Have a look at this aritcle from Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia. In the Ukraine, in the sport of basketball, they actually have what they call unified teams in which players with intellectual disabilities (players) play alongside with those who do not (partners). “This experience allows participants to develop sports skills, create long-lasting friendships and to engage with their community. It helps to break down the barriers that prevent young people with and without intellectual disabilities from getting to know each other.”
It sounds like a great program that has been included and promoted even at the highest levels of FIBA basketball in the Ukraine. Another example of sport as a vehicle for social change.
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The next day for me was a real cultural experience. From the hotel we drove some distance through terrain that was very hilly and covered in vegetation, to the rugby grounds that had been cleared and plowed flat. The grounds had three secondary fields arranged around the main field that had permanent covered seating complete with concession stands and a P.A. system.
We ended up watching a game or two on the various fields before my new friend’s team played on the main field. His team was sponsored by a cell phone company and their opponent was sponsored by the local McDonald’s restaurant. The packed house sang “Old Macdonald” as part of the continuous cheering and singing that went on throughout the game. For a country that doesn’t speak English it was strange to hear the old children’s rhyme.
I was struck by the passion shown both on the field and in the stands and at the level of play. I was also struck by the sportsmanship and respect shown by the players for each other, for the officiating and for the game itself. This was evident in the fact that although it is inherently a rough game, there was never any ill will shown by a player on either team. At the end of the match, the players all shook hands and then came over to the stands to sit down for a brief ceremony in which the victorious team was recognized and a man of the match from each team declared.
What I found most interesting, other than the overall energy and passion the people clearly had for their sport, was the manner in which the man of the match award was received. On this particular day, a member of the national team was on hand to present the award (the award itself appeared to be a certificate of some kind). When the players came up to receive the honour, they shook hands, nodded and then sat down at the feet of the Fijian national team member facing away. I asked my friend from the hotel why the player was doing this and he informed me that it was a sign of respect.
For a country that is a series of islands with a total population of about 850 000 people, it’s amazing the amount of international success that Fiji has had, especially in the 7’s game in which they’ve actually won the World Cup twice. It was a real privilege for me to see first hand what a passion they have for the great sport of rugby in Fiji and how they’ve been able to manifest that passion in the success of their game on an international scale. Passion coupled with sportsmanship and respect they have for the game is truly Sport At Its Best.
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Posted in For The Love Of It, tagged Excellence, Sportsmanship on March 16, 2011 |
Recently I saw an international rugby 7’s tournament (each team plays with seven players) from Las Vegas. It’s a really exciting format in that you can have a round robin tournament complete with a playoff round and championship game all in the span of a few days. The games are only 15 minutes long and as you can imagine, it’s a pretty wide-open pace in which the momentum can change quickly, all the qualities that surely played a part in the inclusion of Rugby 7’s in to the Olympic program beginning in 2016.
Ever since I gave rugby a try in my last year of high school, I’ve been a fan of it in its various forms. When my wife and I were in Australia in 2007, I really enjoyed watching the professional rugby there (both League and Union). It was exciting to see the passion the Australians had for the sport (not dissimilar to hockey in Canada) but it didn’t really compare to what we saw when we stopped in Fiji on the way back to Canada. Before leaving Australia, a friend told me that there really isn’t a place in the world as crazy about rugby as Fiji and that they have hundreds of players who are all big, strong and fast enough to play internationally. He also told me that every young Fijian man plays.
If you follow @sportatitsbest on twitter, you’ll recognize this photo taken in Fiji ’07.
The first week in Fiji we spent at one of the many island resorts. It wasn’t a huge island but I would guess there were close to a hundred guests and a few dozen staff members. I first started to get a sense of how passionate the people were about the sport when in the middle of the day, the entire male staff gathered in the centre of the island and ran rugby drills for over an hour. They did this every day that we were there.
At the end of the week we returned to the city of Nadi (near the airport) for a few days before continuing home to Calgary. When we arrived at our hotel, I talked to the man behind the desk and told him that I had heard that every Fijian man plays rugby. Without even smiling to indicate that this could have been an exaggeration, he informed me that although he was injured, his team was playing the next day and that I was welcome to come with him to the rugby grounds.
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Posted in The Big Picture, tagged perspective, Values on March 9, 2011 |
We’ve actually posted an article about Jontel Franklin previously but having seen the video, it’s definitely worth a look too. It’s about the healing power of sport, the relationships you build and ultimately where sport fits in the big picture. Have a look – ESPN does an incredible job with human stories like this.
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Posted in Teamwork, tagged Excellence, Teamwork on March 2, 2011 |
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Last Saturday the World Bobsleigh and Skeleton Championships wrapped up in Konigssee, Germany. As is always the case, athletes are pleased with their performances to the extent they feel they lived up to their own expectations. There were some great performances but I know a few of the athletes were hoping for more. Unfortunately the reality of skeleton is that a very small error can take you right out of the running. It’s tough when it happens but it’s what makes the successes so enjoyable when they come.
Highlights for Canada include a bronze medal in the team event (skeleton and bobsleigh together), bronze for Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse in women’s bobsleigh and a bronze medal for Mellisa Hollingsworth in women’s skeleton. Another highlight was the performance of junior slider, Robynne Thompson. Robynne earned a spot at the World Championships by winning the World Junior Championships a few weeks ago in Park City, Utah. A few people suggested that she surprised herself by getting there but after an 11th place finish at the Senior World’s, I don’t think she’ll be surprising too many people from here on in. I was really pleased to hear a number of sliders from other countries say how impressed they were by her and her performance and how pleased they were for her as well. Me too.
Overall this year, there were a number of great performances and these are only a few from the past week. My main goal this year as coach was to try to support a strong team environment that didn’t change when we underwent the added pressure of a World Championships. I can tell you the added pressure was there – the crowds, the sponsors, the VIP tent, and maybe most significantly, the importance the athletes themselves place on the event. But it was business as usual in terms of our preparation, our discipline and (I’m happy to say) our sense of team.
You either commit fully to the team concept or you don’t.
The credit for this lies with the athletes themselves for adopting a philosophy that will ultimately make them all better at what they do. The buy in came from everybody, but there was a moment a few days ago in the dining room after lunch that struck me as significant. Jon Montgomery was debating with his teammate Mike Douglas as to the fastest line through a particular corner. Jon was in fact challenging Mike to change his strategy to what Jon was doing because he believed it was better. It’s one thing for teammates (who are also competitors) to work together. It’s another to actually argue with that person in an effort to make them better, believing they can get better and going out of your way to make that happen.
You either commit fully to the team concept or you don’t. It was a really enjoyable experience for me to coach this year because each athlete played a role in every other athlete’s success. I wanted to make a point of mentioning it today on the blog and to say thank you to each one of the team members. Thank you.
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