Liberated

As I begin my new chapter with the Sport Law and Strategy Group (SLSG) as a leadership coach and consultant, I am reflecting on my time in sport.  So much of who I am today I attribute to my experiences as a competitive rhythmic gymnast and later as a national team coach. I remember the beautiful highs and the tremendous lows … the powerful positive influences and the mistreatments. I have no regrets.  While it is human nature to bring focus on the negative, I know even in the messiness of life there is something to be grateful for and to learn from.

I truly loved my time in sport. My years as an athlete were the best of times. I loved testing my limits and pushing my body to physical extremes, as I moved into mastery. I loved the smell of the gym … and the way the music made me feel as I gracefully moved my body. I loved setting goals and seeing them achieved. I loved my teammates and the family we were becoming. I especially loved performing … looking out at the audience and seeing the adoring eyes of my parents who were my #1 favourite fans. These early experiences made me who I am today.

And, like all human experiences, there were dark times.

While I was not physically or sexually abused, I suffered verbal and emotional abuse which has significantly shaped my life. It is one thing to push an athlete to reach new heights in performance; it is quite another to instill fear, intimidate, bully, ridicule, threaten, or punish.  I remember feeling disempowered … having no voice … feeling like I had, no choice.

How did this experience shape me? For much of my early adult life I was unaware of my inner critic, the one that was molded between the ages of 10-19 and that was unconsciously running my world. Most of my stories at the time went something like this: “I’m not good enough. I’m not capable. I’m not accepted and loved unless I stay in line, am a good girl and am skinny….”. What these stories created was a world where I would make myself small and unimportant, constantly questioning my ability. I lived in fear that someone would find out I was a fraud so I ran around looking after everyone else’s needs, while neglecting my own. I have worked hard to undo the negative effects and harm done by those who didn’t know better. The gifts of course from this experience is that they have made me resilient, courageous, steadfast, and determined. I have done extraordinary things in my life.  I have a deep appreciation for the journey and the struggle. I have forgiven my coaches because I know they did the best they could with the knowledge they had.

And … we must do better.

When I became a coach, I knew the way I was coached was not going to be my way. My way was to look at athletes as human beings first. And as their role model, I needed to model the behaviours I wanted to see manifested in them,  so I began my inner journey to discover the true me. I become more aware of what made me tick; I got curious with what had me reacting versus responding. I created the space that allowed me to powerfully and skillfully show up with, and for, my athletes.

My starting place? Compassion.

I remember these young people, wide eyes, looking at me for approval and acceptance. I remember being them.  I chose to walk into the gym eager to find novel ways to inspire and make them feel special. I loved the connection with my athletes, choosing music and co-creating routines with them. I loved the daily grind of practices, pushing them hard, setting goals and seeing them achieve what they determined was their version of success.  I loved the sweet tender moments we shared.  I loved holding the space for them when they were disappointed. I loved seeing them build their own special relationships with one another and how they held each other up, in good times and bad.

In June 1997 I walked out of the gym for the last time. In my hand was a framed poster my beloved athletes had made for me. A collage of pictures, thoughtful words, reflections of our time together, and well wishes. I told everyone I was leaving because I now had two children and wanted to spend more time with them. But what was also true, is that I had become disillusioned with the sport of rhythmic gymnastics. I thought I had arrived. I was the national team coach for Canada. My athletes had competed at World Championships and Pan American Games. But the more entrenched I became, the more I felt my values bumping up against a system I felt I didn’t have the power to change. In the end, I left my sport because I couldn’t find a way to fit “me” into “the system”.

I have spent the past 22 years learning about leadership and coaching others to live their best lives, professionally and personally. I also have led an organization going through trauma and upheaval and have guided them to determine a new vision, supported by their values in order to better proactively manage their world. I have learned that leaders need to embrace adversity, and that trying times offer valuable insights. I have learned that we all need to have a strong sense of purpose and to live our “why”. I have learned that laughter is the best of all remedies. Through this process I have grown bigger wings. I have faced my fears and have become wiser and more trusting as a result.

Two years ago, fate intervened. My dear friend and now colleague Dina called me with an opportunity that invited me back into the world I thought I had left behind forever. As a result, I have been offering peer to peer coaching services and this experience has renewed my faith in the world of sport. I am thrilled to be giving back in a whole new way. This work brings me so much joy. I am returning with my heart wide open, full of love and admiration for today’s sport leaders and excited to be supporting them through my leadership coaching and organizational development work. My mantra during the past few years has been snippets of a quote by author Marianne Williamson that I offer here to give you a sense of who I am and what I believe in: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” 

When you are ready to invest in your leadership development, please contact me at LLB@sportlaw.ca

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