#LevelTheField Ambassador: Allison McNeill

Feb 03, 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 basketball coach Allison McNeill shares her story: ​

The best advice I ever received was to “pursue your passions”. I was told “there are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few will catch your heart”.

Growing up, my parents always supported me and encouraged me to participate in many sports. However, somehow a sport meant for people twice my size grabbed my heart and has yet to let go.  I loved, and still love, the sport of basketball.

Most of my friends thought I was nuts hanging out at the outdoor courts all day and all night. But for me it was the place I wanted to be. The court became a place for me to work out my frustrations, a place to go when I was needing my space, a place to go when other kids in town were drinking or getting high…it was the place where I fell in love with the game.

Allison as a coach crouched in the middle of her athletesI am so happy that I have been able to pursue my passion and chase the game for over 45 years – and hope that many girls and women can have the same opportunity.

However, the reality is, you can’t be what you can’t see. We need more women in coaching and in sport leadership roles to empower future generations.

A study by EY Women Athletes Business Network and ESPNW surveyed more than 400 female executives in five countries. Of these top executives, over half (52 per cent) played a sport at the college or university level. Only 3 per cent did not participate in sports at any point in their lives.

So how can we support future generations of female sport leaders?

I am part of an amazing group of people working with CAAWS, CAC, and Status of Women Canada on a Female Coach Mentorship Pilot Project. Research compiled by Jenessa Banwell, Ph.D. Student, Gretchen Kerr, Ph.D., University of Toronto told us the following about women and mentorship.

There is no doubt that mentorship is essential for development, but insufficient for advancing women to senior-level positions.  Although women are being mentored, they are not being promoted.

Sponsorship helps absolve the ‘double bind’ that women face – e.g., women who advocate for themselves can be penalized in the workplace. Because sponsorship involves speaking up on behalf of others, it offers a solution for navigating the double bind women face.

Through providing women with the authoritative voice they lack, the backroom access they’re often denied, and the advocacy they desperately need, sponsorship truly levels the playing field.

With this in mind, I’d like to leave you with a few words from a former athlete of mine.

I would say that basketball gave me a chance to develop into a strong woman, coming from a world, and going on to live and compete in a world, where women are not always put on equal footing with men. It provided a sense of power and purpose, and brought a social network that carried me through key transitions in life and remains my most important sources of friendship, support and strength today. “

Leadership. Teamwork. Perseverance. Discipline. Grit. Resilency.

Join me and take the pledge to #LEVELTHEFIELD so that all girls and women have the opportunity to play sport, and if they want, become leaders, and pursue their passion: www.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.