Brock program inspires next generation of women leaders in sport

Claire Barker is ready to lead.

The 12-year-old ringette player from Niagara Falls is hoping to inspire others when she returns to the ice in the next few months, and she took the first steps in that journey by participating in a three-day program at Brock University this week.

The Lead Like a Girl initiative, which welcomed more than 50 young women between the ages of 11 and 13 to campus from Aug. 9 to 11, aimed to help its participants build confidence, develop leadership skills and find inspiration.

Organized by the University’s Centre for Sport Capacity (CSC), the program was led by Brock women’s hockey coach Margot Page along with facilitators who are student-athletes and sport leaders at the University. Each day saw participants take part in talks with various leaders in women’s sport in the morning before watching elite women in action as they visit events at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games in the afternoon.

An atrium filled with people who sit at a series of round tables and look up at the front where a screen reads 'Welcome to Brock University.'

The Lead Like a Girl program took place on Brock University’s campus Aug. 9 to 11.

For Barker, learning the ins and outs of sport leadership from women who have paved the way has been inspirational.

“They are role models,” she said. “To see women coaching women at the highest level sends such a powerful message that we are equal.”

Janice Dawson, Team Ontario Mission staff member and former head coach of Canada’s women’s goalball team was among the presenters who attended to share their experiences on Wednesday, Aug. 10. The program, she said, will inspire the next generation of leaders in women’s sport.

“This kind of program hasn’t always been available, and it’s awesome to bring girls together and have them learn about the opportunities that are out there,” she said. “When they see people that have been successful in the world of sport and they hear their stories, they really believe that they can be a part of it as well.”

CSC Director Julie Stevens said the chance to interact with the young women and share her own journey rekindled memories and lessons to share from her years of playing and coaching hockey, while also reinforcing a powerful sense of advocacy on behalf of girls through sport.

A woman in a black shirt stands wearing a backpack in front of an atrium where people are exiting.

Team Ontario Mission staff member and former head coach of Canada’s women’s goalball team Janice Dawson spoke to Lead Like a Girl program participants on Wednesday, Aug. 10.

“When you are a researcher, sometimes your connection to the work you do is a little removed,” said the Professor of Sport Management. “Being able to inspire these young women helps me to connect what I do as a scholar to my values as a person and reinforces my belief in connecting with people through research and translating it to opportunity.”

The lessons being shared by Stevens, Dawson and the program’s other presenters are already beginning to resonate with Barker, who said she’s hoping to expand her sport leadership role.

“I’d really like to coach,” she said. “This program is helping me learn how to do that early, and I’ll have the fundamentals to take the coaching courses as soon as I can.”

While contemplating her own future ambitions in coaching, Barker said there was one lesson in particular from this week that stood out and will stick with her on the ice and when she eventually takes a leadership role behind the bench.

“They talked about how seeing a player improve was the most satisfying part of their role,” she said. “That’s something I would love to be able to help people with.”

To learn more about the Lead Like a Girl program, visit the Centre for Sport Capacity website.

About 50 young women sit in front of a large blue backdrop that says Niagara 2022 Canada Games.

More than 50 young women between the ages of 11 and 13 took part in the Lead Like a Girl program, which aims to to build leadership skills in young girls through the power of sport.

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