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Shaping The Sport Community For The Better With Coach New Brunswick’s Ashleigh Milani

Ashleigh Milani | Manager of Coaching Education | Coach New Brunswick

Every day I feel grateful that I get to work with passionate people who are focused on improving the community around them.

Ashleigh Milani

Manager of Coaching Education

Coach New Brunswick

× The interview with Ashleigh Milani was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Manager of Coaching Education for Coach New Brunswick. What does a typical day look like for you?

Coach New Brunswick is the provincial/territorial coaching representative (PTCR) and delivery agency for the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) and various professional development opportunities for coaches in New Brunswick.

This means we are constantly thinking about how we can help shape the sport community for the better. We are advocates for inclusion, Safe Sport, and gender and racial equity in sport.

My main role is to organize multisport NCCP courses that coaches need and help them understand their pathway to achieving their coach certification. However, the course delivery is only one part of my portfolio.

Coach NB’s values have led to us working on some really cool projects and committees. Five years ago we began hosting our yearly Beyond Coaching Conference for coaches across the province, to help facilitate learning and connections from different sport communities.

Three years ago I started the Coach’s Plan Podcast to share more stories of local leaders changing sport and culture in their world. Two years ago I co-wrote and published our LGBTQI2S Sport Inclusion Guide for Coaches with the help of our former summer student.

All of these projects started with a “wouldn’t it be amazing if…” conversation, and came to life thanks to the incredible support of Coach NB’s innovative leaders (our director, Manon Ouellette, and our board).

Some days at work I get to talk with Olympians about what makes great sport, some days I get to work with community coaches on developing tools that will actually help them, and every day I feel grateful that I get to work with passionate people who are focused on improving the community around them.

Coaching development isn’t my only focus at work though. Occasionally through my work with Coach NB, I get to help organize recreation events with our partner organizations, shape discourse around healthy and positive behaviours in sport through government committees, and travel (pre-COVID) for national discussions on sport development. I wouldn’t say there’s ever a “typical” day.

In your opinion, what does a sport program need to be successful?

The foundation of every successful sport program is made up of trained and dedicated leaders, who set a clear vision for their program. The other necessary piece of the equation is trust.

In order for a sport program to be successful, their leaders need to communicate what it is they are there to do, how to do it, and then trust their staff and volunteers to follow through.

I feel lucky that I get to work for an organization that has made this their entire vision; to create a quality and safe sport experience by giving coaches the tools and knowledge they need to effectively lead.

The same principles are true within my role at Coach NB; we are able to make meaningful changes to the sport system because our director and board are clear on what Coach NB is here to accomplish, are committed to seeing it through, and trust their employees to get the work done in a way that’s meaningful.

From that foundation, we’ve been able to implement many creative and effective projects, earning us the nickname “the little PTCR that can.” Successful programs don’t need huge budgets and fancy resources, as long as they have the right people and an empowering team culture.

What do you think are the three most important traits of an effective leader/coach?

It’s hard to narrow it down to three traits, but I would say effective coaches are open to new ideas, listen to understand, and possess wisdom.

By wisdom, I don’t mean technical competence. Of course, good coaches need to know what they’re talking about, but they need to possess the wisdom to know how and when to use that knowledge effectively.

Having empathy, listening actively, knowing when to stand your ground, these types of behaviours and skills show a leader acting with wisdom.

Listening to understand, instead of listening to respond, shows respect to the speaker and builds trust between the players and coach. Coaching is about working with people to achieve a goal, and the only way to effectively lead or teach people is by understanding where they’re coming from and working with them on their level. (See again: wisdom.)

Lastly, effective coaches need to be okay with being wrong. This is truly the only way to grow as a professional and to create a team culture that encourages a growth mindset. Whether it’s criticism from another coach or player, a coach that can see the criticism as an opportunity to learn and improve only stands to gain respect from their team, and possibly new information that could improve their team’s performance.

Effective coaches create positive learning environments by encouraging dialogue from their players and co-coaches, accepting challenges to their training methods, and enabling critical thinking and self-regulation. 

How did your Bachelor’s of Kinesiology prepare you for a career in sport?

Sport is an interesting and strange career field to prepare for. Not every sports job requires a degree to make you qualified, but it certainly was a help to me.

My kinesiology degree gave me a great foundation to write training programs, understand the physical and psychological needs of my athletes, and coach from a solid foundation of science.

My degree also helped open my eyes to much more than the science; I studied intersectionality in sport and recreation, program management, and current issues in the field. This background gave me the confidence and knowledge I was looking for to be effective in my career, but it was only one part of my preparation for a career in sport.

Before I was the Manager of Coach Education, I coached rowing, competitive swimming, and strength & conditioning, which grew my leadership and technical skills and gave me important connections into this tight-knit industry.

I spent more time understanding the sport system in Canada and developed valuable insight into the needs and issues of the community, which eventually gave me the leg up I needed to break into this industry.

More than anything, I think my degree helped me decide where I could be the most effective. I knew I wanted to work in sport, but it wasn’t until I got a better understanding of the needs and issues in the industry did I know to focus on coach development

How has your role as the Manager of Coaching Education for Coach New Brunswick been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Like a lot of people, I spend a lot more time on Zoom and teleconferences than ever before. There has been less travel due to the pandemic, but to be honest, we’re busier than ever.

All of the NCCP courses and professional development events we offer had to be moved online, which was a big shift for us. In the early days of the pandemic when sports were put on hold, coaches found themselves with ample free time (perhaps a first in their life) and many took advantage of this time by furthering their education.

It’s been amazing to see people finding new ways to stay involved in their sport community and work hard to improve it, even if sport isn’t happening.

In the spring, we started a weekly “Coffee & Coaching” zoom call series, where full-time coaches in the province from different sports can meet with other full-time/head coaches in order to learn from each other’s experiences.

This was crucial in the beginning of the pandemic to facilitate information sharing on how each sport was working creatively to stay afloat and keeping participants safe and engaged.

My eyes were opened to a new world of possibility in connecting the sport world together virtually to overcome our biggest issues, and my daily focus has shifted towards creating more of these connections.

Emma Greer Emma's Final Thoughts

Ashleigh Milani is a very passionate individual who strives to help the sport community in her multi-role position with Coach New Brunswick. Her role as the Manager of Coaching Education goes far beyond coaching development. Ashleigh also helps organize recreation events and shapes discourse around healthy and positive behaviours in sport through government committees. Through Ashleigh’s role, she is able to advocate to make sport more safe and inclusive for all. She has written guides that will help coaches be the best they can be for their athletes, and help everyone succeed. Her commitment to creating a better sport environment is absolutely amazing and you can see her passion through her work. Her podcast is just another platform that will be able to create a positive impact on coaches and athletes.

Connect With Ashleigh Milani