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Empowering the champion within

June 1, 2016

I haven’t written a blog post here in eight months, partly because I was working on Special Olympics Ontario 2016 Provincial Spring Games and on a report on CFC and TrueSport Report: Sport and belonging for Community Foundations of Canada. So imagine my surprise when I found that the last blog post is about why it’s ok – and important- to encourage everyone to participate in and experience the transformative power of sport. Seems like there’s a theme to my year.

powerlifting medal presentation

During Special Olympics Provincial Spring Games this past week-end I met truly gifted athletes who, without the additional support and opportunities provided by Special Olympics, would never have discovered their gift. It reminded me:

  • Look past the first impression – not just at this event, but always – to see each person’s effort, intent and unique talent.

I also met athletes whose performance was clearly not as polished as others but who were just as proud of their efforts and personal bests as those on the podium. I saw teammates in the stands cheer more loudly for friends on the podium than they would for themselves.

  • Couldn’t we all use a little more pride in our efforts and in our teams?
  • Don’t we all deserve to feel like we belong?

As one athlete was leaving a venue sporting a shiny new medal, a police officer told him: “You’re a champion.” The athlete replied “Yes, I am a champion. Would you like my autograph?” The officer said he would, so the athlete took out a piece of paper and a pen and used the officer’s back to scrawl his signature. The athlete told the officer “You take that home and frame it. Tell people you met a champion.” The signature was a scrawl – barely better than a toddlers’  – from grown man who undoubtedly encounters challenges in his everyday life that most of us can only dream of but he felt ten feet tall. He had pride and goals and dreams of qualifying for nationals.

  • Shouldn’t we all seek the champion in others and in ourselves?
  • How can we empower others to feel like champions in all aspects of our personal and professional lives?
  • How can we strive for the authenticity, presence and dedication found in Special Olympics athletes?

Thank you Special Olympics Ontario for the extraordinary privilege of working with you this year and the gift of connecting with your athletes.

rhythmics gymnastics


Why returning ribbons is cheap, disrespectful and destructive

September 19, 2015

I’ve been troubled by the story of NFL player James Harrison returning his kids’ participation trophies since it surfaced in August. CNN called it his “war on the trophies kids get for simply showing up and playing a sport.”

The Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker says he’s very proud and supportive of his children, but believes everything in life should be earned and they shouldn’t feel entitled.

Harrison wrote that he wants his kid to earn a “real trophy.”

This is the antithesis of encouraging kids – or any people – to put themselves out there and to try something new. It’s the opposite of focussing on achieving personal goals. It’s the Donald Trump perspective of winners and losers.

It’s cheap, disrespectful and destructive. Here’s why:

  1. participation trophiesIt’s cheap – or “mean” in the truest sense of the word. Encouragement costs nothing. Participation ribbons cost as little as 20 cents. A trophy costs a little more. This year, my son won “most improved” on his flag football team. The coach gave him the game ball from the last game. No cost to the team but priceless for my son. He has no illusions that he is the MVP. He does not mistake it for a Super Bowl Ring. It’s just a symbol to him that he tried his best and it was recognized in a small way.
  2. It’s disrespectful. Kids know exactly who came in first through tenth at the track meet. Those kids get a different ribbon. To this day my daughter tells me about the kid who squeaked past her friend to snag the coveted #10 ribbon while her friend received “participant” years ago. You can bet her friend will step on the gas next time. Kids have a more elaborate scoring system than who goes home with which trophy – they know who scored the most goals, who was played and who spent more time on the bench. So what’s wrong with recognizing they were part of a team? Maybe they had a lot of assists but not a lot of goals. That does not make them a “loser.” It does not make the trophy less “real.” Runners focus on a personal best. That’s what we should be encouraging our kids to do. Give them a little credit. They have an acute sense of justice and they know where they really rank. And if not… so what? Life will show them otherwise quickly enough without having their dad return their trophy. Add to that, the field is not always level. I ran in one community 10K a few years ago. When they announced the winners, one was receiving a provincial triathlete award, another had represented Israel in international competitions. So I’m not a world-class runner… yeah, I knew that already.
  3. It’s destructive. Returning a kids’ trophy because they didn’t “deserve it” isn’t really the parent’s call, is it? Your child knows if they did their best. The coach has a better vantage point. You don’t get to erode their self worth.

Would you let your child return your paycheque and say “Sorry Dad, Jones did a better job this week. His sales are much higher.” Who are you to judge what they have earned?

And, what’s the advantage of separating “winners” and “losers”? Lots of kids are trying much harder than the naturally talented kids. That does not make them worth-less. More importantly, for the kids who struggle with athletics, a participation ribbon pinned on their board is a tangible reminder that they did it. They can see themselves as a person who runs, skates, swims, … whatever. In psychology parlance, it changes their cognitive post.

Adults love a little participation swag too. Don't they "earn" it by signing up, training, raising funds, finishing? I think so.

Adults love a little participation swag too. Don’t they “earn” it by signing up, training, raising funds, finishing? I think so.

As a person who quit gym class the minute I could, it took me years to decide to even try a 5K or masters swimming. I had told myself long ago: “I’m not good at that. I don’t do that stuff.” I did not see myself as an active person. I withdrew from opportunities to be more active because of the way I saw myself – which is self perpetuating. You don’t try, you don’t get better. Now when I  participate in a tri-a-try or a 5K I’m going for a personal goal or feeling good about supporting a cause. Still,  the participation swag is a nice touch. Talk to my friends who have run in the Oakville 10K because the medal is a Mercedes symbol – or completed the Disney marathon. They do not feel “entitled” but they did earn it.

If you enjoyed this post. You may also like Why encourage those in the middle of the pack and those who are dead last?



Special Olympics +an Open Letter to Ann Coulter = A lesson in communications

September 13, 2015

Source: An Open Letter to Ann Coulter

This week I read an extraordinary blog post written in 2012 by John Franklin Stephens, a Global Messenger for Special Olympics. It was his response to Ann Coulter’s use of the R-word in a tweet after a Presidential debate during the last election.

While the Twitterverse reacted with vitriol and personal attacks on Coulter, John wrote a response that was:

  1. thoughtful
  2. engaging
  3. informative
  4. respectful
  5. challenging
  6. inspiring

While so many took an instant, 140 character low-road, John took a day to reflect and to refine. He took the high road and chose to educate.

Integrity is vastly more effective than an immediate, angry tweeted response.

How often do you read a blog post and come away with a fine example of communications, a new perspective and a new hero? This piece did that for me.

Respect. It’s the new R-word.


Recognizing what’s invisible

August 5, 2015

Who are you most likely to nominate for an award? The volunteer who is visible at events or the treasurer doing the accounting at home in the evening? Will you applaud the parent who is reading in classrooms by day – the one the teachers are raving about – or the one typing up meeting minutes after work to help keep people on track? Do you recognize the star of the show or the person who has gathered all the props?

Over the past several months I’ve seen a few examples of recognition of the star without acknowledgement of the shadow. Frankly, I’m a bit concerned. We need volunteers with a broad range of skill sets and personality types but do we recognize them equally?  It’s not at all a slight against the folks who are front and centre. We need them. Heck, I tend to be one of them. I’m just suggesting that we ensure we look past the usual suspects when it comes to recognition and shine the spotlight on all our contributors (provided that’s of value to them). No one is front an centre without people behind the scenes.

To two famous Colonels & to art: Happy Canada Day!

July 1, 2015

Last week, Canada’s Governor General unveiled a statue of famed WWI poet – and Guelph son – Col. John McCrae to commemorate the 100th anniversary of In Flanders Fields. WhileGuelph, John McCrae statue McCrae is now world-famous for penning the poem on the battle fields of Ypres, Governor General David Johnston pointed out that he was one of the best doctors of his time.

“It’s not widely known that, prior to the war, McCrae interned with Dr. William Osler, the renowned Canadian who has been called ‘the father of modern medicine.’ In fact, McCrae’s teacher and mentor, Dr. John Adami of McGill University, called McCrae “the most talented physician of his generation.” – His Excellency GG David Johnston

The observation highlights the power of art to capture our hearts and minds for a century, superseding our recollection of his other significant talents, accomplishments and contributions. It echoes a conclusion drawn by another famous Canadian Colonel, Chris Hadfield.

First Canadian Commander of the International Space Station, test pilot, NASA’s voice of mission control to astronauts in orbit for 25 space shuttle missions, author, musician, global inspiration – to name a few, Hadfield names Is Somebody Singing? as his greatest accomplishment in decades of literally stellar accomplishments.

ISS — Is Somebody Singing, is a song co-written by Hadfield and Barenaked Ladies frontman Ed Robertson to celebrate the Coalition for Music Education’s annual Music Monday in 2013. The song was one thing – it was the sing-along Hadfield led with thousands of school children from the International Space Station that was an unprecedented unifying experience. At a conference I attended last May, Commander Hadfield said its importance was the extraordinary power of art to reach and unite us, to empower every school child to believe that they too could go to space in a way not other medium could.

On this Canada Day I am toasting these two great Canadians, our role in the world and to more enduring art, poetry and music!

Bonne Fête Canada!

Full text of remarks by GG David Johnston


10 Ways to Build Trust: Stop shaking hands. Start making plans

April 22, 2015

Oh my poor, neglected blog! I thought I would share with you this video of my 5-minute talk about building trust through structures at Ignite Guelph 4 last October.

What Canadian businesses can learn from the Edelman Trust Barometer

February 7, 2015

We urgently need to understand the behaviours that erode trust and eradicate them. We need to value the practices that build trust and multiply those. Lack of trust is costly to society, to businesses and to us as individuals.


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