If Meagan Ferguson felt any nervousness at all when she was joining the Ottawa REDBLACKS’ coaching staff this month, it quickly dissipated for her.
The Stratford, P.E.I. native said she’s walked into a coaching staff that works well together, getting the sense of a healthy ecosystem and a tightly-knit group. That she’s been paired with REDBLACKS’ defensive coordinator Mike Benevides has also helped a great deal.
“He’s been fantastic. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor with this program,” Ferguson said during some brief downtime at the team’s training camp. She’s one of nine participants in the Women In Football Program, presented by KPMG. She’s in the midst of a four-week stay with the club.
“His experience is just unmatched and the passion and energy that he brings. One of the things I said to them my first day was that I’m going to be a sponge and there’s no better dude to be paired with than this. He’s got a wealth of knowledge and his passion is just contagious.”
» CFL welcomes nine participants to Diversity In Football Program
» Nine selected for Women In Football Program presented by KPMG
» Diversity Is Strength Conversations
» O’Leary: Ruller seizing opportunity with Riders
What Benevides, head coach Paul LaPolice and the rest of the REDBLACKS are learning about Ferguson through her time with the team is that she carries that same passion for the game, while wearing many hats as she tries to grow football in her home province.
Ferguson got her master’s degree in human kinetics at the University of Ottawa in 2018. She’s combined that knowledge with her football playing experience in P.E.I. with the Maritime Women’s Football League and her coaching work in numerous sports.
She’s currently the head coach of the women’s hockey team at Holland College in Charlottetown, P.E.I., and is the owner of Mind Matters Mental Performance Training. As a mental performance consultant, she works with athletes, teams, coaches and professionals, supplying them with mental performance training programs.
A former hockey player at the University of New Brunswick, Ferguson found football when a teammate encouraged her to try the game in 2015. It was life changing for her.
“I thought I was just going to throw around a ball, maybe play some touch but it ended up being full-fledged all female tackle football and I ended up falling in love with it,” Ferguson said.
“Not just for the game, but just the family aspect, the culture that it brings. So when I went back to P.E.I., I said, ‘Geez, this is something I really want to keep involved with here on the island. So I ended up starting up the women’s team there.”
Ferguson has seen that culture of family in the REDBLACKS’ organization and it’s one of the things that she wants to bring back to the athletes she works with.
“Whether that’s seeing the life of how pro football works, whether it’s bringing back different drills that could work from the ground up with everybody from grassroots all the way to college or just terminology, leadership skills. The possibilities are endless with what I’m taking out of here,” she said.
She’ll return to P.E.I. intent on bringing those lessons back and finding ways to continue to grow the game of football in a province where there’s lots of room for it to grow at all levels.
“I have a background knowledge on early sports specialization. And I mean, you get (challenges growing sport) everywhere. But P.E.I, it’s very one-sport focused. Some kids are going to play hockey, some kids are going to play soccer,” she explained.
“The challenge that I find with football in P.E.I. is trying to get people to see that football is one of those sports that can actually help you with your other sports. So it’s trying to get them involved with football rather than just being early sport specialized. (Football is) coordination, it’s running, it’s throwing. Trying to get people to realize that this is a sport that can help you progress even further with whatever you’re trying to do.”
When she returned to P.E.I. after getting her master’s degree, Ferguson started all-female football camps, setting the entry at the age of 10 and up. The turnout has ranged from ages of 10 right through to 30
“Once they get out, they’re hooked,” she said. “Who doesn’t want to run and catch a ball and do drills and put on gear?”
One thing that the REDBLACKS may take away from Ferguson’s time with them is the value of having a coach with a sports psychology skill set on hand on a daily basis.
“(The REDBLACKS have) been really open to my skill set,” Ferguson said. “Obviously, I’m here primarily as a coach but they’re really open to see what kind of mental performance tricks they can use as coaches; everything from how they communicate with each other and with their players.
“I was lucky enough to speak with the rookies during rookie camp to kind of give them a little activity to show them to push them outside of their comfort zone. It’s been really refreshing to have a coaching staff that supports that and actually wants to see where this could be beneficial.”
As a part of the first cohort of women selected for this program, Ferguson said she was grateful for the opportunity.
“It’s not lost on me that this is a very rare opportunity, not just for me but really for anybody,” she said. “Nine women across the country and to be involved with that…group of girls is just refreshing in itself. I’m looking forward not only to see where I could go but just to see where the other women go as well. It’s cool to follow their own journeys as well.”