#LevelTheField Ambassador: Allison Dobb Ray

Jan 27, 2016

For each week of the #LevelTheField campaign, viaSport will introduce a new ambassador, and share why gender equity is important to them. This week, Olympic Rowing Coach Allison Dobb Ray shares her story: ​

I wasn’t sure where to begin – what to say exactly about my career as a female athlete and coach. I have been coaching for almost 18 years. Today is my 40th birthday and as I look back on what has brought me to this point, most of my thoughts go to the mentors, athletes, and friends I have had along the way.

There were never many female role models around for coaching in rowing. There were a few fighting for recognition and trying to set the record straight – that women could coach alongside men and be successful, but not many. Separately, there was always this feeling like we couldn’t form our own “girls club” because then we really wouldn’t be accepted or taken seriously. So none of us really talked about it. We should have. I should have.

Allison Dobb Ray headshotI was fortunate from the start. I had great mentors. I was also blissfully unaware in a way I am embarrassed about now – I never felt like I was a “woman in sport” forging a new pathway. Those mentors were all men: Craig Pond, Terry Paul, and Mike Spracklen. They all played integral roles in the goals I would set, the coach I wanted to be, and the confidence I carried from one role to the next. I had big goals and was pushing hard to achieve the next goal methodically, but quickly. Rowing is full of men…I even coached a bunch of them on the Canadian National Team. Those guys all accepted me. I like to think it was because I was just good. I think it is ignorant of me not to credit Terry and Mike for how quickly they accepted me. They always had my back and I had theirs.

I do have one big regret however. I regret not being a better role model to up and coming female coaches when I was coaching with Rowing Canada. I knew at the time my experience was not typical and I should have been aware of the women who could have used someone to talk to about their experiences and how to navigate the system.

In this way my story is different from many I have read and heard about. I did experience some discrimination, I endured many of these instances that as women we brush off when we shouldn’t – those moments were brutal. I went to conferences full of male coaches and got the very distinct feeling they were part of a club that I was just a visitor in. I agonized over how they viewed me – was I a serious peer or someone they thought was funny and cute? In the end, I always just got on with it and didn’t spend energy on it. I couldn’t. I didn’t have the time or the luxury of feeling like that. I guess that is something all women face – we do not have the luxury of feeling hurt or disrespected. We have to always suck it up and move on. For better or for worse that’s what makes women in sport tenacious leaders.

I challenge you to join me and take the pledge to #LevelTheField. Learn how you can help to shift attitudes and create change at viasport.ca/levelthefield.

#LevelTheField is a province-wide movement that will work to create a more inclusive sport culture in BC. PRESS PLAY to watch and share our video and pledge to #LevelTheField at viasport.ca/levelthefield.

Visit our Ambassadors page to learn more about the #LevelTheField ambassadors.