The P.E.I. joins the Ottawa Redblacks as part of the new women’s football program

Meagan Ferguson, of Stratford, PEI, got her first glimpse of being on the sidelines for a professional football game last week when the Ottawa Redblacks played their first game of the season against the Toronto Argonauts.

“I’m very short, so I always try to get past the players so I can see past the six-foot-tall football players,” Ferguson said.

“It’s really exciting to be on the sidelines with this atmosphere and energy. Everyone has been super awesome.”

Ferguson is part of the CFL’s first women’s football program, one of nine women from across Canada spending four weeks with one of the league’s nine teams.

Two other women also held coaching positions, while others were involved in strength and conditioning, the team’s front office and one in equipment management.

Ferguson says she felt the support of Redblacks players and coaches during her time with the team. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

“It was an amazing experience,” Ferguson said. “I am so grateful to be one of the nine women who started this program.”

“The experience has been second to none, with all the knowledge and skills and people I have encountered so far.”

“Be a Sponge”

A UNB hockey teammate encouraged Ferguson to try football in 2015, and she’s been hooked ever since.

In 2019, she co-founded the Island Demons, Prince Edward Island’s first team in the Maritime Women’s Soccer League.

Ferguson said the Women in Football program was a great opportunity to develop her knowledge of football.

“My two intentions coming into the program, one was obviously to be a sponge, so just to absorb everything from how the pro football league works, to the different skills and drills I can bring back to the Maritimes,” she said.

“The other goal was to be a worker bee and put myself to work, whether that was coaching, mental performance counseling or just as a support system for staff and coaches.”

In 2019, Meagan Ferguson played for the first PEI women’s soccer team which she helped co-found. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Ferguson coaches the women’s hockey team at Holland College and also runs her own business as a mental performance consultant for athletes, teams and coaches.

She put those skills to good use at the start of training camp, when Ottawa’s head coach invited her to talk to the rookies.

“Basically just talking about mental resilience, focusing on the things that matter and the things that are in their control,” Ferguson said.

“I was also able to work very strongly with the defensive body, with Coach [Mike] Benevides, run turf sessions, run classroom sessions. So they’ve been very open to my skills, which is, you know, really a blessing to see.”

Ferguson worked with defensive coordinator Mike Benevides during his time with the team. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

be the first

Ferguson said her work on mental preparation helped prepare her for the spotlight as the team’s first female coach.

“I think it’s something everyone would assume, being the first woman to enter a team with this new program, I think like anything there are nerves to start something new” , she said.

“But my big thing is to get out of your comfort zone, that’s the only way to grow. So to really see this as an opportunity, not just for the program and the league, but for myself, really more excitement than nervousness. that’s what I would say about it.”

I think that’s the first step to moving forward, seeing that equality, with skill sets, professionalism and passion.—Meagan Ferguson

Ferguson said she also felt the support of Redblacks players and coaches.

“Working with the athletes on the pitch has been great. Their level of respect for, you know, not just a new coach coming in, but a female coach coming in has been really refreshing,” she said.

“I’ve spoken to a few of the coaches here who have been amazing, they have daughters, they have nieces, and the biggest feedback they’ve given me is wow, to see someone in that position their gives an idea of ​​what the opportunities are there.”

Ferguson said her work on mental preparation helped prepare her for the spotlight as the team’s first female coach. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

End goal

Laurence Pontbriand is the CFL’s head of football and officiating development and helped create the new program.

She said the league was “pleasantly surprised” that more than 150 women applied for the program.

“We really want to give women the opportunity to get involved in football at a professional level, to learn from our clubs,” said Pontbriand.

“But we also want to give the opportunity for clubs to have access to a larger pool of candidates in terms of coaches, football operations, staff, scouts. And if women are not taken into account, they don’t have access to that larger pool of candidates.”

I think we have to see women hired in the clubs, that’s the end goal.—Laurence Pontbriand

Pontbriand said there is currently one female coach in British Columbia, two women in football operations and two in athletic therapy in the CFL.

She said the plan is for the program to continue into 2023, with the goal of increasing the number of women working in the league.

Laurence Pontbriand is the Manager of Football and Officials Development for the Canadian Football League and helped create the new program. (Submitted by Laurence Pontbriand)

“I think you have to see women hired within the clubs, that’s the end goal,” Pontbriand said.

“It’s a long-term goal. It’s not something we expect to see this year,” she said. But if we have women hired through this program, that’s how we’re going to measure the success of the program.”

Ferguson said she has a “summer full of football” ahead of her, including coaching the New Brunswick women’s under-18 team.

She will take this team to Saskatchewan for the inaugural National Women’s Under-18 Championships in July.

Ferguson is also the head coach of the PEI Women’s Under-18 team. who will compete in the national flag football championships in August at UPEI.

Ferguson says the Women in Football program has been a great opportunity to develop her knowledge of football, including skills and drills she can use with her players. (Jean Delisle/Radio-Canada)

As for women finding a career in professional football, Ferguson said she hopes her time with the team has made a difference.

“Here at the Redblacks, they’ve been very open to my skills and knowledge,” Ferguson said.

“I think that’s the first step to moving forward is to see that equality, with skill sets, professionalism and passion. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, if you feel like moving forward. I think that’s what they’re open to.”

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