Women Curling Leaders Circle outreach program introducing girls to curling in Thunder Bay
When it comes to gender equity in high-performance sport, it is hard to overlook the success of women’s curling in Canada.
The women’s game includes equal prize payouts and television time compared to the men’s game, and in turn, it makes many of the women who play the sport become common household names across the country.
But at some levels of the sport, there is still an imbalance of gender equity. According to the 2020 Profile of the Canadian Curler, 61.75 per cent of all curlers identify as male and 38.25 per cent of curlers identify as female.
An internal review of registered Canadian curling coaches shows similar numbers, with 68 per cent of men taking on a coaching role compared to 32 per cent of women.
For a sport that prides itself on gender equity at its highest level, the number of overall women curlers and coaches in the country is a stark contrast. So much that a group of women, The Women Curling Leaders Circle, have been meeting annually to discuss and find ways to open new avenues for women to get involved in all aspects of curling; as an athlete, a coach, an administrative role, an ice maker and more.
About 40 women involved in all aspects of the sport are part of The Women Curling Leaders Circle. The group has met twice, once in Moose Jaw, Sask., during the 2020 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, and once virtually during the 2021 Scotties in Calgary. It will gather in Thunder Bay, Ont., at the 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts to build on its goals of increasing the number of women participating in the sport and finding ways to keep women engaged with the sport after joining.
Andrea Ronnebeck, a nationally-renowned coach and Education Manager of the Ontario Curling Council, is part of the group’s new hands-on initiative for girls in the Thunder Bay area. On Jan. 30, the Girls Rock program will introduce curling to 40 high-school aged girls to curling. The students will receive instruction from experienced female coaches and players from all across Canada.
Girls from Thunder Bay and area can apply to be part of the program here. They’ll spend a few hours on the ice with the coaches and players from The Women Curling Leaders Circle and then be provided opportunities to continue playing the sport through at the local curling centres, either in their own leagues or making some ice time available for the new cohort of students. They’ll also spend time with the group off the ice and learn more about the opportunities available in curling in a variety of facets.
Providing ongoing access to the sport and coaching resources is critical to maintain an ongoing interest in the sport. This is also one topic The Women Curling Leaders Circle is addressing at its upcoming conference in Thunder Bay.
“How do we get more girls involved and how do we keep them involved? We have tremendous resources out there in women who have played or coached at high levels of the game, but are no longer competing or stay involved. We want to know why that is and what can we do the bring them back in as resources for teams, coaches and mentors for other coaches,” said Ronnebeck.
Long-term planning is just one of the topics The Women Curling Leaders Circle will discuss during the weekend. Personal development and finding ways for women to grow within the sport, improve resource development, and continue building the group’s momentum through meeting more are all discussions on the docket.
For the group, it is all about discovering what kinds of supports are needed for women to continue participating in the sport and discovering unmet needs that have to be addressed.
But for a start, the Girls Rock program helps improve a couple of facets of building the sport from the ground up. It introduces new women to the sport and provides an avenue for other women to take on coaching and mentorship roles to create a new generation of women curlers and coaches.
The 2022 Scotties Tournament of Hearts will be held in Thunder Bay’s Fort William Gardens from Jan. 28 – Feb. 6.