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”
By David Grossman
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.”
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.
“It goes beyond putting a ball in a hoop. It’s about fostering and building relationships.”
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