TORONTO — Just about a month before International Women’s Day on March 8, Tanya Walter became the CFL’s first female coaching hire.
She joined the BC Lions as their defensive assistant in February, adding to her already impressive football resume. Her skill and leadership abilities are undeniable, though like many women in sport do, Walter has had to overcome some obstacles in her career.
“Just because someone hasn’t played at the highest level, doesn’t mean that they can’t coach,” Walter told Donnovan Bennett in the second episode of CFL.ca’s Diversity Is Strength Conversations series. “In reality, playing and being a high-level athlete and being a high-level coach, those are two different skill sets.”
“When I first started coaching high school boys, I remember the first year,” continued Walter. “No one was overly receptive. It was tough. But once they figured out that I could help them be a better athlete, it started to get a little bit better. And the ones that had been there from the beginning would call out the boys that were coming up and be like, ‘No, no, no, she’s legit.’ Those younger players would also model the behaviour of the older players. I think that’s a really big piece of it. It’s going to take time. Unfortunately, you’re not just going to be able to walk into the room and have everyone respect you.
“I will say that thing that definitely gave me a bit of a boost of confidence to overcome a lot of those thoughts was making team Canada. It was like, no, I’ve actually played at the highest level that females can play tackle football. It does automatically gain some respect. I don’t like being the person who’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve done XYZ’ but when I’m introducing myself, I am always very aware that I mention those things and I bring up the things that I’ve done.”
This year, the CFL will host a number of Diversity Is Strength Conversations. Bennett, the host of the CFL’s official podcast, The Waggle, will lead these conversations.
In honour of International Women’s Day, he spoke with Walter, TSN reporter Claire Hanna and Tara Mrakic, secretary for the Black Canadian Coaches Association and the head coach of the Vanier Cheetahs about their respective careers, and women in football and sport.
Diversity Is Strength Conversations will return in June for Pride and in September for Truth and Reconciliation.