Asya Bartley, an assistant coach for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees women’s rugby team, was recently selected for U Sports’ Apprentice Coach program, a grant that provides universities with funding for mentoring, skills development and hiring female coaches.
Bartley, who played rugby at two-time national champions St Francis Xavier University from 2008 to 2012, has been the standard coach for the Gee-Gees since 2018, specializing in plays like scrums, line-outs and kickoffs when in possession the ball is up the game. She is dating uOttawa rugby head coach Jen Boyd.
The goal of the program, which is in its third year, is to increase the number of female coaches in Canadian university sports.
“This program celebrates women in coaching,” said Boyd, who is also program manager for women’s rugby at uOttawa. “It just creates an opportunity at a really high level with a lot of resources… to really grow as a coach.”
Bartley coaches the team twice a week for an hour each and attends games on weekends. She said she always talks to Boyd and gets feedback.
According to uOttawa’s Assistant Director of High Performance Roger Archambault, Bartley will also receive training and certification through the national coaching certification program.
Though he’s been training with the Gee-Gees since 2018, this is Bartley’s first year as a recipient of the scholarship.
“Asya is worth the investment,” Boyd said. “She’s a phenomenal coach and we just wanted to pay her for her time. It’s worth a lot more than the scholarship, but it’s a start.”
Bartley is one of 18 women selected for the apprenticeship program.
“We’re excited to continue to build on our Female Apprentice Coach Program,” said U Sports athletic director Jennifer Smart when announcing this year’s scholarship recipients from a pool of 37 women.
Each trainee receives a stipend of up to $6,000.
“She’s a phenomenal coach and we just wanted to pay her for her time. It’s worth a lot more than the scholarship, but it’s a start.”
– Jen Boyd, head coach of the uOttawa women’s rugby team
“Despite the unprecedented challenges related to COVID in the first two years of the program, this initiative has already proven to provide the tools and atmosphere needed to open new doors and advance coaching in the name of equity and diversity opening up the U Sports ecosystem,” Smart said. “This program is designed to foster the success of our proud alumnae who aspire to become coaches in the future.”
Bartley said she sets an example for younger athletes and, as someone who recently graduated, has a better relationship with players than an older coach.
“If you don’t see women coaches, it’s hard to imagine yourself as a coach,” Bartley said. “They have a hard time having this dream, this vision.”
Bartley is also diversifying the uOttawa coaching staff. Archambault said having someone to connect with off the field can improve the environment around the team.
“Student athletes at university are in a high-pressure situation,” Archambault said, explaining the stress a player experiences academically, financially and on the field. “The big win for us is creating a safer environment for the girls to meet these challenges.”
This is echoed by Boyd, who said Bartley was the “ying to my yang”.
“She’s very different from me, so it provides an environment where we can provide coaching and mentoring to a wide range of different types of learners,” Boyd said. “She is invaluable to me and the program.”
A diverse coaching staff ultimately leads to better performance on the field, Archambault said.
“We need to create the most conducive environment for (athletes) from a safety perspective and from a community perspective,” Archambault said. “Those are cornerstones that need to be in place if you want this performance piece.”
“If you don’t see women coaches, it’s hard to imagine yourself as a coach. They find it difficult to have this dream, this vision.”
– Asya Bartley, standard coach, uOttawa Gee-Gees women’s rugby team
While the importance of a diverse coaching staff is clear, so are the barriers that still exist for women in sport. Both Boyd and Bartley said the time and financial constraints of being a volunteer or part-time coach are often difficult to overcome.
“Women aren’t typically in the positions where they can go to practice early or take a Friday or weekend off,” Boyd said. “(For) many of our male colleagues, it’s very different.”
Another obstacle is experience, Boyd added. She said some of her male colleagues were considered for jobs 10 years earlier than her with “much less experience”.
There is also another expectation of how to behave.
“If you don’t sit quietly in the corner, you’re going to face a lot of challenges because people don’t like change,” Boyd said.
Archambault said the Gee-Gees prioritize hiring female coaches, Archambault said. Of the last seven hires, six were women, he said.
“That’s a goal for us now,” Archambault said. “It makes us feel better now.”