It was a blow out to say the least.
The University of Toronto Varsity Blues fell 67-37 to the Ryerson Rams. The Varsity Blues couldn’t catch a break on defence and weren’t making offensive strides enough to compete in the Rams home-opening game.
Despite the loss, University of Toronto head coach Michele Belanger was able to put aside the loss and explore the bigger picture.
“It is fabulous,” Belanger raved about being a coach of a female university basketball team. “You can effect some change in some young women and it is nice to see them grow as human beings and start to feel confident in who they are. It’s more than just winning and losing in a basketball game,” said Belanger.
One of the key changes that need to occur in woman’s basketball for progress to made is the female presence in positions of power. According to a statistic from the NCAA in the 24 women’s varsity sports since 1987, less than 50 per cent of the coaches have been female.
“I think it is critical as role models and to show the young girls and the women out there that it is doable and you can achieve positions of authority and that you can manage and make a difference in someone’s life,” said Belanger.
“Being a head coach certainly right now are positions that are not necessarily all female, a lot of females are not coaching females, so our game is not quite 50-50,” said Belanger.
‘Not a lot of glory’
Belanger further explored why females are not being drawn to the coaching position.
“There is not a lot of glory in coaching,” said Belanger. “I think the glory comes into knowing that the young women that you are coaching have great experiences and grow and come back and appreciate everything that you have done for them in the four or five years that they were with you and that they can recount some of their great memories and I think that’s what it’s all about,” said Belanger.
Ryerson Rams head coach Carly Clarke said women coaches have the power to connect with players.
“We were often former players, and women coaching women we are often able to relate to the players and the experiences that they are going through and potentially connect in a different way and most importantly a role model for young women. I think for women to other women coaching and leading hopefully it inspires them to do it whether it is basketball or anything else in life,” said Clarke.
With talent level rising in women’s basketball this gives opportunity to normalize the sport for the younger generation. Players such as Hamilton native Kia Nurse are inspiring female players of the possibilities in pursuing the game.
“She’s a beast,” Varsity Blues guard Fiorella Granda raved of Nurse. “She definitely inspires me and my basketball team.”
With Canadian players such as Nurse proving the possibility of pursuing a basketball career exists, this presence is beginning to erase the stereotype where women do not belong in sports and normalize a woman’s place on the court.
“I feel like it is hard being a female athlete because things bring your confidence like you shoot like a girl but since basketball is rising it makes us have confidence, yes we are girls, yes we play sports, so what?” said Granda.
Assistant coach of the Varsity Blues Tamara Tatham has paved the way in the women’s sports not only on the court as a player but also from the bench.
Tatham has had success on an international level in attending the London and Rio Olympics, and found success nationally when Canada defeated the United States at the 2015 Toronto Pan Am Games in the gold-medal game. For both men and women’s teams, this marked the first Pan Am gold for Canada in basketball.
Tatham has been able to use her success as a player and transfer it to being a successful coach. She was the first women to coach the Toronto G League team Raptors 905.
“It is motivating for females in general, that you can really put your mind into doing anything and go after what you want. There are no barriers at the end of the day,” said Tatham.
Tatham strives to use her experience on the court to motivate the next generation.
“One of the biggest things I want to do as a coach is inspire and I’ve played professional basketball for 10 years now, and I know what hard work means, so I know if they just find it inside of themselves to just push a little more every single time I know it’ll make them a better but it’s also going to make them a better person off the court as well.
“One day it’s all going to come together and I just love working with the younger generation to really inspire and grow the game it is my biggest mission,” said Tatham.
In the last year the viewership and respect for women’s basketball has grown immensely. Despite the growth of popularity from on outward view, those at the core of the sport such as players and coaches know that there is a long road ahead and many more years to come before reaching the level of equality the sport deserves.
The exposure of the sport has changed in that more people are tuning in to the WNBA or seeing the Canadian women’s national team succeed. However, in order for the foundation of the sport to find equality with its male counterpart, the viewers mindset needs changing.
“The mindset has to change. The media’s mindset, women’s mindset have to change, we have to be more supportive of each other we have to demand more,” said Belanger.