Why we need a Canadian Ringette Players Association.

By Paul Youldon.

Sport is part of what it is to be Canadian: the pursuit of excellence, learning to compete, overcoming adversity, social engagement, lifelong learning, tolerance, healthy and fun physical activity, building community capacity and learning about team work and leadership.

Ringette is no different.

However, as a primarily, but not exclusively, female sport, we see many vulnerabilities exposed with respect to athlete’s human rights.

Moreover, we see the power base of leagues, sport governing bodies and team leadership dominated by men. Even though Ringette has often been put forward as the “poster child” sport to increase female participation and foster a new era for female leadership, the fact remains that the majority of coaches are men. Notwithstanding “affirmative action” initiatives in place for the past two decades, scant progress is being made. In fact, we have observed selective abuse from male ringette coaches toward ringette players taking on coaching roles by ignoring them or not permitting them to participate in decisions and leadership opportunities. We are losing more female coaches then we are retaining.

One aspiring female coach and ringette player of 15 years told me that she felt “excluded” and “intimidated” by a coaches room full of male ringette coaches. She had serious doubts about her future as a ringette coach.

This is not about gender, it is about social change with a feminist theme.

Over 100 years ago, John Acton, coined the expression “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

This expression applies perfectly to the sport coach.

I have heard this statement too many times “he is the coach –he can do what he wants.” Players fear reprisals and may lack the confidence to speak out about poor playing conditions, abusive or harassing coaching practices, even behaviours that may affect health and safety. We once observed a ringette coach picking up a young player from the ice and getting her to show that she was NOT injured, yet it was later confirmed that she had broken her ankle. The coach refused to acknowledge the injury because it may have affected the game result.

Players deserve “industry standard” health and safety practices.

Coaching is often compared to a traditional organizational hierarchy. The coach sets the agenda, makes all the decisions, and players must obey or quit. Many existing coaches feel this is the best way to get things done, and may also lack the skills to “engage” the athletes.

Although we promote “Respect in Sport” through substantial national efforts, we continue to see disregard for ringette athlete considerations. In fact, many coaches think they are doing the right thing by leading with clear and strong language that is well grounded in historical tradition, such as the practice of “benching” players and scolding them in front of other colleagues, rebuked in a loud voice; others are neglected and possibly given a demotion on the team. These are actual clear examples of power harassment. In the workplace, there would be consequences for such actions.

Although Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) Models promote athlete “engagement” and “involvement” in team decision-making, we often see teams and leagues run without any athlete input. One of the key values that female athletes will espouse is inclusivity, fairness and opportunities for social interaction. Failure to provide these social dynamics, is not just ignoring our sport vision of LTAD, it is just really bad coaching.

Recent examples taking place in within the ringette elite league show the following behaviours: failure to speak directly with adult women to understand their point of view with respect to team and league decisions; telling players to sign requested contracts or face being ignored by coaches; failure to explain to players the plan for the season – raising anxiety and confusion about the athletes season and sense of opportunities.

We understand the challenges of running ringette leagues and association. Not everyone will be happy with all decisions. We get it…

However, in public office, it is required that governments be open, transparent and accountable to its constituents. We note many “public consultations” and “community town halls” in order to “understand” and be “inclusive” of citizens’ rights.

Ringette, as a public commodity, is no different.

The sport of Ringette deserves to be accountable to its main constituency – the athletes.

In the business sector, the Canadian Labour Congress is the largest The Canadian Labour Congress organization, representing 3.3 million Canadian workers. The CLC through its member unions represent the rights of workers. It is important for workers, and for ringette players to have a national voice that can stand up for fairness, athlete rights, input into decision making, a role on league and sport governing body leadership and oversight and freedom from harassment and abuse of authority.

There are several recent examples of athletes standing together against the sport establishment: women’s soccer, hockey, and college athletes at Northwestern University in the USA, who strived to form an athlete’s union.

Ringette associations at all levels often have an “athlete rep” or “player advocate,” yet they sit on boards that have a mandate to run large scale ringette operations.

Who stands up for the athletes?

Who explains to the athlete her options and how the sport system works and what ringette career path may work best? Who supports the athlete during “tribunals” where existing practices are appealed or challenged? Who oversees the standard practices of leagues, sport governing bodies and coaches to ensure that athletes inputs and rights are being respected.

Athletes commonly say “ I just to want to play.” And, that is the meaning of athletes – active, competing, and playing. However, they need help with respect to the challenges of navigating the often self-interested, and self-serving sport system.

This post is about gaining support for a Canada-wide ringette players association.

If you are a ringette athlete who has had trouble with the ringette sport system and have felt “out in the cold” with respect to what to do and / or been the victim of harassment, neglect or unfair practices, then perhaps you could let us know how you think a NATIONAL RINGETTE PLAYERS ASSOCIATION could support you and help you in your ringette career.

We want to be a voice and champion for the ringette athlete. We will be athletes for athletes to help future generations avoid the pitfalls of the past.

About Paul Youldon

Paul has been involved in ringette for over twenty years and is a certified Level 3 coach. He has coached all ages and all levels of beginner and elite, including the National Ringette League. His favourite ringette experience is the collaboration in the design and leadership of the annual MY Ringette Camp with Colleen Moore and his two daughters, Kaitlyn and Kelsey, at which they taught what ringette players need: social experiences, ringette skill development, physical literacy, mental training and coaching opportunities – all under near exclusive female leadership.

He is a former head of Fitness Canada, the agency that produced programs such as Canada Fitness Awards, Canada’s FitWeek, ParticipACTION, and funding to national sport governing bodies, including Ringette Canada.

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