For Huskie Athletics, Mavis Dzaka, Emily Humbert and Taylor Follensbee are part of a new generation of coaches trying to help change that. The three former University of Saskatchewan (USask) student-athletes and current assistant coaches were selected to take part in new development programs sponsored by either U Sports or the Coaching Association of Canada, designed to increase the number of female coaches in elite levels of sport across the country.
“I think it is really important to show that the coaching world is occupied by both males and females and that we all can be leaders,” said Dzaka, an assistant coach with the Huskie track and field team who was chosen to be a mentee in the first Black Female Coach Mentorship Program. “The important thing is to not just sit on the sidelines, but to get involved and know that you can succeed and be a role model for female athletes, and particularly for athletes of colour. I am really excited about it and I am looking forward to continue developing as a coach.”
Born in Ghana and raised in Saskatoon, Dzaka competed for the Huskies from 1999-2003 and began coaching with the Saskatoon Track and Field Club while she was still in university earning a commerce degree. She went on to coach in the Western Canada Summer Games and the Canada Summer Games and guide Huskie athletes in the Canada West conference championships and U Sports nationals. She also earned her national coaching certification in 2020.
Dzaka, who works for a local law firm full-time while coaching part-time, credits Huskies track and field coach Jason Reindl with encouraging her to pursue the mentorship program.
“Mavis is an amazing coach,” said Reindl. “Her dedication and commitment to our Huskie program is nothing short of exceptional and I am continually thankful for her coaching contributions to our student-athletes. Her selection into the inaugural Black Female Coach Mentorship Program is a testament to her desire to improve and grow as a leader. Our entire program is very proud of her continued efforts to be the best coach she can be and leader in our community.”
Meanwhile, Humbert is an assistant coach with the Huskie women’s volleyball team and was selected by the Coaching Association of Canada for the University Female Coach Mentorship Program.
“I am really excited and honoured,” said Humbert, who was born in Saskatoon and played five seasons with the Huskies from 2012-2017 while completing kinesiology and education degrees in USask’s combined bachelor’s program. “The quality of coaches who have been part of this program, including at the University of Saskatchewan and at the national level, there are lots of strong women who are pursuing their own coaching journeys, which is inspiring. I really look forward to all of the different opportunities that being a part of this program can provide.”
Humbert, who teaches high school full-time and coaches part-time, was encouraged by Huskie women’s volleyball coach Mark Dodds to apply.
“Emily is a huge part of our coaching staff and being an alumni, she is committed to the program and definitely passionate about Huskie volleyball,” said Dodds. “She has the leadership skills to be a coach and her communication and her compassion for these student-athletes are key qualities that make her a very important part of our staff. And this coaching mentorship program is just an awesome opportunity to help Emily develop and get her coaching levels and go through the process of becoming a high-performance coach.”
Humbert points to Huskie women’s basketball and national team coach Lisa Thomaidis as the consummate role model for female coaches and notes the role that male coaches like Dodds also play.
“Absolutely. Talk about a strong female role model who employs strong females on her coaching staff. Lisa is phenomenal,” said Humbert. “And Mark has always made it a priority to have strong females on his coaching staff and I think that is a priority across the board in Huskie Athletics.”
Meanwhile, Follensbee recently joined Huskies wrestling as an assistant coach for Daniel Olver’s staff after competing for four years and winning gold at the conference championships in 2018. Originally from Moose Jaw, Follensbee was selected as one of the first participants in the U Sports Female Apprenticeship Coach Program.
“I think it opens the doors for a lot more females to get into coaching,” said Follensbee, who has a psychology degree and works at a youth centre and the YMCA while coaching part-time with the Huskies. “Daniel is a great coach and we have been discussing the impact of having female coaches. There are 18 of us in this apprenticeship program and I think I am the only wrestling coach. Having female coaches in all sports, especially at high levels, I think is really important, and especially in wrestling where there are so few. So it’s a great program to be a part of.”
Olver said it is extremely important to support young coaches like Follensbee.
“Taylor has been showing excellent leadership with the team and peer coaches,” he said. “She is really figuring out the other aspects of coaching besides the technical, such as coaching the athletes through situations of mental and emotional distress, or finding new ways to challenge them. It has been great to see her explore this new role. Her coaching won’t end with the apprenticeship program. She is a strong leader and will be successful in any coaching opportunity.”