She’s played Division I college hoops in the United States, earned a professional paycheque in Europe and represented Canada on the international stage, but for Paige Crozon, 2021 has been a whole new ball game.
The Humboldt, Sask., native joined the coaching staff of the Saskatchewan Rattlers this year, becoming the first woman to coach men’s pro basketball in the province.
“It was definitely nerve-wracking coming in, especially being the only female in the gym at times but I just tried to relate back to, you know I’m a basketball player, I have a basketball background, and that’s how the athletes saw me and respected me for what I could do on the court and what I could add to the practice,” she said.
Crozon is one of a growing number of women filling coaching roles on men’s teams in a variety of sports, breaking down barriers and proving that knowledge and experience trump gender in the pursuit of success.
While some people may still be getting used to seeing women on the bench in men’s professional leagues Crozon says she didn’t meet any resistance from the Rattlers players.
“The athletes have actually been on the opposite end, very empowering, saying ‘hey, you have our respect, you can tell us what to do even a little bit more, provide more feedback, ’cause we’ll listen,’ so that’s been extremely empowering for me,” she said.
Rattlers guard Devonte Bandoo never had a female coach prior to joining the team this season.
He enjoyed having Crozon on the bench this season and says her gender has no bearing on her abilities as a coach.
“I’m all for equality and diversity. I’m all about, if you know the game, I’m gonna roll with you, and if you have the qualifications to do what you do, then I’m OK. I don’t care if you’re male or female,” he said.
Head coach Conor Dow says Crozon has been a welcome addition to the team.
“She’s treated just like any other coach on our staff, as she should be, because she deserves to be here. She’s got the basketball IQ, she’s got the work ethic. You know she deserves to be in this gym and that’s something I continually remind her of, and she continues to have confidence in her voice. And when she has confidence in her voice, the players have confidence in her,” he said.
“It’s just been valuable to have her on the staff this year.”
Although the Rattlers had a disappointing season on the court, finishing with a 1-13 record and missing the Canadian Elite Basketball League playoffs for a second straight year, the experience Crozon gained has been invaluable.
“It’s been a really big summer of personal growth for me, both personally and professionally. I think the biggest takeaway that I have is just to show up and have courage, and relay back to my basketball past and find opportunities to contribute that way,” she said.
As for the future, Crozon isn’t sure what comes next but says her time with the Rattlers has encouraged her to continue seeking opportunities within the sport.
“I guess it just validated the amount that I just love to be involved in basketball in whatever capacity I can. I’m not sure if it’s going to be men’s professional or university or men’s or women’s (basketball) for that matter, but all I know is I definitely want to be involved,” she said.
Being an inspiration to other women and girls — including her own daughter — is the icing on the cake.
“There was a really cute moment when we had a home game and my daughter came and was watching me for the first time,” Crozon said.
“She’s two and a half and my mom said that she was talking to the kids behind her and then she turns around and goes, ‘I’m here to watch my mom. She’s the coach,’ and just to hear that back and hear how proud she was to see me coaching men just made me very proud and excited for the future.”