In July 2020, McGill Athletics appointed Rikki Bowles as the new interim head coach for the women’s basketball team, ushering in a new era following the departure of long-time coach Ryan Thorne. An alumna of the Martlet basketball program, Bowles will be leading this transition with the knowledge and insight she has gained from over 13 years at McGill.
“It’s the institution I played for, where I developed as an assistant coach,” Bowles said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Now to be the head coach of that institution is [definitely] a dream job. I care so much for the program, the players, everybody I’ve had an opportunity to develop relationships with [….] It was a goal of mine to be the head coach of a university basketball program one day and I really appreciate this new challenge.”
Bowles’s appointment comes through the McGill Women in Sports Initiative. The program aims to address the underrepresentation of female leadership figures in university athletics and promotes women to leadership positions in McGill athletic programs.
“There may have been a time when [the underrepresentation of women in leadership] wasn’t even on the radar, but now it’s becoming each university’s question: Who’s leading our programs? Who’s inspiring our students?” Bowles said. “It’s one of the reasons McGill started its Women in Sports program. They put in real resources to fund the pathway. I started the program as a full-time assistant coach and am now being appointed head coach. It’s a great consequence of this program and it is working.”
Bowles’s journey into coaching began after her graduation from McGill in 2010. She has worked as an assistant coach to the Martlets, and as head coach at Vanier College.
“I came into the McGill coaching program right after graduation, so it was interesting at the start, [coaching] players I used to play with,” Bowles said. “[Back then] I really took under my wing the new, incoming players and […] learned a lot from the experience. The one year at Vanier, the CEGEP system was very similar to U SPORTS. That experience as a head coach really taught me the [work], and the added pressure […] that goes into this job.”
As she settles into her new role, Bowles has stressed the importance of caring for athletes as people and students, not just basketball players.
“I think the lessons I’ve learned [from Thorne] are that he’s extremely passionate about basketball, his job, [and] he’s passionate about the student-athlete experience,” Bowles said. “He cares about the student academically. [That has] rubbed off on me and have been my key takeaways from him.”
This year, Bowles will take over a McGill team looking to rebuild after a season cut short by the pandemic.
“Any team in any sport across the professional down to university level has its ebbs and flows,” Bowles said. “We’ve got a great group of players, so I think the challenge for this season is the challenge of the unknown. Keeping the players motivated [through the pandemic] is essential [….] We began [meeting on zoom for workouts] months ago. We’ve done sessions with our mental performance coach. We’ve done video learning sessions. We’ve tried to do what we can and are excited to return.”
Bowles already has an idea of the style of basketball she wants her team to play when they return.
“I want them to play free basketball where they can play loose, with confidence,” Bowles said. “No team is perfect and you have to be able to play through [mistakes]. I’m hoping to play an up-tempo style of game, get out in transition, and run the flow.”
Having ascended the university athletics system and achieved her goal of coaching the Martlets, Bowles has some words for athletes looking to take a similar route.
“I think if they know early on, if they know this is what they want to do, just let them know that there is a way,” Bowles said. “It definitely comes with a lot of work and sacrifice, but there is always a way.”