skip navigation

WISE Fund Grant aims to build new female leaders in volleyball

By Ontario Volleyball, 09/15/21, 9:30AM EDT


The Ontario Volleyball Association (OVA) is looking to inspire and educate the next generation of female volleyball leaders through an upcoming leadership program aimed to promote gender equity and encourage female opportunities in the OVA.  

With the support of the Canadian Women and Sport WISE fund grant, this OVA project is giving the opportunity to 17-18U female athletes to lead activities with younger girls from their Club/Region to increase awareness about leadership skills and pathways in sport while helping them stay involved in the OVA community. By working with experienced female leaders, the athletes will be empowered and feel confident when they deliver their activities by the culmination of the program and instill the leadership lessons and experience for the younger players.  

Joining the program to help facilitate the activities are three female leaders from the Ontario post- secondary circuit: 

Jennifer Neilson

Jennifer Neilson joined the Lions coaching staff in 2018 and is the sixth coach in program history. Neilson began coaching at an elite level while attending the University of Toronto, as she spent time as an assistant coach with Team BC’s 16U women’s team in 2013 and became an assistant coach with the Team Ontario 18U team in 2014. After graduating from the University of Toronto with a Bachelor of Kinesiology in 2015, she became an assistant coach for the Women’s Volleyball team at the University of Windsor while she completed her Master’s in Human Kinetics. Most recently, she’s been a head coach with the Halton Region Volleyball Club, Team Ontario’s 16U women’s team, and worked with the OVA as High-Performance Coordinator and apprentice coach. Most recently, Neilson dawned the red and white assisting with the Youth National team program as they prepared for their appearance at World Championships in 2019. Neilson is also well-rounded at the administrative level, having developed and managed programming for the OVA’s high-performance plan and lead their high-performance athlete identification process. As a star outside hitter with the Varsity Blues, Neilson was named to the OUA all-star team three years in a row from 2013-15 and was named to the CIS National Championship All-Star team in 2015. The Port Coquitlam, B.C., native was also a two-time academic all-Canadian, and attended Volleyball Canada selection camps for the Senior A team in 2014 and the FISU Games team in 2015.  

Erica Nacarrato

Erica Nacarrato is a former OVA and OUA athlete and coach, spending her career competing for Ryerson University’s Varsity Women’s Volleyball team, and coaching for both the University of Waterloo Women’s Volleyball team and senior girls’ teams at Durham Attack Volleyball Club. Erica holds a Master’s Degree in Organizational Psychology, and spends much of her professional life working with high level executives and C-Suite members on their own personal leadership and team development.  

Natasha Spaling 

Natasha Spaling started her career as a member of the Waterloo Warriors Women's Volleyball team where she served as team captain for two seasons, team MVP and an OUA All-Star. After graduating with a degree in kinesiology from Waterloo, she went on to complete her Master's in Coaching from the University of Alberta, where she was an Assistant Coach with the University of Alberta Pandas volleyball team, earning two U SPORTS silver medals and a Canada West Conference Championship. Upon her return to Ontario, Spaling went on to be named head coach of Niagara College Knights Women's Volleyball program leading the team to an OCAA silver medal and a berth to the CCAA national championships.  After her time in Niagara, Spaling went on to take a position as an Assistant Coach at Queen's University for two years, during that time she also was involved in coaching with the Kingston Rock Volleyball Club. Natasha has been involved as a head, assistant and mentor coach with Team Ontario for multiple years and will be serving as an Assistant Coach with the 2022 Canada Games team. Natasha is currently an Assistant Coach with the Guelph Gryphons Women's Volleyball team where she also works as the Intercollegiate Coordinator for the Gryphons athletics department.  


Authentic Leadership  

This session is based on the theory that every individual has their own effective leadership style based on their inherent values and beliefs. This workshop will teach athletes to reflect on their own views on leadership, while discovering their own personal style. 

Values Based Leadership  

In this workshop, athletes will learn to navigate what really matters to them, explore their core values as a leader, and ultimately understand why learning and living to your values is a critical part of great leadership. 

Communications as a Leader  

In this workshop, athletes will understand why communication and communication skills are an integral part of being a leader, what characteristics of a good communicator and how to navigate challenging conversations as a listener and speaker. 

Schedule of presentations

  • October 17 @ 8:00 p.m. 
  • October 31 @ 8:00 p.m. 
  • November 14 @ 8:00 p.m. 
  • November 28 @ 8:00 p.m. 

Presentations will be done online only.

Athlete responsibilities

17-18U athletes will be responsible to attend the four fall sessions (1 hour each). Each session will provide education on a different topic, provide instruction on how to teach the content to younger athletes and discuss takeaways from the topics they connect with.  Athletes will be assigned an OVA female coach mentor during this process. Athletes will meet with their coach mentor to discuss takeaways of each topic and to prepare for their presentation to their younger club athletes. In the new year, 17-18U athletes will lead at least one 45 min long provided presentation on the topic of leadership to the younger athletes of their own club. 

If you are interested in joining this program, please follow one of the links below to register. 

If you are a female OVA coach who would like to mentor 17-18U female athletes in the OVA, please use the following link to register. 

For general program inquiries, are asked to contact Lauren Breadner, OVA Athlete Development Lead at 


Approximately 75% of volleyball players between the age of 11 and 18 years old within the OVA are girls. While females are the largest segment in this respect, the opposite can be said for females in leadership positions in the Association. Women make for less than 35% of coaches and less than 25% of referees in the OVA. This underrepresentation of women in leadership roles is consistent with what can be observed across the Canadian sport system.  

The under-representation of active female role models as well as the lack of appropriate opportunities for girls to transition into leadership position make it difficult for young female players to imagine themselves in these roles after their playing careers. Without enough opportunities to practice leading and developing the necessary confidence to be in leading roles, their perceptions of a potential for future success in leadership roles in volleyball and in sport could still be under-developed. The leadership program will help address these issues and create an opportunity for female players to build the necessary foundation to thrive in these roles with valuable experience and training.