In Canada, the world of women’s sports is one filled with obstacles and significant challenges – both on and off the field. From gender and pay equity to lack of media coverage and insufficient professional prospects (there is only one professional women’s sports team in Canada), women athletes have significantly less opportunities to succeed at a professional level compared to their male counterparts.
Brescia MScFN student Ann-Carolyn Lang has observed this gender imbalance her entire life, particularly noting a lack of female coaching representation in women’s soccer. She needed to help make a difference. So with hope in her heart, and courage of conviction, she set out on a goal to change the landscape of women’s soccer.
Born in Germany, Lang moved to Canada with her family when she was seven years old. She grew up playing every sport she could, as long as she was challenging her twin and older brother – both of whom influenced her love of sport from a young age. While many things changed in Lang’s life, soccer remained a constant.
Lang continued to play soccer while pursuing her undergraduate degree at the University of Guelph, where she captained her team for three years. After completing her degree in Applied Human Nutrition, she began her Masters degree in Foods and Nutrition at Brescia, and continued to play soccer competitively in League 1 Ontario.
While playing in League 1 Ontario, Lang was invited to join an elite Player Advisory Group, designed to improve opportunities for women in the League. However, when the pandemic struck, all soccer games were put on hold. It was during this time that the Player Advisory Group met to discuss tangible ways they could improve women’s sports and address the challenges they have observed.
The lack of women coaches in soccer was a large issue that immediately emerged from the Player Advisory Group. An average of only 25 per cent of licenced soccer coaches are women – with even lower numbers in the higher levels. How would young girls and women be able to see themselves as professional athletes or coaches, if they don’t see these positive female role models in-person?
The group then decided to raise the funds necessary to support five Ontario coaching licences. This was the catalyst for the Elevate campaign.
“At the end of the day, everything comes down to value,” says Lang. “Do we value women in our sports system? In general, not enough. In sports, women don’t always feel welcome, which can be intimidating and lead to girls and women dropping out. In my own history with sports, I haven’t always felt respected or valued as a woman in the sport system – often feeling like an afterthought. And, I know I am not alone. So how can we better value women in sports and – in particular – soccer? Through opportunities otherwise denied to them, and providing the funding necessary to support, encourage and empower women in a male-dominated sphere.”
Elevate was spearheaded by Lang in partnership with her colleague Mandela Smith. They created a series of posters featuring women athletes, such as London’s Jessie Fleming and Kadeisha Buchanan. The posters, which are available for purchase, would not only help meet their five coach licences goal, but would also act as a source of inspiration for young women, surrounding themselves with images of positive women role models.
Thanks to the proceeds from Elevate, as well as a grant from former League 1 commissioner, Carmelina Moscato and a partnership with Canada Soccer’s Development department, the group raised enough money to fund over 50 licences – and counting.
And, while the funding has been incredibly positive, the reception has been even better. Lang says, “Since launching Elevate, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of positive feedback. People really want to get behind this, and help support future generations of women soccer players and coaches. Even more than that, this entire campaign has been a grassroots effort. It really shows that a few people, with an important mission, can make a difference.”
After graduating from Brescia, Lang plans to pursue a career as a registered dietitian in sports nutrition or out-patient counselling. As an active and compassionate individual, Lang is eager to get out into the world to help motivate people to achieve their personal nutrition goals. As for the Player Advisory Group, it is determined to create a more equally-represented world of soccer coaches, and won’t give up until at least 50 per cent of coaches in Ontario are women. The Group has many new projects on the horizon, one of which includes a new campaign set to launch this summer.
Whether it’s helping individuals achieve their personal nutrition goals or creating a system of equality in soccer, whatever Lang tackles next, there is no doubt that she will score a goal.