CFL HER-STORY: Inclusivity takes a step ahead with Redblacks

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With the groundwork already laid, with the door at least open more than a crack, Meagan Ferguson and Nadia Doucoure are taking their own steps down the professional football path.

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Both women, each with plenty of passion for increasing their football framework, have been getting valuable on-field coaching experience with the Ottawa Redblacks during training camp. Ferguson is one of nine participants (one per team) in the CFL’s Women in Football program, presented by KPMG. The Redblacks also encouraged Doucoure, who applied for the program, to join in during training camp. Each is worthy. Each is making a positive contribution, working on the defensive side of the ball.

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“It’s extremely important to give people opportunities; if you don’t create the opportunity, they’ll never get the exposure and you always ask for experience and exposure,” said Redblacks defensive co-ordinator Mike Benevides. “Look at 30-plus years ago here, we had a female GM (of the Ottawa Rough Riders, Jo-Anne Polak). As a dad of two daughters, I want them to see the world as opportunities – you can go anywhere you want to go, whatever your passion is, if you’re willing to work hard. With Coach Ferguson here, my daughters have seen it, other girls have seen it and now they can think, ‘Hey, there’s an opportunity, if I want to go that way, I can.’ ”

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Asked by Redblacks head coach Paul LaPolice to speak to the players before last Friday’s pre-season game (a 23-17 win over Toronto), Ferguson leaned on her background in sports psychology.

“I told them with everything that was going on, just know what’s in your control and what really matters and focus on the things that are going to help you succeed rather than the things that are going to hold you back,” she said. “It was just a little food for thought about what matters and what’s in your control.”

Ferguson, who’s from Stratford, P.E.I., has an extensive background in sports science and coaching at the grassroots, provincial and collegiate levels. She’s the head coach of P.E.I.’s U18 female flag football team and helps coach New Brunswick’s U18 female tackle team. Ferguson, who got her master’s in Human Kinetics in Sports Psychology at the University of Ottawa, owns Mind Matters Mental Performance Training and is also head coach of the women’s hockey team at Holland College. Pretty impressive, right?

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“I’m seeing the backgrounds that some of these women (in the Women in Football program) have – whether it’s coaching or strength and conditioning and football operations – I just feel very grateful to be included in that,” said Ferguson, whose love for football has continued to grow since she was introduced to it in 2015. “Time has gone by fast. I look at the calendar and realize I have a week left. It’s been unbelievable. I mean, being from P.E.I., this is a great experience to be here in a professional league. Working with athletes to develop their mental game with their physical game isn’t anything new to me. Being in the environment to see what the coaches do, what staff do behind the scenes – it’s just a really good ecosystem to see how everybody works.”

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Doucoure worked with Carleton University’s football team as an offensive assistant and assistant receivers coach in 2021. She’s been involved in football since 2002, coaching her local football club in La Courneuve, France and has played high-level flag football and rugby for decades. In 2006, she was named technical advisor of France’s National Federation of American Football. She moved to Saskatoon, where she got a job as an event co-ordinator in 2014 and got involved in the city’s football community. She played for the Saskatoon Valkyries and starting coaching girls in flag football while learning Canadian football rules. She moved to Lake Louise, then back to Saskatoon, then to Ottawa. She was hired as a positional coach for receivers with Ontario Football.

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She applied for the Women in Football program. She sent a thank-you letter when she wasn’t accepted and the Redblacks said if she was still available, she could join in on the field. She quickly agreed.

“Knowledge is free,” she said. “So better to come than not to come.”

For any new coach asked to grasp new drills and concepts, it could be intimidating, but both women have hit the ground running during Ottawa’s camp.

“This is getting a PhD in coaching,” said Benevides. “Both Nadia and Meagan have been phenomenal. They’ve been working their tails off. They’ve gotten to the point where they’re doing their own drills.They’re sponges, they’re taking notes, they’re grinding the hours we do and understanding the days are longer than long. The players respect them because they can see they’re trying to make them better.”

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“I’ve had people tell me I’m in great hands (learning under defensive line coach Mike Phair),” said Ferguson. “My own background with coaching has primarily been on offence – running backs, a bit with DBs when I coached at the college. Learning more about the D line has been a really nice benefit.”

Working on defence is also a new twist for Doucoure. It’s worked out great as she expands her football knowledge base. With her experience, being a female coach on a field full of male players is nothing new. As more women get opportunities, it won’t seem different, there’ll be no need for headlines.

“Looking at my example, coaching in university, when those players get to the pros, they’ve already seen a female coaching,” she said.  So they won’t question it. They’re just going to say, ‘OK, this is Coach.’ A coaching staff should include everybody (and be inclusive).”

THE END AROUND: With Sunday’s release of offensive lineman Justice Powers, who started last week’s pre-season game, the Redblacks could look at Dino Boyd at right tackle … Interesting cuts out of Argos camp: WR Chandler Worthy, who averaged 9.4 yards on punt returns a year ago, and QB Antonio Pipkin. Montreal released former Carleton OL Kwabena Asare. B.C. released former Redblacks OL Jamar McGloster. Calgary cut former Gee-Gees DL Alain Pae and WR Jordan Williams-Lambert.

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