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
By David Grossman
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.”
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.
“There is no better feeling than watching kids see an opportunity and then make something positive out of it for themselves.“
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