Advocating for a quality sport environment

As far back as I can remember, I had my hair in a ponytail, glove on my hand, and cleats on my feet. I grew up on the softball diamond. Most of my early memories were forged on the field, even before I started playing myself. Trampling through the corn fields while my parents played slo-pitch and earning a nickel for every returned foul ball (I wish they still did this now!). Playing sport was, and continues to be, such an integral part of my life. Fastpitch in the summer, indoor soccer and hockey in the winter, and volleyball, badminton, and track & field at school. These days, you can find me coaching softball, playing volleyball, and cheering on our two teenagers in their own sports. And when I’m not coaching, playing, or parenting, I am supporting organizations in their safe sport commitments. Ensuring sport is a positive and fun experience for all participants is something I fiercely believe in, and that is why I’m thrilled to have joined the team at Sport Law.

Here's why.

While I was fortunate to have enjoyed a positive sporting environment, with several female coaches supporting me when I was young, I also experienced the darker side of sport. In one case (many years ago), I left a team prior to the end of the season. In another situation, I stepped away as the assistant coach. And more recently, I also watched an organization struggle when their leaders were unwilling to proactively manage a situation because they didn’t have the policies and procedures in place. And yet, I am grateful for these situations, as they have helped me grow as a sport leader and safe sport advocate.

And while I believe I was destined to work in sport and to advocate for, and promote safe, welcoming, and accessible sport environments, the path I took was anything but linear. I was a Physical Education and Science Teacher up until 2008. In 2006, life threw me a curve ball, changing what I thought my future would hold. Our daughter was born 100% deaf, which brought new challenges into our lives, but also opened the door to so many wonderful opportunities. Eventually, this sparked a move to Ottawa to benefit from the best Auditory-Verbal Therapy services for a baby with cochlear implants, to be a part of Deaf culture, and to access American Sign Language (ASL) programs.

Then, in 2012, a former university colleague invited me to volunteer as the Manager of the Women’s National Deaf Volleyball Team leading up to and attending the 2013 Summer Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria. Knowing I had a deaf kid, was fluent in ASL, and played volleyball, it was the perfect fit. A year later, I was offered a full-time job at the Canadian Deaf Sports Association, working on athlete development and outreach, overseeing all National Teams, and attending the 2015 Winter Deaflympic Games in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

And although there were hard days, it’s amazing how challenges can be transformed into something positive when we shift our outlook.

In 2016, with the announcement of softball’s return to the 2020 Olympics, a position became available at Softball Canada, and I jumped at the opportunity. Who wouldn’t want to work in their favorite sport? Starting out in Long-Term Athlete Development, I transitioned to Coaching & Safe Sport where I brought my passion for values-based sport to the forefront. I was fortunate to be among the early group of safe sport practitioners who were leading the way to a safer and more inclusive sport experience. Outside of ensuring policy alignment from the national level all the way down to grassroots, we were innovative in communicating our commitments within our softball communities across Canada. We created backstop signs, sent postcards, designed an educational PSA video, promoted our messages through banners, and hosted educational workshops for community coaches, parents, and athletes, with safe sport giveaways. It was fun and rewarding, promoting a safer sport experience, and finding positive ways to share our message.

During this time, I was also appointed to the Coaching Association of Canada’s (CAC) Mandated Safe Sport Training Task Force that created the CAC Safe Sport Training released in April of 2020. I had found an additional way to combine my love of sports, my own lived experience, and my passion for advocacy, in support of others.

And now I get to apply my knowledge and passion through my work with Sport Law, with a group of professionals who care about sport as much as I do. I’ve known Steve for almost a decade and had the privilege of collaborating with Sport Law while working at Softball Canada. I also had a chance to get to know Dina while crafting our communications strategy to promote our safe sport efforts. In addition, I was fortunate to be part of the Leading by Values Female Sport Leaders retreat in PEI in 2019. My passion, my values, and everything I wanted to accomplish in the safe sport world, was everything the team at Sport Law was already working towards.

It only made sense to make the leap.

So here I am, doing what I love … helping sport organizations across Canada implement their safe sport policies, procedures, and leading practices. Our vision is to help raise awareness, educate, and provide resources to participants, parents, coaches and administrators. I am thankful not only to be part of Sport Law, but to work with so many great organizations who believe in making sport a holistic experience for all participants.

If you’d like to discuss your organization’s safe sport goals, please reach out to me at knoonan@sportlaw.ca. I’d love to hear from you.

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