In this pre-COVID interview, Dana Beattie, assistant strength coach to the Toronto Argonauts, and student at Nipissing University opens up about how she got the job and what it's like working in one of the most male dominated arenas in sports. We met up with Dana at last year's Toronto Argonaut Women's Football Showcase. We were inspired by her dream of turning her love of sport into a career and know you will be too!
Is your role a permanent salary job or are you freelancing?
Our 2020 season was cancelled with COVID-19, but I typically start in May and go until the end of November. I'm paid a salary and I'm also on a contract.
So, what do you do with the rest of your time?
I play hockey for Nipissing University, in North Bay. I'm grateful that I get to do the job and play the sport that I love.
How did you land this job and can you share tips to help people who might have similar career aspirations?
I am going to school, and I’ll be graduating with a Bachelor of Physical Health Education and a minor in business. The program that I’m in involves biomechanics, anatomy and exercise physiology. All of what I’m learning I can directly apply to my job with the Argos which makes me super grateful for the program because it’s amazing. I can apply it to my real life and the job that I’m doing right now!
When I was job searching, I knew I didn’t want to spend my summer sitting in an office working 9-5, so I set out to reach out to anyone and everyone in the GTA (Greater Toronto Area) sports world. I didn’t take any unread or ignored emails as a reason to give up and I searched the depths of LinkedIn and team websites until I found the contact information. I did my research that’s for sure. When I got a response, I was honest about who I was and what I was capable of doing.
"I knew that I may not have been the most qualified compared to other potential candidates. But, I was willing to be the first one in the gym and the last one out. I knew I would show up every day and leave it all out there because I know what it takes to excel as an athlete and I know what I have to offer the organisation."
Research shows that many women don’t get the job because they don’t put their hand up for it. Many don’t feel they’re qualified, so they don’t apply. The fact that you knew you could do it, that you would learn, be the first one there, and would work the hardest is fantastic!
Exactly! Thank you. I told them straight up, I’m willing to learn, I’m excited to learn I’m always here to learn more from you guys and everyone involved.
What was it like being a female assistant strength coach on the Toronto Argos team when you first started?
I started off interning at the start of training camp, and I only thought I would be there for the first part of training camp. Then as weeks went on, they thought I did a really good job and they offered me the contract and a title too. It was super exciting because I didn’t see it coming! I thought after training camp it would be done, but nope they offered me a contract for the whole year. It was just so exciting, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity they’ve given me.
When you came into this job, did you have any expectations and did anything surprise you?
If I’m being completely honest, I was actually surprised at how well these men responded to me as a coach. Coming into a male dominated environment I was worried about the response I would get and if they would take me seriously. It’s a great dynamic because we can laugh and joke around. At the end of the day, they respect my position as a coach and will listen when I talk. So, it’s nice.
Tell us about your role. What does a typical day look like?
So, my role is to provide any help and assistance to each player and the head strength coach. Its highly important to me that the players are getting the most help and accommodations that fit best for them and their training style in order for them to be as healthy and successful as possible.
A typical day involves a lot of being on your feet and moving around so its important to have comfy shoes, that’s for sure!
What is your involvement with the programming?
The head strength coach develops the program for the majority of the year. I develop my own separate programs for the injured players and the Argo’s staff if they want it. I have also developed some of my own workouts for all the players including several core workouts, because they came to me with this request and I love doing core.
So, you’re the primary coach for the injured players?
How are you involved in game day?
So, game day we’re at the field for about three hours and a bit before kickoff. We set up on the field and we put the guys through an on-field workout. I work with the injured players that aren’t playing. Some can’t do lower body, so I put them through an upper body and core workout, or just accommodate for their running. We put them through a game day workout, then if they want, I open the weight room for them so they can weight lift if they would like.
Are you on the field during the game?
I’m on the sidelines, and I’m helping with water, and anything else they need. If a player goes down on the field the athletic therapists are the ones who run out and take them to the doctors waiting on the sidelines.
I know your primary focus is strength training, but how much does mental strength fit into overall player wellness?
Mental health is really important. It’s critical that every player is coming to work happy and enjoying what they do. I work with injured players in this area as they can sometimes feel pretty defeated and their mental health can sometimes suffer. I’ve made myself available and approachable. I’m not just there as a coach, I’m there as a friend to help them get through that feeling of defeat.
What is your training approach and are there any training techniques or tips that you might give a football player?
Every individual is different I’d typically accommodate and change some things in order to fit what’s best for them.
What’s most important to me is that I want the players to want to come into the gym and feel that they can achieve to the best of their ability while they’re in there. It’s really beneficial for the athletes to excel because what’s done in the gym carries right out onto the field.
When it comes to high intensity sports, circuit training is my favourite technique. It has always been my favourite because of the fact that you’re constantly doing something and moving to the next exercise. It keeps the heart rate up and helps to improve muscular strength and endurance which improves cardiovascular fitness.
Do you have any tips, beyond technique, for women who want to get into football as a career?
Honestly, every sport is different, but one thing that I’ve found, at least with the Toronto Argonauts organization, is that it’s very welcoming. For women even though I know they may be nervous, they shouldn’t be because they can do it! They can do anything a man can do. So, if you want to get into football as a career, just keep your chest up and your head high. Walk in there like you own the place and you know what you’re doing.
It's very important to have confidence so people take you seriously. What I’ve learned over the last couple of years being with the Argos is that you can’t really have your head down and sit in a corner because then you won’t be taken seriously. Keeping your chest up and your head high is really important because then you’ll be noticed, and people will be aware of your confidence.
What tips would you give a woman who wants to try football as a player? What they should do to train before they get onto the field?
For football I believe footwork speed and agility are key. It’s important to have the muscle mass to help you in every game, but to excel, you also need speed.
In football you have to pivot back and forth a lot to get around people, so agility is key. I would recommend agility exercises like ladders or hurdles, or cone drills. I have trained younger athletes and you can see from week one to week eight how their speed footwork and their agility improves from those kinds of exercises.
I would suggest to focus on speed. As you’re building speed, you’re also building muscle at the same time. It’s the best of both worlds.
Any thoughts on how to encourage more women to watch football? If you met someone who had never seen a game before, what would you say to them?
I would definitely tell women and girls to come and check out a game. I mean everyone is always welcome to the games, but I would want them to see that there are women working in the sidelines in this male-dominated environment. I hope it would show them that they can do work in this industry and play football as well.
The game we were at was a great game and very social for the fans. Is this an intentional effort from the Argos to engage fans?
Definitely it’s always important to market and network in order to build and engage fans. The Argos’ culture is really inclusive so it’s important not discriminate and include everyone.
What technology is being used to help improve performance or prevent and treat injuries? Are you leveraging technology in your training?
In the weight room where we work with the players, we don’t really use any specific technology. We use proven tools and gym equipment. We’re aware of each player’s body, their past and current injuries and how we can strengthen their bodies to prevent future injuries.
The athletic therapists do a really great job using a variety of options to treat and prevent injuries and help the players get healthy. So, they use more technology than we do. At the head coach’s gym, he uses a lot of technology as well. For example, there is a speed and reaction drill, where you have to run and touch lights as they get lit up. This kind of technology for reaction agility and speed, is super beneficial. For next year, I’m planning to bring this kind of technology into the weight room, because the players that have used it, love it.
What about wearables?
Well, everybody is different. Some players track everything down to the tiniest thing and others don’t track anything at all. Many have Apple watches or Fitbit, and some do wear heart monitors. With the hockey team that I play for, we use heart monitors while we exercise to track everything, and I think its great. That’s another thing I want to look into for next year as well, because wearing a heartrate monitor acts like a motivator. You can see how much you’re working, and you think “I can push just a little harder.”
Toronto Argonauts – Virtual Panel Showcasing Female Football Leaders
This year the Toronto Argonauts partnered up with OWIFA – Ontario Women’s Intercollegiate Football for the 2020 Women’s Football Showcase Hosted on Zoom November 5, 2020. Once again this was an amazing opportunity to hear from a great lineup of female leaders in the sport, talk with reps from university/colleges clubs and lots more.
Like all other sports, Professional and amateur football has been impacted by COVID. The CFL announced August 17, 2020 that a shortened six-game season with playoffs featuring 8 teams would be cancelled. In an article published on the CFL’s website, Commission Randy Ambrosie announced:
"Our league governors decided today it is in the best long-term interests of the CFL to concentrate on the future," said Commissioner Randy Ambrosie.
"We are absolutely committed to 2021, to the future of our league and the pursuit of our vision of a bigger, stronger, more global CFL." – CFL.ca
Shifting to 2021 and Beyond
The CFL announced a series of virtual events set to kickoff on November 16 called Grey Cup United. The virtual events are intended to bring fans, players, coaches and the league together celebrate Canadian Football.
The CFL will be exploring all options for a return to football in 2021 including plans for international players. The CFL will resume talks with the Federal Government about gaining financial assistance. The league is also looking at following the model set by the National Basketball league and National Hockey league in hosting a season without no fans or a limit on crowds with games hosted in hub cities.
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Written by Tina Finelli. Tina is a Canadian-bred storyteller and Co-Founder of SeeWhatSheCanDo. Lover of all things outdoors, Tina's happy place is surrounded by forest, water and mountains. In moments when she isn't moving outdoors, CrossFitting or playing hockey, you'll find her watching her daughters on the dance floor or playing hockey, reading a book, or cooking up a storm.
Photos provided courtesy of Dana Beattie.
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