If the Women’s U18 National Tackle Championship 2023 marks only the second edition of the tournament, this growing segment of the beloved sport can already count on over a dozen former women’s national team members reinvesting their time and knowledge off the field to lead the next generation of women and girls tackle football athletes.
And it is that continued growth they all speak so passionately about. They talk of cross-country leagues, 12-a-side competitions, and further development for younger age groups. They have measured dreams of creating opportunities for young girls that were not available to them.
“I hope to see the sport grow, starting with youth programs across the country, so there can be more teams, more leagues, and more competition all around,” says Claire Doré, a member of the women’s national team at World Championships in 2013 and 2017, and Head Coach of the Women’s U18 Saskatchewan team competing in Ottawa.
“I am excited to see the U18 Tackle Championship continue to develop and hope we can eventually see a U16 tournament as well. I hope we can see numbers increase enough that we can play 12-a-side football. Above all, I hope we can keep more girls and women playing longer so we can feed consistent international success.”
Many of these now role models got their start in other sports, but they all attribute their successful transition off the football field to equal part love for the game and dedicated support from influential people around them, be it mentor coaches, teammates, or family members. They in turn cherish the prospect of passing it on to this next crop of young athletes and coaches moving the sport forward.
“Football is the ultimate team sport,” explains Saadia Ashraf, Head Coach of the U18 Québec Team, elite team Montréal Blitz, and player on the women’s national team at championships in 2010 and 2013 before joining the coaching staff in 2017 and 2022.
“This sport has a place for everyone: no surprise there are so many movies made about tackle football! The strategy, the chess match it involves, the emotions that are brewed within a game, a season… it is unmatched! But more importantly, the life skills athletes develop through the sport of football are incredible. I always tell my athletes that playing this sport is a privilege. Ultimately, I believe that if you are passionate enough and want to give back to the sport, you should – there are more opportunities to do so now than ever!”
A similar message from Aimee Kowalski, General Manager of the U18 Saskatchewan team, Women’s Football Growth and Development Coordinator at Football Saskatchewan, and member of the Canadian national team between 2013 and 2017.
“The best advice I can give girls and women getting involved in football is this: football will give you back exactly what you invest into it. Working hard with those around you will result in lifelong friendships. Showing how much you care and playing with passion will lead to opportunities you may never thought you’d have. Be sure to make the most of all the opportunities you are given as they may very well lead you to your next big moment.”
After dedicating years to their craft, these women are now well established and well known as part of the fabric of tackle football for girls and women in the country. They have personal ambitions of top
coaching roles and leadership responsibilities. They are also laying the groundwork for young up-and-coming coaches, newly retired athletes…
Or simply planting the seed in a young girl’s mind that she, in fact, does belong between the white lines, with her pads and helmet on.
Former women’s national team members in coaching/support roles at the 2023 Women’s U18 National Championship: Saadia Ashraf (QC), Émilie Bélanger (QC), Andreanne Dupont Parent (QC), Emmarae Dale (SK), Claire Doré (SK), Jill Fast (NIT), Lisa Gomes (AB), Trina Graves (NB), Aimee Kowalski (SK), Alex Kowalski (SK), Maude Lacasse (QC), Julie Sprague (MB), Ashley Viklund (SK), Carly Williams (AB).
Participants in the 2023 CFL Women in Football Program in coaching/support roles at the 2023 Women’s U18 National Championship:: Shaylee Foord (AB), Sonia Rodi (NIT) and Emily Todd (organizing committee).
Lisa Cummings (MB) Was part of the first ever FC Women Coach Mentorship Program in 2012.