CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – January 2023
“I love coaching … if you build good relationships, take an interest and find out what motivates people, you can have a huge impact on a person.”
By David Grossman
When he was a youngster, Matthew Aslett was captivated with the world of sports.
For Aslett, whenever there was an opportunity, he would be running cross country races through hills and valleys for his school, experimenting with curling, or just finding ways to stay physically fit and have fun.
Fondness was, and still is, a sport that was believed to have started somewhere in the 12th century in England – soccer. For him, it became a priority playing at the club level and when he attended St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Oakville.
Aslett recalls once dreaming of what it would be like to step on to the field as a professional player. He would learn that dreams are good and often enhance creativity as well as health benefits.
The days of becoming a soccer legend would be replaced by other fortuitous opportunities.
Competency, skillfulness, and efficiency would, one by one, become part of his daily lifestyle.
It would all lead to something even more gratifying – and, for him, many moments to have a bigger impact than scoring a goal.
Passionate about almost everything, Aslett’s goal would become more personal. That of providing leadership, training, and guidance. Aware of his commitment to society, his journey through life focuses as an educator and coach.
It was Thomas Monson, an American religious leader, and author, who had something to say about relationships.
“When we treat people merely as they are, they will remain as they are,” said Monson. “When we treat them as if they were what they should be, they will become what they should be.”
Now in his mid-20’s, Aslett fits those words.
A scholar in many aspects of the word, he’s a teacher, an official and adores coaching.
Aslett is also the recipient of many awards including a prestigious coaching excellence award presented in 2021 by the Coaches Association of Ontario and Hydro One. The citation recognizes the huge amount of time devoted to improving individuals whom they coach.
“I love coaching,” he said. “If you build good relationships, take an interest and find out what motivates people, you can have a huge impact on a person.”
Aslett attributes his infatuation with coaching and educating, to the mentorship he received from his parents and teachers. People, he said in a telephone conversation, who constantly inspired and encouraged him to participate, get involved and contribute to the community in a positive way.
Well educated in areas that range from business and commerce to science and management, there’s also the world of education, leadership and policy that has him continuing a thirst for knowledge. With educational degrees from Queen’s University and Niagara University, as well as studying at Bocconi University in Italy, Aslett is pursuing a Doctorate – and doing it while teaching high school students in Burlington.
Oh yes, he’s coaching soccer, too.
His initiation to coaching – something he sees as listening, understanding, viewing with accuracy and thoughtfulness, and then garnishing with feedback for development started when he was a student in grade 9.
“I wasn’t that superstar athlete, so I had wanted to be the underdog that would motivate and mold others to becoming great people,” he said. “When I was 14 years old, it was all about winning, but then learned that the real victory was individual growth.”
Aslett got a wake-up call as a teenager. After contributing to his team making the league soccer championship, he wasn’t chosen to the starting roster. In fact, he never set foot on the field. It was a final that his team, favored to win, instead tasted defeat.
“There were better guys, who had played competitive sports, and that left me with the perception that I just wasn’t good enough,” said Aslett, who recalled his parent’s encouragement to learn from experiences and never quit. “As I look back, winning is great, but at that level I believe everyone should be involved in all capacities of the game and taste the experience of competing in a final.”
That experienced changed Aslett’s awareness and attitude as a coach.
“When I coach, I wear the hat of an educator,” said Aslett, the recipient of a 2022 award for excellence in teacher preparation. “My job is to be a role model and mentor. Coaches can have a positive and negative impact. I’d like to hope that always building on communication, I want to make experiences better for people.”
Humble in many ways, Aslett understands that when one displays personal respect, it leads to others showing mutual respect. He focusses on approaching every day with inspiration leaving students – in the classroom, and on the soccer field, with a clear message.
“Just do your best, work hard and motivate yourself to be that much better each day,” he said. “Where I am today is my biggest reward, it’s a special responsibility that allows me to do what I enjoy. In doing that, I have an impact on helping others set goals, planning a path of action and recognizing improvement.”
“Winning is great, but at that level I believe everyone should be involved in all capacities of the game and taste the experience of competing in a final.”
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – December 2022
“I see the big reward of being able to coach and watch others grow with experience and confidence. That means a great deal to me.”
There is something about the desirable attributes of an individual that can leave a lasting positive impression.
When the name Nabil Tadros is mentioned, integrity also enters the picture. Same for professionalism, and being a guy with just a genuine enthusiastic approach to making things better for so many.
Coaching can be a revelation for some, but it has been a huge part in the life of Tadros.
Cultivating the growth of the sport, at the amateur level, with personal advice, knowledge, and experience, has been his life for some 40 years – and he shows no sign of stopping.
As a youngster growing up in Egypt until he, and his family, moved to Canada in 1964, Tadros had his limitations in the world of sport. It was at the age of five, while watching his parents play tennis, that he took a liking to a sport that requires hitting a ball over a net with a racquet.
Sounds easy, but often it’s not. There’s a technique that involves a combination of agility, mental fortitude, strength and, yes, a strategy. Okay, some luck, too.
For Tadros, enthusiasm grew – and so did the fun of hitting a small white table tennis ball against his bedroom wall. Oh, yes, there was the time, when his shot went a bit astray and he knocked over a picture that shattered the glass frame.
The admiration for sport would skyrocket during his grade 8 year at St. Timothy Catholic School in Toronto. Tadros, enthusiastically, says it has to do with two key people, and points to physical education teachers Don Bannon and John Herman.
“I was influenced by some great coaches over the years, but I truly hit the jackpot with (Herman and Bannon),” recalled Tadros. “The encouragement and support they gave me is something I will never forget. Looking back, I believe they played a big part in my decision to go on and teach and coach.”
Tadros didn’t waste any time learning to play a variety of sports – and did well in some more than others.
Attending Brebeuf College, an all-boys Catholic high school, Tadros would compete for medals in various under-18 Singles tennis tournaments. On the hardwood, he was also a City of Toronto basketball all-star. At the community level, Tadros was selected as the Most Valuable Player in boys’ soccer with the Don Valley Village Association.
“It was such a great feeling knowing that I was involved in so many sports, had so much fun and learned a great deal about sportsmanship, teamwork and respect for others,” said Tadros, who would move on to study physical education at the University of Toronto.
There was a time, Tadros admits, when teaching wasn’t in his plans.
For some reason, he was tinkering with an administrative government job in parks and recreation. That didn’t work. Tadros got the hint that his leadership role in a classroom and gym would take over.
“At U of T, I was getting a great education and also played tennis and basketball – it was the best of both worlds,” added Tadros, who would be on a 1980 team that won the Ontario Universities Athletic Association (OUAA) championship.
“All the while, I knew what coaches had done for me and I just wanted to do the same for others who would get the same enjoyment and satisfaction that I have had.”
As a graduate of the Toronto Teacher’s College and then enhancing his education with a Master’s degree from Niagara University, Tadros would incorporate a 30-year teaching career with thousands of hours of coaching.
To be exact, he’s coached tennis at the University of Toronto for 38 years. Toss in many years of voluntary coaching at the high school level.
The Coaches Association of Ontario series, “Empowering Stories from behind the Bench”, continues to put the spotlight on individuals – like Tadros – who merge excellence in teaching with the strong coaching fundamentals of improvement, guidance, and training.
It wasn’t until his sixth year of teaching high school that Tadros got the message – one that made him understand how he could engage and inspire student athletes.
“It hit me, it all made sense and I saw that coaching really was a good thing for young people,” said Tadros. “There are always ways, outside of the formal classroom, that can become huge for teaching and helping people learn social skills – and doing it through sports is fabulous.”
While some recent statistics show the average Ontario coach impacts more than 350 athletes over a coaching lifetime, Tadros has exceeded this number – and by far.
When asked to talk about his accomplishments and awards, Tadros likes to be low key.
“It’s nice to be recognized, I’m getting older and really appreciate everything,” he said. “It’s an honor, but I see the big reward being that of being able to coach and watch others grow with experience and confidence. That means a great deal to me.”
From student and athlete at U of T (basketball from 1978 to 1981 and tennis from 1980 to 1981), Tadros was appointed head coach of tennis in 1984. He may very well be one of the top coaches in university tennis in Canada after his men’s and women’s teams won an incredible combined 18 Ontario university championships.
Tadros has been recognized for his contribution to athletics as a recipient of a University of Toronto Arbor Award, the Toronto Raptors/Ontario Basketball Association Coaches Recognition citation, Ontario high school coaching recognition, and as a six-time Ontario University Coach of the Year. He was also inducted to the University of Toronto Sports Hall of Fame.Now retired from teaching, when he’s away from coaching sports, Tadros continues to look for ways to help others. He’s made several trips back to Egypt, and often had sports teams with him, with suitcases full of items to donate to others in need.
“I understand that times are tough, and in so many ways, for lots of people,” he said. “As a youngster, I will never forget receiving two special trophies from the Don Valley Village Association for being an MVP in tennis and soccer. “That meant a great deal to me, but so does coaching and seeing the smiles and enjoyment as well as getting the satisfaction of giving sports equipment, toys and clothing to people in need.”
“There are always ways, outside of the formal classroom, that can become huge for teaching and helping people learn social skills – and doing it through sports is fabulous.“
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – November 2022
“I learned, and now my players do the same thing. we learn from the mistakes of others, to make things better…”
She does things her way and, in doing so, continues to exhibit a combination of admirable qualities that range from courage and honor to courtesy and respect.
Her name is Meagan Wilson. There are many with the same name, but only one with what many would say as having one of those compassionate stories that makes you understand the challenge of human power and struggle.
Wilson is a woman fulfilling personal dreams – and she’s doing it through the world of sport.
Over the years, proving that academics and athletics are a good combination, Wilson was a multi-sport athlete. She achieved academic honors as a student in an enrichment program during her younger days at Lansdowne-Costain Public School in Brantford.
Born on the Six Nations Reserve, Wilson would later move to the nearby big city that would be known for more than being the home of Graham Bell, the telephone inventor. Add the place that raised a hockey player called Gretzky and the plant that made Nutella and Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Brantford was home for Wilson, too.
Several years later, she would return to live on the Reserve with her mother.
As a youngster burgeoning with interest, it wasn’t until she had turned 13, that Wilson would become enamored with a sport played by almost seven million people around the world. Yes, rugby.
For years, she had watched her older brother play the game that continues to dominate the area, located some 30 minutes north of Lake Erie and west of Toronto. It wasn’t until she entered grade 9 at Brantford Collegiate, that Wilson opted to see how she would manage in a physical game that also had its share of excitement.
“My mom (Melanie) loved to see me getting involved in sport,” said Wilson, who was raised by a single parent. “We would later come up with the idea of offering a rugby program in our community to get young girls involved and active.”
She would learn quickly, dominate in many ways, and would play a major part, not just as Most Valuable Player on the team, but as one that encouraged teammates to aim for the top. They did just that, winning away three consecutive city championships.
Then came the accolades that went with an Ontario high school rugby gold medal. Wilson had an opportunity to go bigger and train with Indigenous youth at a special program in British Columbia. It also happened to be taking place on the grounds of Shawnigan Lake School – a private educational institution on Vancouver Island.
Heading to Canada’s west coast turned out to be a brilliant move in more ways than one.
People witnessed her success, tenacity, and tremendous perseverance. Then came a scholarship for her grade 12 year, one that would take care of room, board, and tuition. When Wilson returned to Ontario, she had already caught the attention of recruiting coaches, and would shuffle off to McMaster University in Hamilton.
A charismatic and fierce competitor, rugby had taken over her life.
She studied social sciences – but also helped McMaster win an Ontario University Athletics (OUA) rugby title, followed by a Canadian (USports) university championship.
Medals, accomplishments, a fondness for the sport, people who knew Wilson were also aware that rugby was important to her. They could see her certainty and confidence as well as the personal power and the nerves of steel.
But everything would come to a grinding halt in 2016. She had to deal with a genuine crisis – one that involved damage to a medial collateral ligament in her left leg suffered in a game. It was a major tear with superb treatment from authorities at McMaster. Then, six weeks of inactivity.
“Rugby was so important to me and then came the injury,” she recalled, having been the recipient of the Seven Grandfather’s Award from McMaster for her efforts with Indigenous youth sport.
Wilson would recover and return to the line-up for the Canadian university national playoffs in Victoria but did not play much of the tournament. McMaster would finish in the bottom four teams.
“To me, being recognized (for the award) was special but the injury was a disaster. I was also frustrated for some reason, things just went whacky for a bit. I was a 19-year-old and rugby became a chore and less fun. In fact, school also didn’t mean much anymore.”
The break may have been just what Wilson needed.
“I went on to work in various part time jobs at a gas station, a restaurant and looked for other post secondary options,” said Wilson, who earned a diploma after two years. “I had wanted a taste of freedom. As a player, I was always so busy. Then, when I became bored, I returned to rugby – but with a small club. I didn’t care about the outcome, met great people, and played for fun.”
In 2017, she became serious about coaching, and has been involved in delivering 10 camps and introducing rugby to over 200 First Nations youth in Ontario. Wilson didn’t need a reminder for big moments and key games. Not only was she in a precarious position, but she had to find ways to be physically and mentally sound. She also wasn’t one to throw up her arms in frustration and surrender a game she had adored.
That same year came the idea to start what has now become a popular co-educational club – Iroquois Roots Rugby where she is the head coach. With the credentials coming from attending a National Coaching Certification Program Wilson has focussed on planning, organizing, and delivering programs – aimed at techniques and skills – for a variety of boys and girls in different age groups.
“It’s not just about getting on the field with a ball, but the importance of tradition and culture,” she said. “It’s very important for us to provide Indigenous youth with a sense of respect for each other and the communities they represent.”
In 2018, Wilson was honored with a Grassroots Coach Award by the Coaches Association of Ontario at its annual Ontario Coaching Excellence Awards in Toronto. The recognition brought emotional tears, as well as renewing a commitment to inspire young girls – especially in the Iroquois Confederacy of Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora communities – to learn and play rugby.
She had seen the signs of progress and went on to coach the first all-Indigenous rugby team in Ontario at the Great North 7’s tournament in 2019, followed by another appearance at the Q-Meta Cup, part of the Rugby Ontario series of events.
“I lived on a Reserve and there were times when I had struggled to fit in with others,” said Wilson, who is currently doing a Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work (on-line) through Laurentian University.
“I learned, and now my players do the same thing. We learn from the mistakes of others, to make things better and I just love coaching those under six years old in the introduction to rugby program.”
“It’s very important for us to provide Indigenous youth with a sense of respect for each other and the communities they represent.”
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – October 2022
“Coaching is like life. It’s what you put into it and make of it. Life always throws a few curveballs, so you’re learning all the time.”
Life can regularly have its challenges and often when confronted with imperfections.
There are always dazzling success stories in the world of sport that are focussed on the celebrity, the Olympic gold medalist, the un-expected contenders, along with the dominance of athleticism and the raging competitive fire that goes with it.
They are what some would portray as “glimpses of stardom” in one event after another. Yet, what is often missing, are the years of countless stories involving athletes, many who move on to become coaches who impact the lives of others in a positive and conclusive way.
It can mean a great deal more than a medal or trophy.
Spencer (Spence) Robinson, Toronto-born and who has lived in Guyana, was an athlete who benefitted from mentors and educators. He’s been a coach, too. That is what has allowed him to use his experience and knowledge to provide individuals with the same kind of advice and tutoring that he benefitted from as a youngster.
Now, the university-educated Robinson is embarking on an audacious project.
As the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coach of Youth Rugby and Belonging with the Toronto Inner-City Rugby Foundation (TIRF), his mission is to change attitudes and cultural relationships. The goal is to help diversify the sport of rugby for the communities who embrace it.
TIRF is the acronym for the community development organization that strengthens involvement by promoting opportunities for those in under-served and low-income neighbourhoods in the largest city in Canada.
Robinson has faced challenges before – and each one ended in a realization of accomplishment and triumph.
“Cooperation and understanding are very important in life and sports, like rugby, is a vehicle that I have used to help young people build character,” he said. “It’s something that I believe will sustain them beyond their playing years. Building self-esteem is crucial for a young person and that also is true towards coaching.”
Robinson grew up in Pickering, a community just east of Toronto and in Durham Region. His introduction to rugby came as a student at Dunbarton High School, whose teams were traditionally strong and often took rugby tours to the British Isles. A 5-foot-7, 150-pound youngster back then, Robinson had speed, agility and strength in a sport that also had lots of physical contact.
“My parents were shocked that as a kid with a Caribbean background, I was interested in rugby more than cricket and soccer,” Spencer recalled. “For me, good coaching and patience were the keys, and I could also learn from other guys of which several were National and Provincial team members.”
Big things happened for Robinson after playing at York University for two years before moving to the West coast to attend the University of Victoria and play for that school team. At age 23, his career goal of teaching had shifted to a different kind of contact – that of firefighting and repelling from helicopters to tackle fires often on the sides of mountains.
Coaching entered his life while a student at York, and around the time he was playing for the Ajax Wanderers Rugby Club. There was interest from girls to start a club team and Robinson was all for it. He even remembers winning his first game as a coach.
The coaching bug would hit him again in British Columbia where, in 1991, he was involved in the start-up of a women’s program at the University of Victoria.
“It’s just part of my makeup and an opportunity to help people,” said Robinson, who said he combined playing experience with natural instincts, good mentors, and studies in the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP). “Coaching is like life. It’s what you put into it and make of it. Life always throws a few curveballs, so you’re learning all the time.”
Thirty-six years as a coach and 25 as a municipal firefighter, Robinson recently retired as Captain at the Esquimalt Fire Department located in a township on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. It was a job he did, not for rewards – but to save lives.
Having returned to Ontario, Robinson’s next objective may very well be his most arduous and energetic. For the former Canadian national men’s and women’s rugby team coach, with experience involving both seven and 15-player squads, it amounts to doing what he can to remove barriers for inner city youth. Robinson’s plan is to start with rugby and education.
“My role is to put words into action and get more diverse coaches and players involved in the sport,” he said. “You start somewhere, so why not with the bigger challenge in a city like Toronto, where there’s so much to go after.
“I want to make a huge difference and not for me, but for the lives of others. It’s time to light a spark and change attitudes, mindset, and develop a cultural relationship.”
Now taking on a major initiative, one that will see TIRF assistance greatly reduce the financial, geographical, and cultural barriers, Robinson believes positive results will happen.
With more than 30 years coaching experience, Robinson led a variety of rugby sevens programs at local, regional, provincial, and national team levels in both the men’s and women’s game. Now, he’s confident about what lies ahead.
“With me it’s never ability, it’s effort and we’re looking for top-level effort,” he said. “Coaching is everything to me and it can also take place off the field. I now have a huge opportunity to help with Canada’s cultural mosaic.”
“Building self-esteem is crucial for a young person and that also is true towards coaching.”
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – August 2022
“For me, I have come a long way, learned so much and remain grateful for the opportunities and support. Now, my goal is to help young people on the Reserve learn the sport – and grow with it like I did.”
There came a time in his life when Al Staats chose to become a leader.
For him, as a youngster there had been periods of instability, boredom, and uncertainty. Growing up in the Brantford area, home for him was Ohsweken as a member of the Mohawk Nation of The Six Nations Territory of the Grand River.
It was in his teenage years that he found himself scoring better marks at the local billiards hall instead of focussing on his academic studies.
No matter how much effort he put in, mustering patience, and hearing his father plead to return to school, he packed in his academic studies, not finishing grade 10.
Maybe, somewhere, there was a lack of enthusiasm and guidance. The direction and advice could have been missing. Hanging out with the wrong crowd also didn’t help.
“I got fed up (with school) and went my own way,” he recalled. “I became one of the better pool players in the area and really enjoyed the game. Eventually, I realized that I needed to live and that required money and a job.”
Sweeping floors was followed by a factory job, then hanging chickens in a poultry store, working in cast iron and brass,” said Staats. “Wherever I could make some money, I did my best and it was a struggle at times.”
All along, and getting on in years, what Staats didn’t realize was that he had lots of potential. Ironically, he possessed a gift of encouraging others to do their best.
Staats enjoyed watching his father and brother play fastball at Lions Park in Brantford. He would stroll down to the field, curious and tempted by the game strategy and action. It wasn’t long before he got the urge to try out. Things went sour when Staats got cut from the squad in the Brantford Industrial League.
“I remember that well and knew I just had to improve, get in better physical shape, practise, spend hours learning and building confidence,” he said. “I started to love the game and went on to play on a men’s league team on the Six Nations Reserve.”
He played on teams from surrounding towns, but never entered any competitions at a Provincial or Canadian level. In his mid-20s, Staats moved to nearby Brantford and played in several men’s leagues.
It wasn’t until around his 25th birthday that Staats was able to compete in the Inter-City Senior Men’s Fastball League with the Mount Hope A’s. The competition got tougher playing against top ranked teams and players.
“Softball was big in the area back then and I was determined to become one of the best players,” he said. “It was also tougher trying to make the team because guys were older, and I was the kid. I realized that maybe youth and success would be good for me.”
Turned out, Staats was right. He went on to become a centrefielder and one of the better players on the Legionnaires team in Brantford. Focussed and building on prosperity, rewards would follow. Staats would not only be on a team that won a silver medal at the Ontario Amateur Softball Association competition, but his appreciation for the sport grew immensely.
“I not only got hooked on the sport, but my attitude improved, my performance was better, and I had a whole new view of the game and the person that I had become,” said Staats, who was picked up by Canadian teams for World tournaments.
Highlights included winning an Ontario A championship followed by a gold medal in 1989 at the Canadian Senior Men’s Nationals in Owen Sound. Staats played for Team Canada in Argentina at the Pan Am Qualifier and, maybe one of his biggest thrills, was defeating the United States in the gold medal game. Also big in his memory, the silver medal won at the 1991 International Softball Congress tournament in Sioux City, Iowa
“For a guy who had never travelled far from home, didn’t have a driver’s license or been on a plane, these accomplishments were very, very special to me,” he said.
Now riding the thrills of a rollercoaster, the inquisitiveness of Staats took over. At age 33, bold and anxious for growth, he wanted to try his influence at coaching. His sons were playing and, well, time to coach them. His dream was for them to experience the joy that he had been given.
“Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue at what I was doing at the time,” chuckled Staats, during our telephone conversation. “It was house league, but what I did realize was that it was time to learn how to be a better coach.”
Building on accreditation with the National Coaching Certification Program, he has taken courses in Cambridge, Hamilton, and Toronto. He’s hoping to have Level 3 done by later this summer.
Staats would later apply to the Coaches Association of Ontario for consideration in a special Aboriginal Apprenticeship Program – one that was sponsored by the Coaching Association of Canada.
Staats was on a roll and eventually formed an all-star team, consisting of Indigenous and non-Indigenous players, that competed in a variety of tournaments. He quickly realized that there was
an abundance of talent on the Six Nations Reserve, but what was lacking was sound coaching, knowledge, and an emphasis on encouraging young players to grow with the sport.
“There should be more Indigenous coaches in all sports,” he said. “The time is long overdue, there is an opportunity to work at getting young people active and others coaching. People shouldn’t expect things to be handed to them. Take it from me, I learned the hard way.”
Next up, Staats was chosen coach of Team Ontario’s under-22 squad that will compete this summer at the Canada Games in the Niagara area.
“Embrace the experience and I will tell the players that this may be the only time that they get a chance to be in something like this – and to go out and enjoy it,” he said. “For me, I have come a long way, learned so much and remain grateful for the opportunities and support. Now, my goal is to help young people on the Reserve learn the sport – and grow with it like I did.”
“Embrace the experience and I will tell the players that this may be the only time that they get a chance to be in something like this – and to go out and enjoy it.“
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – July 2022
“When you view the role of a sports coach, it’s fantastic. It’s like you’re being a mentor, or teacher, and get to see athletes conquer fears, overcome obstacles, learn new skills, and have fun.”
You may not have heard of the new documentary show called “Every Second Counts”. That’s fine, but you are likely aware of the Emmy-award winning reality series called the “Amazing Race”.
Gabbi Whitlock may have, in her own way, started another fascinating competition. But, of a slightly different nature.
Having coached triathletes for 25 years, she’s now picking up the tempo to get more people actively involved in an endurance multi-sport race that encompasses various distances in swimming, cycling, and running.
Her goal is to, one day, see an assortment of Canada-wide provincial triathlon championships at the high school, college, and university levels. The triathlon is not considered a varsity sport at educational institutions, but things can change over time – and, especially, with increasing interest and participation.
Bright and energetic, Whitlock is quite optimistic – and thinks it’s possible.
She’s banking on young people benefitting from viewing other family members, even friends, taking part for pure enjoyment. Other people compete for a variety of awards. There’s also something catching the attention of many people. It’s called physical fitness.
“It might start in small pockets, but at least it’ll be a start,” said Whitlock, who is head coach of the Balance Point Triathlon Club in London, Ont.
“Unlike in other sports, where there is a grassroots system, that doesn’t exist in triathlon. I’m hoping to run a club for kids and their families. Once kids see their parents involved, maybe it will motivate them, too. That’s my goal.”
Whitlock fully understands that most people don’t swim 1,500 metres, then bike 40 kilometres and finish with a 10 kilometres run. That’s the Olympic way. While there are establishes distances for youth, her idea is to come up with distances more suitable for youngsters.
Originally from Toronto, Whitlock works for Western University as a research officer in the Dean’s Office in the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. In short, her job is helping faculty apply for grants that investigate a variety of topics. Time management must be another strength as she also coaches competitive swimmers at the London Aquatic Club.
For those not acquainted with this challenging, and demanding sport, the triathlon was believed to have been invented in the 1970’s by the San Diego Track Club.
Folks at the California organization saw it as an alternative workout to the rigours of training by running around a track. The club’s first event consisted of a 10 kilometres run, an eight kilometres cycle and a 500 metres swim.
Just mentioning those numbers can make anyone ask for a short time out to take a breather.
The triathlon made its Olympic debut in Australia back in 2000, when Sydney hosted the Summer Games. Time for some trivia. Canada’s Simon Whitfield won the inaugural gold medal. The popularity could take a boost, but that will require participation and education.
For Whitlock, who volunteered to coach at the 2018 Ontario Summer Games in London, a few years later, she was chosen as a Canada Games Apprentice coach. Ask her about the role of a coach and if she’s enjoying the challenge that goes with it, and you may be surprised with her response.
“For me, and I am sure for many others, coaching is a passion and something that is very rewarding,” said Whitlock, who is a trained in cycling but a certified coach in swimming, personal training, as well as strength and conditioning.
“When you view the role of a sports coach, it’s fantastic. It’s like you’re being a mentor or teacher, and get to see athletes conquer fears, overcome obstacles, learn new skills, and have fun.”
One of the few women in Canada certified in the National Coaches Certification Program (NCCP) as a competition development triathlon coach, Whitlock also knows quite a bit about kinesiology and sports psychology. Admitting that she’s never been the athlete that stands on an awards podium, she’s a winner in other ways – including participation.
Whitlock is also a firm believer in giving back to the community. For her, it’s through coaching.
“The apprenticeship experience gave me confidence in my skills as a coach and pushed me to continue what am I doing and always look for ways to get better,” said Whitlock, who attempted an Ironman Triathlon in Texas in 2019 – and finished it.
That one encompassed a 3.8 kilometres swim, then a bike course of 180 kilometres and finished with a 42.2 kilometres run. Nothing to it, right?
A competitive swimmer in her younger years, entering the world of coaching may have started for Whitlock when she was a 15-year-old. That’s when she pitched in to help with the Scarborough Swim Club.
Five years later, on her way to getting a Degree in Psychology at Western, she enhanced on that coaching life by helping the triathlon club at the same university. She’s also coached the Provincial Development Team at camps for Triathlon Ontario.
“Triathlon encompasses so many people in many ways and at all ability levels,” said Whitlock, who has coached hundreds in the sport. “I see those as young as four years and up to 70 years of age who are involved. The challenge is to keep them – and build on it.”
“The apprenticeship experience gave me confidence in my skills as a coach and pushed me to continue what am I doing and always look for ways to get better.”
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – June 2022
“Coaching grows on you and there is a desire to keep learning, educating and helping others become the best they can.”
You work hard and always try to do the right thing.
It’s fair to assume, but that’s the logical approach to life. Examining the options, chances are you’re bound to have some deliberations, questions, and setbacks. Yet, there is the ability to strive forward and make things better.
That’s the route taken by Giuseppe Politi.
Not many people residing south of Sudbury may know of this man, but that will change by the time you finish reading this story. Building relationships can be a bonus on the road to success, and Politi, has accomplished that with much prosperity.
For him, soccer has made up a good chunk of his life. It’s something he’s quite passionate about. As a 12-year-old, he was observed drawing out formations and planning strategies for a soccer team. The teen days continued to show signs of a future in coaching, while growing up in what is now Canada’s fifth largest metropolis and once known as the city that nickel built.
While Sudbury has an Ontario Hockey League team, a club in the Northern Football Conference, a National Basketball League of Canada entry, and hosted the Brier as well as the International Amateur Athletic Federation (IAAF) and Pan Am championships, something is missing.
That’s soccer – a sport where Canada’s women’s team won a recent Olympic gold medal and the men qualified for the 2022 World Cup, ending a 36-year drought.
It can be a tough job building a sports venue in a part of the country where geography dictates that some 100 days a year, the temperature never rises above zero degrees Celsius. That hasn’t stopped Politi – a teacher in many ways.
After years of the community pleading for an indoor facility, things changed with a new $4.1 million soccer dome. The pandemic, yes – that one – has shut down the facility leaving soccer fans with a choice to play in the inclement weather, wait for a re-opening, hold off for the summer, or look for other opportunities.
While frustrated at times, Politi has forged ahead, doing what he can to shine the spotlight on the sport, getting people involved, coaching, advising, and so much more. A licensed coach in Canada, the United States and Europe, and short of being called “Mr. Soccer of the North”, he’s boosted soccer participation.
Politi’s priority has been focussed on a fulltime job in the classroom. For the past 13 years, he has taught at St. Benedict Catholic Secondary School. He’s also coached soccer.
Juggling many hats may be a term that fits Politi, who is quite passionate about a sport that he believes deserves more notoriety. With coaching and teaching both vital, Politi continues his mission of trying to make the sport better for those residing in Northern Ontario.
“Soccer (and sport in general) has afforded me some of the best experiences and life moments,” said Politi, who credits the on-going support given to him as a player, coach, and leader, by his mother – Antonietta Politi. “It is my hope to pass it along to the next generation and improve the game in the North as best I can.”
Focussed on player development, the advancement of coaches, high performance results, governance, and standards, it all comes down to participation, knowledge, and an understanding that the sport is one of the most popular ones on the planet.
A true maverick and renaissance man who blazed his own trail, Politi has made a difference to so many.
He has taken on a technical and advisory coaching role with the Nipissing District Soccer Club in North Bay. Same focus with the Soo City United in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Greater Sudbury Soccer Club. Big task. Lots of travel. That, in addition to being a learning facilitator for Ontario Soccer, the provincial governing body for the sport.
What isn’t missing is his dedication to getting the task done well.
A native of Sudbury, Politi got hooked on the game at an early age, played soccer at St. Charles College, then briefly at St. Leo University in Tampa, and both Laurentian and Brock University, before pursuing opportunities as a coach, referee, and administrator.
“I just love soccer, put in huge hours, and spent lots of money on coaching education,” he said. “I just want to make the game better at the grassroots level, give young people an opportunity to learn, play and when the season is over, think about registering for the following year.”
Connecting with thousands of athletes, parents, and coaches, soccer to him is like flesh and blood. He just can’t live without it.
The Coaches Association of Ontario, in its popular series “Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench” singled out Politi with the 2018 Trailblazer Coach Award, recognizing his strong ability to help young players build on their skills, develop a strong knowledge of the game, and pursue it as a healthy activity for life.
“Teaching people to play soccer and others to coach is very rewarding to me,” said Politi, who has earned some of the highest coaching credentials. “One of my former coaches, Tom Ryan, hung on to a drawing that I made as a youngster with soccer formations. Some 20 years later, he gave it to me showing that, back then, he saw potential of me becoming a coach.
“Coaching grows on you and there is a desire to keep learning, educating and helping others become the best they can,” he said. “For some, its competing at a higher level while others play for fun and always need the support of a coach.”
“I just want to make the game better at the grassroots level, give young people an opportunity to learn, play and when the season is over, think about registering for the following year.”
CAO’s all new Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – May 2022
“Sport has the power to change lives and as coaches, we are often judged by what we say, believe and how we put that in action.”
Patricia (Patti) Howes has heard it over, and over again.
Questions, comments, suggestions, and hints that either she couldn’t do something, or it was best to focus on a more achievable project, job, or interest.
No ifs, ands, or buts.
All that did, was motivate her even more.
Not one to give up, but instead strive for opportunities, Howes buckled down and used her charm and charisma going after things she enjoyed and could build on. To get some peace of mind, each time Howes just focussed on ways to prove others wrong.
“Always curious to try new things, and undaunted by naysayers, I have persevered through many challenges as a person,” said Howes. “There have been many losses along the way, but I always learned from those loses and appreciated my victories.”
Born Patricia O’Flaherty, in Montreal and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., she was a ballet dancer in her elementary and high school days. O’Flaherty would later teach that form of finesse, flare, and brilliance to youngsters.
Always artistic, she enjoys the painting of acrylics, and at one time was quite serious about becoming an artist. Creative and energetic, it was during the pandemic days of incognito, that Howes would devote time to a new hobby of wood carving.
Around the age of 19, a new beginning emerged for her. she had entered Carleton University in Ottawa. She needed something to replace dancing, keep her busy when there was time away from academic studies. She also wanted to meet new people.
What perked her interest, something she had found to be quite fascinating, was the Carleton varsity fencing club. She was fascinated by the mental and physical aspects of fencing.
Mention the sport of fencing and the average person conjures up pictures from the movie world.
The master sword fighters in Star Wars to the mysterious hero who fought to protect the poor and oppressed in the Mask of Zorro. Even the Disney film, Parent Trap has a fencing match rivalry that involves two look-a-like girls. Her favorite fencing movie is The Princess Bride, a swashbuckling classic.
For Howes, it was not about Hollywood. It became more than a passion and something that would continue to intrigue and pique her curiosity. Her artisan days became secondary, replaced by teaching and coaching, and emphasizing the fun and joy of the sport. It would be a calling that consumed her life and would benefit hundreds more along the way.
“As a university student, I wanted to do something for fitness, but had a limited budget,” said Howes, who had met and married David Howes. “There was a notice about joining the fencing club for $25.00. It was reasonable and looked interesting. I knew there would be an opportunity to learn, have some fun, and get a good physical workout.”
Curiosity would soon end. Fascination took over, followed by a form of infatuation that led to a desire to coach a sport that has been featured in every modern Olympic Games. Howes has enjoyed helping people find the path for their own success and in 1989, it happened. Her first dip into coaching through the National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP).
“My husband’s first posting was Greenwood, N.S.,”, said Howes. “He had asked, at the base gym, about building a fencing program and we were offered the free use of an old military school gym and classroom.”
Now a multi-award-winning Ontario university and competitive fencing coach, Howes was the recipient of the inaugural Hydro One Safe Play Award that was presented to a coach who practices positive, inclusive, physically, and emotionally safe sport through their leadership role. Her story is just one in a special Coaching Association of Ontario (CAO) series called “Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench”.
Howes is noticeable with her caring and unwavering approach. It’s obvious in her role as varsity head coach and program coordinator at Royal Military College (RMC) in Kingston. More than winning awards, she has stressed the safe space element, which is not just physical, but mental and emotional.
“We were in Winnipeg, I was a busy working mom, but I wanted to be a professional coach,” said Howes, who had solid coaching credentials after graduating from the National Coaching Institute High Performance Coaching program at the University of Manitoba.
“My husband saw a military job posting at work for a full-time fencing coach at RMC,” said Howes, who had solid coaching credentials after graduating from the National Coaching Institute High Performance Coaching program at the University of Manitoba. “I thought he was joking, didn’t take him seriously until I read the notice and then applied.”
With an ambition to become a Fencing Master, and having studied the disciplines in foil, epee and sabre through the NCCP, there was a glaring opportunity. If successful, Howes would have to shuffle off to the Limestone city leaving her husband, posted to Winnipeg, and their 10 and 12-year-old children. Both kids were also well settled with school and friends.
“Sometimes you just have to make important career moves and when I was offered the RMC position in 2002, I had discussed it with our family, I packed the car and a few weeks later was in Kingston running the program,” she said. “We hoped it wouldn’t be long before my husband was transferred, and in the meantime the kids would stay with him.”
Howes is the first woman Fencing Master at RMC, and along with close friend Lynn Seguin in Richmond, B.C., they are believed to be the first two females with that title in Canada. At RMC, Howes operates two campus programs and has coached teams to five Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships in her 20 years at the school.
“I trusted my training, re-designed the RMC fencing program and continue to thoroughly enjoy the journey,” said Howes, who resides on nearby Wolfe Island. “At RMC, we have people interested in experiencing life, trying new things, and be there to serve their country. For me, I always want to do the best that I can and build good people. That’s always been my goal.”
Years of knowledge and experience, as well as a career of hard work triumphant in the sport, Howes is devoted to her students. She has put people, who had previously never fenced, on the winner’s podium.
Howes was selected to coach at several major events, ranging from the Canada Games to the Junior World championship, the Junior Pan Am Games to the FISU World University Games in Russia (2013) and Korea (2015). She was also at the international military sports organization’s World Games in Brazil (2011), Korea (2015) and China (2019)
“Sport has the power to change lives and as coaches, we are often judged by what we say, believe and how we put that in action,” she said. “If your goal is to guide athletes to try accomplish their goals, which is the job of a good coach, then it’s critical that you have to be a quality leader and earn their trust and respect.”
“If your goal is to guide athletes to try accomplish their goals, then it’s critical that you have to be a quality leader and earn their trust and respect.”
The Government of Ontario, through the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries, is investing up to $1 million through Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities to promote active recreation in Ontario. This funding will help children and youth reconnect with sport and recreation at the grassroots level, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Thanks to this investment Jumpstart is able to offer access to the Keeping Girls in Sport (KGIS) online learning resource at no cost to as many as 1,500 coaches and program leaders in Ontario.
Keeping Girls in Sport is an online resource that helps coaches and youth activity leaders create safe and respectful environments for female athletes, ensuring girls stay enrolled and engaged in sports and physical activity.
Below are instructions to access the free registration from May 9 to June 30, 2022 (or 1,500 registrations):
Program Access Instructions:
This free access code is available until June 30, 2022, or 1,500 registrations.
Thank you for the work you for the work that you do to keep girls in sport.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to email@example.com if you have any questions.
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – April 2022
“Sports coaching can be defined as the process of motivating, guiding, and training an individual in preparation for any sporting hobby, career, or event.” – Life Coach Directory
Jordan McFarlane knows all about winning basketball games.
As a player, he’s been on teams with crowning achievements, coached champions, and had his share of personal accolades. Talk with him, and he can spend hours sharing stories.
But the ones that stand out are not myths, but the huge victories – those that have come outside the hardwood floor of the gym.
McFarlane knows of the tough times, the struggles, and challenges, and how he, like others, have gone through adversity to get to the good side of things. It’s not impossible to do.
Having lived in a troubled Toronto neighbourhood often stigmatized by the mere mention of the streets, Jane and Finch, McFarlane was raised by a single parent. His mother, for which he has huge compliments and adulation, helped him navigate through life.
Since graduating from C.W. Jefferys Collegiate, followed by some post-secondary education at Ryerson, McFarlane was always enamored with the dream of one day becoming a social worker.
Resilient, hard-working and with an unwavering passion and commitment, McFarlane figured he had a way of getting to people – and then, leaving them with a positive impression. So, he chose the route of coaching, adding the related components of educating, and mentoring, to the job.
He’s been doing it, and exceptionally well, since 2006.
McFarlane had the right idea. He used a physical athletic activity that involves a large orange ball and is very popular with the teenage crowd. Yes, basketball – a game invented by James Naismith, the Canadian who, among other accomplishments, was a sports coach.
Always gung-ho about the game of hoops, McFarlane knew it would be a mechanism that brought young boys, many often facing an assortment of social challenges, off the streets, and into the confines of a gym. The objective: fun and learning.
For McFarlane, his ambition and intention were greater than putting a ball in a mesh net some 10 feet off the ground.
“There is no better feeling than watching kids see an opportunity and then make something positive out of it for themselves,” said McFarlane. “Basketball can be a huge link to helping and just being there. Most of my work happens before, and after, I get to the gym. It’s about connecting with families first, showing them that sacrifices can turn in to wonderful things. But it takes effort, commitment, and a desire to be successful.”
McFarlane was the recipient of the 2021 Coaches Association of Ontario “Susan Kitchen Trailblazer Award”, given to an individual who sets a path for others to follow. For him, it’s a distinguished recognition of his work. Known by many as “Coach Mac”, he views the CAO’s gift of honor to be a signal that goes beyond the study of sport.
“I’m helping young men make wise decisions that will benefit them,” said McFarlane, who has made a lasting impression on hundreds of young people. “I can relate to these guys who come out, because I used to be just like them. You doubt yourself in so many ways, and I’m teaching them about what traps to avoid and what not to do.”
McFarlane may not have the pedagogy of a social worker, but his ability to try guide youngsters in need of assistance and cope with problems in their everyday lives, has certainly been very productive.
“I just want these amazing kids to understand that they can be successful and be contributing positive members of society,” he said. “I see myself in every one of these kids and I tell them, there’s a great deal of pride and accomplishment for them – and to go for it.”
As the Technical Director of Basketball Operations for the Youth Association for Academics Athletics and Character Education (YAAACE), McFarlane knows basketball is a magnet for many teens. His knowledge, experience, and success in the sport, fits right in with the community organization that tries to impact the lives of children and youth in a positive manner.
“It’s about making change – for the better,” he said. “I’ve helped kids turn their lives around and find careers in many areas ranging from teaching to law enforcement. It’s a miraculous turnaround and while some have fallen through the cracks, I know I have been successful.”
McFarlane knows coaching goes beyond sport and when he’s challenged, he’s ready. There have been instances when young teens have challenged authority or even life in the game. His response has been a conversation focussed on accountability, identifying the problem, making the adjustments, and then moving forward.
“The world doesn’t accept excuses,” said McFarlane, admitting that he doesn’t hesitate to offer up some fatherly advice. “It’s my job, my role. Through basketball, it allows me to be the male authority figure that tries to be responsive and supportive of their needs, expectations, and aspirations.”
McFarlane has a competitive side to his role as a coach, thrives on winning games, but at the end of the day, the passion is all about helping and teaching others.
Dr. Ardavan Eizadirad has watched and followed McFarlane for years.
“He has created a culture where people buy in to the high expectations and hold each other accountable as a community,” said Dr. Eizadirad, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and also a referee with the Toronto Association of Basketball Officials (TABO).
“I see the success he has in engaging marginalized youth, recognizing where there is a need for care and opening opportunities for them. He believes in the cause, shows the loyalty, and doesn’t do it for the accolades.”
Devon Jones, founder of YAAACE and a teacher with the Toronto District School Board, said that the first time he met McFarlane, he could see a great advocate.
“The work (Jordan) does with these kids is phenomenal,” said Jones. “While he may be a very good basketball coach, his ability to bring the best out of kids is amazing. Discipline is big with him, and he sets standards and insists that they be met. There’s no nonsense in his way of doing things – and I have noticed a huge positive difference in young people.”
Engaging those from disadvantaged and poor under-resourced communities, by providing advice, learning opportunities and year-round comprehensive programs and activities, are things that should be shown as accomplishments in McFarlane’s resume.
A skilled leader, McFarlane will tell you that, in many cases, it’s all about making personal connections. “Find the right people who you can trust, can also help you, point you in the right direction, but then you have stay committed and pick up your end of the deal – strive for success,” he said. “You push these kids to greatness. You bring the best out of them. I know I am making a difference in their lives, careers, and their futures.”
“There is no better feeling than watching kids see an opportunity and then make something positive out of it for themselves.“
CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – March 2022
“To see people, with a disability work hard at what they want to achieve and stay focused on participating, means more than any physical award.”
There is a great English playwright and poet, known for his distinct classical opening phrase of a soliloquy in the theatrical play Hamlet.
With respect to William Shakespeare, I am going to modify that historical expression to reflect the world of sport. To be more specific, the key role of a dedicated individual, who has devoted more than 30 years to facilitating active lifestyles, and promoting fitness and sport for individuals with physical impairments.
To coach, or not to coach, that is the question?
It’s an easy answer for Gwen (Slater) Binsfeld, a para-alpine coach and a truly sensational individual whose family history may have been somewhat of a factor in her commitment to health, wellness, and fitness of people with disabilities.
An astute human being, Binsfeld is the next person to be recognized in the impactful series “Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench” put together by the Coaches Association of Ontario.
For Binsfeld, and like many others, to be a great coach, you don’t have to be a distinguished athlete. She has made it quite clear that coaches are the experts in motivating and communicating with athletes. Also, critically important, is the coaches’ function of leading athletes through ideal behaviours.
But that takes more than just words. Try leadership.
Back in her high school days, Binsfeld was quite active in a variety of sports, and was selected Athlete of the Year at Toronto’s York Memorial Collegiate, before going on to pursue a degree in Recreation and Kinesiology at the University of Waterloo.
“I lived for sport and if it wasn’t for all the opportunities to compete, I’d likely never have finished school,” she said in a telephone conversation from her cozy home on picturesque Manitoulin Island, located on the north shore of Lake Huron, and about a two-hour drive southwest of Sudbury.
“In those days, you could play all sports, not have to be restricted to one, and it was amazing.”
As a youngster, Binsfeld would remember the times she would visit Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, with her grandfather, a World War I veteran. She would carry his wooden leg when it was time to go swimming.
She also taught her niece, born without a hand, to ski, cycle and be active in various sports. Her hemiplegic son, was the next family member to embrace inclusive sport, and excel at para alpine skiing.
Those may have been early indications of her eagerness, ambition, and devotion to helping people with disabilities. But it was at the age of 19, that she had made up her mind to be a coach.
“I had some wonderful coaches, very special people and tremendous in what they did,” she said. “They were strong figures, encouraged and facilitated. You knew that they cared about you.”
Sport, coaching, leadership, commitment – it was contagious to her.
There was a time when Binsfeld had also wanted to become a teacher. She’s been instructing, cultivating, and guiding people in her own way through the world of adaptive skiing.
Coaches have been good at telling athletes that it’s not whether you get knocked down, but how you deal with it, whether you get up, and the importance of not giving up.
For more than three decades, Binsfeld has been a para coach. Ontario Track 3 and Canadian Adaptive Snowsports, are organizations that were formed by a group of volunteers dedicated to providing people of all abilities, the opportunity to experience the joys of skiing. Since 2008, Binsfeld has been involved in instructing and coaching the Provincial para alpine team.
There were 19 years with Para Alpine Ontario and some 25 coaching and volunteering with the Ontario Track3 Ski Association for the Disabled – an organization formed by a group of volunteers dedicated to providing young people of all abilities, the opportunity to experience the joys of skiing.
Not one to accumulate or brag about awards, Binsfeld was the recipient of the Canadian Adaptive Snowsports Coach of the Year award in 2020.
“That (award) had a great deal of meaning to me – to be recognized by your peers,” she said. “I do what I do, because I enjoy it and it’s meaningful to me in so many ways. To see people, with a disability work hard at what they want to achieve and stay focussed on participating, means more than any physical award.”
Binsfeld may have been somewhat of a pioneer for encouraging people with physical disabilities to strive for the top, always emphasizing to live very day to its fullest. She saw athletes with potential and chose to “get aggressive and build a pathway for them to the Paralympics”.
For her, the goal is not always reaching the podium or the world showcase for athletes with disabilities. There are winners in other ways, too.
“I’m dedicated to helping people of all ages reach their dream, their goal and that may very well be to get them out of a wheelchair and to adaptive skiing – giving individuals a way of enjoying adventure,” she said. “That’s a gold medal.”
Catching her on the ski slopes, you may very well hear that sound of music. That’s because she loves spiritual melodies and singing, what she calls uplifting, and has been in several choirs before the pandemic.
“I often sing when I coach,” she said. “You need to have rhythm and I tell athletes to do the same and have fun. Everything else is a bonus.
“The joy of seeing young participants become skilled and develop, watch their self-confidence soar and life skills go up – that’s all very important to me. The pay cheque is the smile of seeing people reach their goal. It’s contagious and I go home feeling engaged.”
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CAO’s all new Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench article series – February 2022
“There were times when I thought, becoming a coach, was just not going to be possible. Times have changed, and for the better. I want to continue to help impact change, make things better, cut barriers and create more opportunities”
It’s a word that, in many ways, sums up the determination, grit and moxie of a coach. It’s also a declaration that characterizes Christa Eniojukan.
Watching what she does as a coach extremely well, clearly depicts the tenacity of an individual who has fire in her spirit. To many, from players to observers, the level of inspiration she gives off to those focussed on learning, is like a bolt of lightning in the sky.
In the world of sport, the job of a coach, in many ways can relate to a partnership. It’s one in which that coach, focussing on the development of an athlete, teaches, and advises, that individual to produce results that are beneficial in personal and professional lives.
Eniojukan, in doing just that, is a superb example of ambitions made real.
A positive influence on others, she has taken a leadership role several levels higher. At times, with a flair for brilliance, it’s because of how she has produced phenomenal results with people.
They say that “spirit is a component of human psychology, philosophy, and knowledge”.
Maybe so, but what is vividly clear, when talking with Eniojukan, is her understanding of judgement, awareness, insight, and the foundation that make up a good person.
Born in Montreal, she was raised in Guelph, played a variety of sports at St. James High School and has benefitted from post-secondary studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, and later Toronto’s York University. She would go on to earn a Degree in Kinesiology and Physical Education and then graduate from Teacher’s College.
As a player and point guard wearing jersey No. 6 for her school basketball team, she was a ball of enthusiasm. It continued at the post-secondary level, and she was twice chosen Most Valuable Player at Laurier. Now as a coach, Eniojukan has boatloads of poise, assurance, and energy.
She has come a long way since her first coaching job at Toronto’s Rockcliffe Middle School, where she also taught and prepared students for high school. Career and personal development are a priority.
Eniojukan added to her coaching experience by taking on responsibilities with club and provincial teams, as well as through programs at the Ontario Basketball Association. She was chosen head coach for the Academy for Student Athlete Development (ASAD) Durham Elite.
2019 was a big year for her. Eniojukan became the inaugural female basketball coach at Ontario Tech University and was the recipient of an Ontario Coaching Excellence Award presented by the Coaches Association of Ontario (CAO). In the category of “Everyone Matters”, she caught the attention of the selection community for her work in inclusion.
She displayed a thirst for success, was hungry to excel, but the load became arduous. Although ahead of her time in many ways, Eniojukan would eventually make several bold moves.
It started with resigning from teaching in 2021 with the Toronto District School Board, to focus on fulltime coaching. She is now in charge of the women’s basketball program at York – a school that has won only two Ontario university titles in almost 50 years.
For her, it’s another step, and a huge challenge, in the growth of a woman whose focus is to make an athlete understand that she wants the best for her – and not just on the basketball court.
“Life is not all just sunshine and roses,” said Eniojukan. “For a coach, for me, it goes beyond putting a ball in a hoop. It’s about fostering and building relationships. I don’t know it all, but I am always learning about how to help people grow and strive for excellence as a team.”
Articulate and aware of her surroundings, Eniojukan learned about the challenges of a female coach. In many ways, they still exist.
“I remember being the head coach on a club team and referees would ignore me and speak to assistant male coaches,” she recalled. “Times have improved, but people need to understand that women can coach, too.”
Back in 2010, Eniojukan was on the verge of ending her short coaching career. Married and with a family, she questioned herself. Could she successfully devote essential time to her husband and children, as well as be an elite coach on a fulltime basis?
“You need extra support, and that can come in many ways, also flexibility and an understanding by, and from, others,” she said. “It’s not taboo to bring your kids to a basketball practice or have a care giver watching them. I know there are mothers of young families, who choose not to coach or stop altogether, because that network of assistance just isn’t there.”
Building the lives of young athletes with a sense of balance is important to her as is the feeling of accomplishment. Realizing there were additional ways to make an impact, Eniojukan launched an educational and sports program in 2018. She’s the founder of “Active Scholars”.
Call it a summer camp of sorts, combining education with sports and providing a window on the benefits of other skills. Several hundred youngsters have benefitted from this program, and it is now offered in Ajax and Toronto.
It may not all be basketball, but Eniojukan is combining her coaching and teaching skills with character development, emphasizing teamwork values through sports and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education.
“As a coach, from a diverse background, you can make a huge impact on the lives of people,” said Eniojukan, who is co-chair of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Black, Biracial and Indigenous (BBI) Committee.
There are moments of reflection for Eniojukan, especially when taking time to retreat to her younger days. Those were times, when at the age of six, her father, Gary, introduced her to the importance of sport. Later would follow a fueling love for the game of basketball that she attributes to coaching mentors – Eric Stewart, then at the Guelph Christian Youth Organization and Stu Julius, then at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I learned so much from them and I was allowed to be outspoken, say what was on my mind and be a vocal leader,” she said. “That meant so much to me and the confidence just took off.
Eniojukan was never coached by a woman or an individual who was a visible minority.
“Back then, I never saw myself as a coach,” she said. “There were times when I thought, becoming a coach, was just not going to be possible. Times have changed, and for the better. I want to continue to help impact change, make things better, cut barriers and create more opportunities.”
Mentoring women remains very important to Eniojukan.
“I have always told my players to try their best, be positive,” she said. “It’s okay to lose a game, knowing that you worked hard, and you were that much better than when you started the game.”
“It goes beyond putting a ball in a hoop. It’s about fostering and building relationships.”