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Empowering Women: How Nadine Powell and Hollie Babut Are Paving the Way for Canadian Female Soccer Coaches

By Staff, 01/18/24, 12:30PM EST


Coaching is far more than tactics and training; it's about inspiring confidence and instilling character in the athletes who cross your path. In this story, BMO Girls Play ON! Learning Facilitators Nadine Powell and Hollie Babut discuss the transformative power female soccer Coaches can have.

Play. Inspire. Unite.

Nadine Powell and Hollie Babut are the epitome of what BMO Girls Play ON! stands for – keeping girls and women participating in soccer, long-term. Both women discovered their love of the game at a young age and have chosen to stay involved for life. Because of this, Nadine and Hollie have become not only skilled Coaches, but also inspiring role models for aspiring female athletes. Their journeys are a testament to the transformative power of soccer, transcending mere competition to become a vehicle for personal growth, empowerment and community building.

Although Nadine and Hollie were the only women who led a Coaching clinic in BMO Girls Play ON!’s inaugural year, their experience with the program left them excited for what the future could hold for women and girls in the game.

“Hollie and I left that course thinking soccer is in good hands,” Nadine says. “We were really impressed with the players that were involved in it and with what they're going to do. They're going to be phenomenal coaches down the road.”

If you haven’t considered making a career out of the sport you love, maybe it’s time you did.

Neither Nadine nor Hollie intended to become a soccer Coach, but their proximity to the sport opened doors they never expected to walk through.

Nadine is a former lawyer who spent many years working in business development. It wasn’t until 2021 – after countless volunteer and part-time Coaching roles – that she decided to go full-time as a soccer Coach.

It all started around 1997 when Nadine was in her late 20s. One of the women she played with at the time had children, and was looking for someone to help her Coach a soccer team. Nadine jumped on the opportunity and loved every minute of it. After taking a break to start her own family, she returned to Coaching once her kids were old enough to play. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I'm so lucky that I get to do something that I'm really passionate about. It's taking your interests, your hobbies, and your recreation and turning it into a paid job,” Nadine says. “It's almost like therapy. I come out of my sessions feeling really good, like a hit of dopamine. It's just such a rewarding career and I feel really privileged to be able to work with young people.”

Hollie went to school thinking she would be a physiotherapist, or “something else sports-related.” Though soccer was her most beloved sport, and the one she devoted so much of her life to, she never planned on having a career in the game. Coincidentally, Hollie also credits the beginning of her coaching journey to a female friend. Though she’d volunteered with teams here and there, Hollie’s first real gig was as the Assistant Coach to a grassroots girls’ squad in Oshawa.

“I don't know if I would have taken that step into coaching if it wasn't for [my friend] asking me to come be her assistant or help her out,” Hollie shared.

It wasn’t too long until she took charge of her own team, and Hollie says “it just spiraled from there.”

Both Nadine and Hollie have gone above and beyond coaching at their respective Clubs to take on more executive roles, with Nadine serving as North Toronto SC’s Manager of Competitive Soccer, and Hollie being Pickering FC’s Grassroots Director. Despite holding such demanding roles, both Nadine and Hollie still possess their childlike love of the Beautiful Game.

Coaching doesn’t mean you have to stop playing.

Hollie has been in soccer as long as she can remember, and she doesn’t plan to quit anytime soon.

“I’ve played ever since I was probably like four – whatever age you could start at that time was when I started playing. And I still play. I played League1 last year with [Darby FC],” Hollie explains. “I haven't stopped playing. It's something I've always done. I was all in with it.”

Nadine, on the other hand, has always been a more casual player. She participated in everything she could as a kid: soccer, golf, volleyball, ringette, hockey, badminton, curling and basketball. She says it wasn’t the norm back then to “specialize” in a particular sport. There was no soccer year-round. She never played at a “high level” because it didn’t exist.

Nowadays, both Nadine and Hollie continue to play at their preferred level of competition. Nadine is participating in a recreational league with some of her former athletes at The Hangar, while Hollie plans to return to League1 for at least one more season.

“When players come watch the games, it's really cool to see them see me as a player, too. It creates a really cool environment for them,” Hollie says. “It's one thing if you explain something, but another if they're able to see it. I find such a benefit when players - especially girls - can see a Coach or an older player do something that they're trying to do. I think internally it clicks like, ‘Hey, if she can do it, I can do it.”

Skill demonstration is indeed a powerful Coaching tactic, but rest assured; you don’t have to be an all-star player to make a great Coach.

I didn't play at a super high level, and that's one of the things that I think can be intimidating or challenging to people looking to Coach,” Nadine acknowledges. “But there's a lot you can still offer to athletes...

..One of the things that is most important to athletes sometimes is connection with a Coach. So, connect with your athletes, make the environment an enjoyable one, and one where everyone feels safe and included and valued. And one where everyone is able to build confidence and learn new skills,” she explains.

“The energy you bring to the fields, and your relationship with those kids - that's what going to get them. That's what engages them. That's what makes them want to come back. Yeah, it's nice to have some background in the sport, but you don't have to be the world's best player to make a difference.”

Finding fulfillment in coaching.

Despite leading their squads to some incredible performances over the years, Nadine and Hollie’s most cherished coaching memories have nothing to do with championship titles or trophies.

“You know, it's funny. You don't always think about the on-field stuff as much. I literally forget that stuff,” says Nadine. “I do remember the feelings after.”

For both Coaches, the most rewarding aspect of the job stems from the relationships they build with their athletes, watching young players evolve over time, and getting to be a part of their journey.

Hollie reflected on her time coaching one young girl in an all-boys, community-based program:

“I think she was the only girl on the team, but she was such a fierce little fighter... I spent a lot of time with her, just encouraging her and working with her. One day, she came over to me and said, ‘I wish my name was Hollie because you’re my favourite Coach,’” Hollie remembers. “That’s the power we have sometimes as Coaches - coaching females specifically - because it becomes so real to them.” Hollie went on to share that the same little girl Is now starting to play competitive soccer.

“It's the little things that make you realize how much of a difference you make. It's hard to see it day after day when you're with them all the time. But over time you say, ‘Hey, I really did make a difference in that player's life,” says Hollie.

Photos courtesy of Hollie Babut

Some of Nadine’s best coaching memories have transpired in the small moments between games – car rides, killing time at tournaments, or going out to eat together. There’s a special type of bond that comes between Coaches and players when it’s an all-girls group, according to Nadine.

“It’s more than the emotional connection women and girls share. Even just health stuff, like going through periods, iron issues. Women understand each other. We share those experiences, so we know how to address them.” Nadine recalls an instance where a player had a torn-up knee, and what came to the rescue but a sanitary pad one of the girls happened to have on hand. Another time, an athlete was struggling with fatigue, shortness of breath, and low energy at practice, and couldn’t explain why. As a woman, Nadine recognized these as symptoms of low iron, and helped her player get a handle on her health.

Coaching challenges and how to overcome them.

While women undoubtedly face many of the same physical challenges, they also navigate many of the same mental hurdles. Something Nadine, Hollie, and many other women in the game struggle with is feeling confident in what their coaching abilities.

“Sometimes as a female - and this might have been self-imposed - but I felt like I had to be better than maybe a male counterpart in order to be considered ‘good.’ Even then, I've never felt like I'm a good Coach. I still struggle to say that. I set the bar for myself so high, and that's been a challenge, and it's made me not love it at times,” Nadine admits. “It cuts both ways. The good part about that is you’re always looking to get better, so you have a growth mindset. But it can be hard. You’re always beating yourself up.”

As Nadine has matured, she says self-assurance comes to her a lot easier than it used to.

“There's just no substitute for experience and time,” says Nadine.

For Hollie, there are days where she feels the pressure to “be all things to all people,” overwhelmed by the expectations placed upon her. This is a weight that many women carry in their day-to-day lives, but the stress is exacerbated when you hold a position like Head Coach.

“Because it’s not even just coaching - you have to be a good administrator, a good communicator, a good organizer. You have to be able to manage people, resolve conflicts,” Hollie says. “It's not just knowing soccer, you have to know so much more.”

When faced with adversity, both Nadine and Hollie suggest leaning on female friends for support, especially those who are involved in the sport because, well, “they get it.”

Connecting with other women is both validating and empowering, and that’s why initiatives like BMO Girls Play ON! are so important. When girls and young women are surrounded and supported by their own, they become an unstoppable force.

Welcoming more women to the game.

Both Hollie and Nadine attest to the fact that, as the years go on, more-and-more girls and women are getting involved in the soccer community.

“The grassroots side of soccer is growing so fast that it actually requires more Coaches,” Hollie explains. “We need to be able to support the growth and the amount of players with the number of Coaches - so opportunity alone, is growing.”

Even at the administrative level, Nadine points out that the majority of Program Managers at her Club are women, and Hollie says there’s about a dozen female Coaches at Pickering FC.

“One of the most significant impacts is that [young girls] can envision themselves as Coaches. They can see women as leaders. They can look to a woman in power rather than always looking to a male,” Nadine says. “It’s great for them to think that’s normal, because not too long ago it wasn’t.”

While there’s still plenty of room for more female representation at every level of the sport, Nadine and Hollie are happy with the progress made in recent years and believe the growing number of girls and women will continue to have a ripple effect.

“It creates a more welcoming environment,” Hollie explains. “When you have a group of women Coaches and girl Coaches who are now part of something bigger. It draws [girls and women] in more when we have a net to catch them, and from there we can support one another.”

BMO Girls Play ON! was established in 2023 with five events across various Ontario cities. The program is aimed at getting more girls and young women interested in soccer through coaching and playing opportunities. To learn more about BMO Girls Play ON!, check out the program webpage or watch this clip on our YouTube channel, highlighting the festivities and memories from last year.