Towards Sport 2.0 - A Renaissance for Canadian Sport

Published on April 13, 2023

We need to name it to tame it. Our words shape our worlds. What got us here, isn’t what we need to get us to where we want to go.

Sport is in transition. And with transition comes loss. And loss triggers grief.

It’s that simple and that complex.

As part of our ongoing efforts to support people in the sport ecosystem, we have been intentionally sharing ideas about healthier and holistic ways to support sport leaders in this much-needed and long-overdue transition. Sport, as we’ve written before is in liminal space. Liminal means to be ‘in transition’ or ‘in between worlds’. This can create all kinds of anxieties for people as they search for solid ground, meaning, and purpose. Am I still the leader that people need? Do I belong? In what ways do my approaches and beliefs align with others? Has my contribution made a difference?

As we companion others through this transition, we have noted a few trends that are worth sharing. Sometimes it’s helpful to know that we are not alone and that others might be experiencing something similar. As a trauma-informed bereavement coach, I have found that when people are suffering, they most need a caring person to bear witness to their lived experience. Often, the greatest gift is one of silence. If you can’t improve on silence, say nothing.

And let that silence mean something.

In a recent session with sport leaders, we were talking about culture. Rather than pull out my research and bedazzle them with facts and definitions, I chose to give them an experience.  The impact was heart-warming. We opened up with a fun practice that invited them to share how they were feeling. We used funny animal faces to lighten up the room and invite people to connect to their current state. Inevitably, states shift … people feel lighter as they begin to connect … and they typically learn something new about their colleagues. This level of intimacy is the seeding of trust … and trust is the one thing that can change everything.

We then invited people to share stories of a time when they experienced a thriving culture. For some, they preferred to share experiences of unhealthy environments. We discovered that it takes three instances of negativity to counter one instance of positivity. Neuroscientists call this baked-in cunning self-preservation device the negativity bias – our brain’s built-in alarm system to perceive negativity even when a situation is positive or neutral. To add a bit more to this, Dr. Barbara Frederickson, a positivity researcher at the University of North Carolina, has spent decades studying the positivity-to-negativity ratio. She observed that for every negative emotional experience we endure, we will need to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional ones to uplift us. In her words “Positivity doesn’t mean we should follow the axiom of ‘grin and bear’ it or ‘don’t worry, be happy.’ Those are simply superficial wishes. Positivity runs deeper. It consists of the whole range of positive emotions – from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude and then some.”

Hmm … sit with that for a while and consider what is playing out in the world of sport right now. Heck, this applies to our entire global community. As we continue to feed our brains with words like “toxic culture, abusive behaviours, maltreatment, evil regimes, etc.” it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that moves us towards confirmation bias, which is our tendency to process information by looking for or interpreting information that is consistent with existing beliefs.

How do we get out of this trap when so much of our world is stacked against an open, inclusive, welcoming, and deeply respectful way of engaging with ourselves and others?

It takes practice and courage.

So, here’s our hope for the future. A world where Sport 2.0 lives up to its true potential as a valued and valuable public asset that brings people together as neighbours and when we get it right, they leave as friends. As we embark on the Hope on the Horizon Tour, here’s some of what we’ll be speaking about as we travel across the country.

  • Sport Renaissance: We believe that the sport system has been on its deathbed for quite some time and rather than continue to keep it on life-support, perhaps we can allow the current system to die so that something new can emerge. Renaissance means ‘rebirth’ and we believe that the greatest act of courage in this moment would be for thought leaders to come together and agree that the invisible systems and structures that underpin sport need to be put to rest. They were not designed to meet the complexities of a 21st-century sport system so let’s not keep playing the rearview mirror game. Let’s ask … “If we were to give birth to a new sport system … one that was values-based, inclusive, human-centric, and well-resourced, what would it look like?”
  • Sport as a right, not merely a privilege: We’ve been talking about making sport a right, not a privilege, for several years. Each time, people focus on how it’s not possible … the cost, the complexity, the logistics. Rather than enter into a debate by focusing on what won’t work, we’ll be exploring whether the idea of making sport a right has legs. What opens up for us when we consider this possibility? What changes as a result? How does this way of seeing sport shift how we might design it? How does making sport a right reflect our highest values? What’s the risk if we approach it from this perspective and importantly, what is the risk if we don’t?
  • Being kind: We can’t say enough about this. We have been in too many meetings of late where people have been unkind. When we look to blame, we separate ourselves from others. It becomes difficult to restore trust or stay open to different possibilities and further entrenches us in a worldview that plays to confirmation bias. Then we look for partial truths to confirm what we believe to be true. When we approach difficult situations from a place of kindness, we fire up our empathy muscles and stay curious in the face of opposing worldviews. The world needs us to stay open, even as we look to hold people accountable for past harm. How can we approach this situation in a way that allows both of our worldviews to be true? These seeming polarities might just be mutually reinforcing. For additional ways to think about this way of holding complexity, check out this blog.

We can’t wait to hit the road and connect with other sport leaders who care about sport as much as we do. We remain hope-filled and hopeful that we will navigate this current transition in a manner that reflects our highest ethical standards and values. Please send us a note at hello@sportlaw.ca.

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