Beyond the Sidelines: Arielle Dubissette-Borrice

Arielle Dubissette-Borrice – Assistant Coach, York University Women’s Rugby (U SPORTS)

By: Dashawn Stephens, PRSVRE

Playing rugby was never an option as a child for Arielle Dubissette-Borrice. The current York Lions Assistant Coach grew up running track & field where she thrived as an individual athlete. Dubissette-Borrice was first introduced to the sport of rugby at the age of 15 while shooting hoops alone in her school gym. North Toronto C.I. Rugby Head Coach Laura McAndrews invited her to tryout for the school women’s team. Dubissette-Borrice was shy to tryout for the team as she had never played a physically demanding sport. Nonetheless, Dubissette-Borrice showed up to tryouts, made the school team and would go on to score 5 tries in very first rugby game.

I immediately fell in love with [rugby] because of the quick success I experienced. I stood out as a rugby player because I was very fast, very aggressive and very alpha in my presence”

After her first season of playing rugby, McAndrews would once again have to encourage Dubissette-Borrice to give the sport a try, but this time at the provincial level. Dubissette-Borrice would follow the guidance of her mentor and eventually make the Ontario Women’s U16 Rugby Team in her first calendar year of playing the sport. Dubissette-Borrice would go on to play with Rugby Ontario for eight consecutive years.

In the twelfth grade, Dubissette-Borrice began receiving serious attention from Rugby Canada scouts as she was essentially destined to one day join the program. However, she decided to put her national team aspirations on hold to begin her post-secondary education. Dubissette-Borrice would attend The University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario where she would play for the Mustangs while pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology. Her first two years at Western would prove to be “the two hardest years” of her life

I was the only Black [athlete] on the team. The school was majority White people. At the time I was a very introverted person, and that wasn’t really respected. My introverted personality made others see me as unapproachable…It was all a culture shock”

Once Dubissette-Borrice finished her first season as a Mustang, she decided to commit part-time to the Canadian Women’s National Rugby Team. While pursuing her Degree, Dubissette-Borrice would travel internationally and represent Canada on the pitch. The pressure of travelling and training during academic semesters soon caught up to Dubissette-Borrice as she often found herself missing lectures and deferring exams. She would begin to struggle academically, and was even placed on academic probation. Within her first year and a half of university, Dubissette-Borrice represented Canada in 4 international rugby tournaments. After two years at Western, Dubissette-Borrice decided to take an academic break and commit fully to joining the Canadian National Women’s Rugby Team.

“Joining the Canadian National Women’s Team was an easy transition for me because I knew that I was failing at something, so I ran away to something that I knew I was good at”

By committing to Rugby Canada on a full-time basis, Dubissette-Borrice agreed to join the team in Victoria, British Columbia. It was there she learned how to “become an adult very quick”. Searching for homes, signing leases and learning how to drive was all once again a culture shock for Dubissette-Borrice. However, she was now in an environment where she hoped to feel more comfortable as she was chasing her rugby dreams at the highest level.

The Women’s National Team would train and practice 5 days a week. Training sessions would focus on weightlifting and sprinting mechanics, while practices would be physical and ran at high intensity. The team was always preparing to go on tours as they participated in 5-6 tournaments a year.

Dubissette-Borrice would spend 4 years with the Canadian National Women’s Rugby Team before deciding walk away from the program in 2016 to finish pursuing her post-secondary education. In 6 full years with the Canadian National Women’s Rugby Team, Dubissette-Borrice had the opportunity of travelling to 14 different countries, while representing Canada in 19 different tournaments.

With her Canadian National career now behind her, Dubissette-Borrice returned to Western in 2017 to continue studying criminology. Unable to play immediately due to eligibility rules, she re-joined the Woman’s Rugby Team as an Assistant Coach. Coaching gave Dubissette-Borrice the opportunity to not only stay well conditioned – as she often scrimmaged with her teammates – but also pass on her boatload of skill and experiences to her younger teammates.

As Dubissette-Borrice took a hiatus from playing Rugby, she had the opportunity to finally focus on her academics and even discover all that Western had to offer.

 “I was able to connect with the community. I was able to connect with my professors and go to athletic events. It’s almost as if I fell in love with western again” 

In 2017, Dubissette-Borrice played her final season for the Mustangs, and was the receipt of the Rachel Spearing Award, presented to the athlete who demonstrates the most leadership while dedicating their life to the sport of rugby.

After the completion of her collegiate career, Dubissette-Borrice resumed her international career as she began playing for the Jamaican National Women’s Rugby Team. Now in her fourth year with the program, Dubissette-Borrice is continuing to pursue her rugby goals while representing her home country. In addition to the Jamaican National Team, Dubissette-Borrice began playing for the ROOTS international program. Rugby Offering Opportunities To Succeed (ROOTS) is privately formed rugby organization geared toward presenting international rugby opportunities to BIPOC players within North America.

While stepping back into the international rugby scene, Dubissette-Borrice began gearing her focuses towards coaching and growing the sport of rugby throughout her communities. She began working with the Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation (TIRF). TIRF is a Toronto based non-profit organization that aims to use rugby as a tool for social growth throughout the GTA while introducing youth to the sport of rugby. While with TIRF, Dubissette-Borrice had the opportunity to teach rugby to over 10,000 youth within the GTA.

In addition to working with TIRF, Dubissette-Borrice started her own rugby development initiative. In 2018 she founded 7’s in the 6ix, a rugby 7’s development program aimed at presenting inner-city youth with high performance training and rugby skill development opportunities. In addition to equipping young athletes with the fundamentals to be successful, 7’s in the 6ix presented young athletes with the opportunity to participate in international rugby 7’s tournaments.

“I wanted these athletes to see their hardwork pay off and feel more empowered. More empowered than they would on the [provincial] teams where they wouldn’t have the opportunity be playing as much”

While working with TIRF and 7’s in the 6ix, Dubissette-Borrice decided to step into collegiate coaching. In 2017 she became an Assistant Coach for the Women’s Rugby team at Sheridan College (CCAA). She would spend one season with the Bruins, before taking a brief Hiatus to settle into her next opportunity as an Assistant Coach for the Women’s Rugby Team at York University in 2019. Now entering her second season with the Lions, Dubissette-Borrice is still passionate about growing the sport of rugby in Canada.

Outside the Sport

Outside of playing and coaching the sport of rugby, Dubissette-Borrice aspires to go into policing. In wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s focus on police brutality, Dubissette-Borrice understands the negative image that has now fallen over the profession. However, she still stands by her passion and motivation for venturing down her desired career path.

 “It’s a career path that I have had a lot of friends and family ask if I really want to pursue especially considering the time that we’re in. I know I may not be able to change much, but for me as an individual, I know I can have a positive impact on youth, and let them know that to have a black role model or a role model in a uniform is possible. My passion has not changed from when I was young until now. I still want to help youth“

Mental Health

Dubissette-Borrice is a huge advocate for athlete mental health. In her early experiences playing rugby for Canada, Dubissette-Borrice encountered her fair share of mental health struggles. The reality of being away from family in different part of the country, while living in a consistently high-intensity athletic environment proved to take its toll on Dubissette-Borrice.

“I wasn’t use to not having close friends or close family. Mentally, it does a lot to you between depression, anxiety and constant pressure. It was something I dealt with but didn’t know I actually had until years later when I was able to look back”

The shift towards positive mental health for Dubissette-Borrice came in her second year of living in British Columbia. After moving into a new residence, Dubissette-Borrice was able to finally separate her rugby life from her personal life. Soon after, she was able to develop meaningful relationships with her teammates and coaches, while learning to discover her passions as a human-being.

Dubissette-Borrice sights mental health as a heavily overlooked aspect within not only the rugby community, but also the sports community. She believes coaches need to take more time to understand their athletes, and understand what they can do to make their athletes feel some type of significant comfort.

Challenging Representation

Throughout the 15-year playing career of Dubissette-Borrice, the biggest issue she has noticed is the lack of ethnic representation within the Canadian rugby community.

 “Some of the club teams that are most successful, are the teams that don’t have the highest racial representation. Do they look for more [BIPOC] athletes? No. They like to keep their communities close knit“

When Dubissette-Borrice played for Rugby Ontario, she was only 1 of 3 Black athletes. She was also the only Black athlete during her first tenure at Western. Similarly to her time with Rugby Ontario, Dubissette-Borrice was also only 1 of 3 Black Athletes on the Canadian National Women’s Team.

She’s recognized a reluctance on the part of programs coaches to introduce rugby to visible minorities, a systemic issue that continues to cause underrepresentation for visible minority athletes and coaches. Dubissette-Borrice thinks it’s time for coaches to exit their ethnic comforts zones and start expanding their reach into marginalized communities.

“I would encourage coaches to be more invested in children in NIA (neighborhood improvement area) communities, and giving them chances at sports other than basketball and football. Exposing them to other sports earlier would increase interest as well as trust from the parents”

Dubissette-Borrice thinks that although the Canadian rugby community lacks ethnic representation, it’s up to BIPOC athletes and parents to also have a hand in breaking the overarching colour barrier within the sport.

 “We need to want change. We only see a large amount of [BIPOC] athletes in basketball, football, track and field and no where else, and it seems like we’re comfortable with being nowhere else. We cant be. We need to explore other sports, and get our friends involved too”

Gender Discrepancy

Another internal issue that Dubissette-Borrice has discovered within the sport is the discrepancy between how women’s teams are treated in comparison to men’s teams. The discrepancy became apparent when Dubissette-Borrice played for the Canadian National Women’s Team. Often times, the women’s team would receive lacklustre resources whereas the men’s team would receive the best possible resources. Nonetheless, the women’s national team was successful and felt that a discrepancy that could be addressed was marketing. Understanding that they were in the midst of a historic run in the international rankings, the National Women’s Team asked to be marketed more frequently so that they could be introduced to Canadian sports fans in a higher capacity.

 “At the time when Canada’s Women’s Team was top 3 in the world, we asked to be marketed more. We ended up being told by officials that women’s sports are not marketable“

Dubissette-Borrice has always made it her goal to not only use rugby as a tool for social growth, but also a tool to uplift young women. Dubissette-Borrice has seen how rugby can build character, and open doors. She aspires to give young women the opportunity to be exposed to the same growth.

 “In the sport of rugby my goal was always to make young women feel empowered and confident in themselves. The reason for that is because rugby has always been a sport that has had an identity of accepting all types of people. I feel like that has changed now and it isn’t the case anymore. However, I still feel I can create that type of acceptance and empowerment”

The career of Arielle Dubissette-Borrice is impressive. 15-years and counting, her career has seen her play on 17 different teams, visiting total of 15 different countries while representing 2 different nations. As a coach, she’s had the opportunity of coaching 9 different teams. Her resume as an athlete is undeniably unique. However, her most proud accomplishments have been her efforts in growing the game of rugby in Canada, and creating a space for women and BIPOC athletes to grow and thrive. For all she has done as an athlete, coach and mentor, Arielle Dubissette-Borrice is a Trailblazer in Canadian Heritage and Leader through sport.

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