Emma DeLory is proof that just one coach can make all the difference to foster inclusive environments in sport. As a provincial performance coach at Rugby Nova Scotia and head coach of Saint Mary’s University’s women’s rugby team, DeLory works closely with athletes. Her focus is to create inclusive environments where racialized athletes feel safe and can perform at their highest potential.
Being an ally for athletes of colour means listening closely and standing up for what’s right, especially in tough situations. “A success for me is creating a culture where athletes feel comfortable coming to me and having those conversations,” she says. As a coach, DeLory has had conversations with athletes about racial microaggressions that typically happen off the field.
“I ask how I can support them, and then I make sure I’m accountable,” she says.
DeLory empathizes with the athlete, shows support, and practices active listening. Whether the player requests a team discussion, a one-on-one chat, or just wants a safe place to talk, DeLory makes sure to follow through with the action plan they decide on together.
At least once a year, DeLory also looks for opportunities to discuss racism in sport with her team so it remains top of mind. “That’s so we have an understanding as a group that this is still happening, it’s still a reality in sport,” she says. In 2021, DeLory brought her team to a diversity and inclusion talk hosted by Canadian Sport Institute Atlantic. Afterwards, the team debriefed together and then grabbed ice cream as a bonding experience. “That was fun, and it was an easy way to get into the conversation.”
Last spring, DeLory asked Lysa McGrath, a provincial coach with Rugby Nova Scotia, to speak to her team about challenges she has faced in sport. “She facilitated a discussion about racism in sport and what that can look like,” DeLory says. “There was lots of positive feedback from players. Everyone thought it was a really good educational piece.”
DeLory is making efforts to introduce a change in culture in rugby, but many coaches say they are unequipped to deal with racial issues. In 2022, Canadian Sport Institute Atlantic conducted a survey among coaches in Nova Scotia and found that 82 per cent did not possess or had limited tools to create an inclusive environment for everyone who shows up to their sport. This education gap must be filled through professional development, workshops, or individual leadership initiatives.
Though there is great work being done by coaches and staff at a grassroots level and on individual teams, DeLory says Rugby Nova Scotia is working towards a new diversity and inclusion framework to support coaches and staff. “That way all coaches or leaders feel supported,” she says. “They don’t have to make decisions on their own about how to handle situations.”
Rugby Nova Scotia is a small but mighty organization run by just four full-time staff, but they’re up for the challenge. “We want to be leaders in the space and show this is a safe space for everybody who’s on this team to play rugby.”