. I applied to the Coaching Association of Canada’s female mentorship program and have made it through to the second round. 

Soraya Santos, Mozambique, Swimming
I learned that I have competence as a coach, that I can carry out my work like any other coach. [WCIP] changed the way I work, I started to participate more in training to give my opinions and to agree, or not, with other opinions and to be open to new opportunities. I was chosen to work with the selections for female athletes and was appointed national selector with another coach. I am invited to participate in meetings of the Olympic Committee. I led our team to the Amateur Swimming Confederation of Africa Championships in Namibia. For the first time, I represented my country as the head coach in the African Confederation of Amateur Swimming Zone IV Swimming Championship in Namibia. I was named head coach of the pre-selection Mozambican Swimming to participate in the18th FINA World Championships in 2019, but in the final selection another coach was named. I am happy because when there is a national team, they think of me as a coach capable of representing the country. This only happens thanks to WCIP.

Endurance Teye, Nigeria, Athletics
WCIP s motivational, it’s about life, not just about coaching. It’s about what you deal with every day, the way you deal with people, and accept people. It’s also about your self-esteem and how you present yourself. Before, it would have been hard for me …  to express myself. It has really opened me up. The support at the Games was great, really wonderful. 

Appendix C: Shared Resources

https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-why-self-isolation-brings-mental-health-strain-for-elite-athletes-135273 - shared by Sheilagh Croxon

http://femalecoachingnetwork.com/ - shared by Evie Collier

Mental Strength - with Jan-Ove Waldners tips for peak performance - shared by Evie Collier
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25411560-mental-strength---with-jan-ove-waldner-s-tips-for-peak-performance

The Art & Science of Coaching Running – shared by Laura Kerr
https://athleticsni.org/News/Athletics-NI-News/Athletics-NI-Zoom-In-To-Coach-Development

Sports Distancing - shared by Lini Kaziim
https://www.drpuisan.com/

Coaching from Home with Dumisani Chauke
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0nGSEXaPSY 

Mildred Gamba mentions WCIP an article about William Blick, UOC president
https://codingsocieties.com/invest-in-sports-technology-says-uocs-blick/ 

“But according to her experience, technology is more important to certain sports more than others after observations in Australia as an intern at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. “Swimmers, for example, can test their lactate levels, to change their body stream and acquire the best attires with technology,” she says adding that long distance running can also simulate high altitude conditions. I would not have got that knowledge without the internship.”