Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Sport Brings a Sense of Community

Cathy Burton, Chef de Mission, Team Nova Scotia

It has been an honour to serve as Team Nova Scotia’s Chef de Mission at the 2019 Canada Winter Games. Over the years I have attended Summer and Winter Games as a parent, manager, assistant coach, and head coach. Being Chef de Mission has awarded me time to reflect on the importance of youth sport and volunteering in our communities.

I was recently asked why I spend so much time in sport as a volunteer while not being paid. The question perplexed me.  Although I may not be paid in dollars, you cannot put a price tag on the memories, connections, friendships and sense of community I have experienced over the last 30 years!

Reflecting on this conversation brought me to the realization that sport is community. Community brings a sense of belonging and connections.

I grew up in a rural village where the church was the heart of the community. We had Sunday morning services, Sunday School, Youth Groups and choir practices and performances for the singers. For me and many others, so much happened under the church steeple nestled on the North Mountain in the Annapolis Valley.

We celebrated together, mourned together, joined the local farmers to help bring the hay in when bad weather was in the forecast, and together made life a little easier. The sense of community brought comfort, hope and security.

These same church members were our ball hockey teammates and opponents at the Paper Board factory parking lot, or baseball teammates on Mr. Allen’s pasture across the road. Sometimes we’d meet in our home to play “cane” hockey in the hallway or provide some Grand Prix wrestling entertainment in the fancy sitting room when Mom and Dad were not home.  Those sporting moments eventually would translate into school sport involvement for most of us and varsity sport for the fortunate ones.

When I moved from the little community in the Annapolis Valley to the big city of Halifax, that sense of community was lost for me—but thankfully not for long. As a teacher, every day I watched a group of girls wearing the same sport team jacket. Middle school can bring its social challenges, but these girls were clearly supportive of one another. They made sure no one ate lunch alone.

After asking questions, I realized these girls played on the community ringette team. I had three young daughters and I quickly signed them up. On day three of taking my oldest to her Bunnies session, a young dad on the ice alone managing 20 girls under eight asked if I would like to help. I jumped in right away. Little did I know that community sport would become like that church at the bottom of the North Mountain.

Volunteering in sport has allowed me to build a sense of community and belonging for our family. Our connection to a community within a larger community has brought valued friendships and cherished memories. In times of celebration and in times of crisis, our sporting families were always there to help.

My time volunteering soon became about not just my daughters but also other young female athletes. The local ringette community became a larger provincial ringette community. Today, it has morphed into an even larger sport family known as Team Nova Scotia.

Sport development for our youth is important on so many levels. The positive physical, social, and health benefits are undeniable. The benefit of sport development also includes that sense of belonging.

As Chef de Mission of Team Nova Scotia I have asked myself, “What does success look like?” Success can be found on the scoreboard, the stopwatch, in a personal best, or the smiles on competitors’ faces as they leave their venue.  

Our sport organizations have an essential responsibility to develop coaches who can provide programs for our youth to make them the best they can be.  However, we cannot ignore the values behind why our young athletes joined their sport. We need to value the grassroots programs in our communities and, of course, the committed volunteers who make that happen.  

I bring you back to why I became involved in sport. One cannot deny the value of the community greenspace, the empty parking lot, backyard pools and lakes, the local school or community fields, or possibly the community church nestled at the base of North Mountain.


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