It's RBC Sports Day in Canada Road Tour
day 3 and we're in the appropriately dubbed "Winterpeg." The Manitoba capital is all decked out in white as November draws to a blustery close.
Still the beat goes on relentlessly... perhaps even joyously.
That's because Winnipeg is a city that has built an enduring reputation around embracing this frozen season. They love hockey and the NHL's Jets
here, but the people also gleefully consider this the national heart of curling
and the Olympic trials
are about to get underway at the gleaming MTS Centre on the weekend.
And oh yes, at the Sargent Park Arena Ice Skating Rink, which is right beside the Susan Auch Speed Skating Oval and next door to the Cindy Klassen Recreation Centre, the racing is in full tilt.
They adore speed skating in Winnipeg and have produced a litany of champions in this sport including Auch, Klassen, Mike Ireland, Shannon Rempel and Clara Hughes. Since anyone can remember, Winnipeggers have reveled in winter's fast lane.
So it is that about twenty kids from Sargent Park School give it a go.
Many of them are trying speed skating for the first time and the razor thin blades beneath their feet are unfailingly difficult to adjust to.
Pratfalls and wipeouts are commonplace. However, nobody seems to mind. Generous laughter rings out in the ancient skating rink.
Leading the way is a youngish, helmeted, woman named Andrea Olmstead, who is not only the head coach of the Winnipeg Speed Skating Club, but also the electronics shop teacher at Sargent Park School. She whizzes around propping kids up and urging them to hold hands in order to offer each other mutual support.
"I posted a notice on the bulletin board outside my classroom to see if anyone wanted to go skating," Olmstead explained while taking a breather at the boards. "I got 200 kids saying yes and it breaks my heart that today we only had room for twenty or so."
That's the key. To get kids onto the field of play and into contact with a coach who can be a positive influence. Someone needs to make sport attractive, worthwhile, fun, and most importantly, a rewarding experience. Then and only then will physical activity and play become the default choice for young people.
"It's tough to get kids into speed skating these days," said Brenda McCallum, coach at the St. James Speed Skating Club, one of three major associations in Winnipeg.
"Generally speaking, less youngsters are involved in sport and our numbers our down. Once they try it they usually get it. But a good coach is important to help them understand all the anxieties they face while racing. It's one thing to train an athlete. Unless you can communicate with them it's all for nothing."
Jill Officer, a world champion curler who will compete at the Olympic trials as part of the Jennifer Jones team agrees with McCallum.
"Good coaches look after all the distractions," she said, while watching the fledgling skaters. "Good coaches build confidence."
You can see it happening before your very eyes and the speed is picking up with every lap. The kids are getting much lower to the ice while developing a tempo and they're beginning to swing their arms in a familiar bird-like fashion. They are transforming themselves from spectators to competitors all in the blink of an eye.
"I was a competitive skater and it influenced my life in such a positive way," Olmstead said. "It taught me how to win and to lose but more importantly to overcome the obstacles that threatened me."
Olmstead was a national level athlete and had dreams of making it to the Olympics until a crash into the boards and subsequent car accident ended her high-performance career. Still, she found a way to be involved through teaching and coaching.
"Being able to share a passion creates energy," she said. "This is a new opportunity for these kids and I really believe they want to try something different."
It's another precious lesson to be taken from sport and the act of participating
Even on a wicked, winter day in an ice box of an arena there's a lot to learn from a good coach who is willing to share some fundamental values from the abundant field of play.
We're making a stop in Calgary next, the site of RBC Sports Day in Canada
presented by ParticipACTION and in association with True Sport on Saturday November 30th.
Then on Friday November 29th we're in Vancouver
for RBC National Jersey Day
and we're hoping Canadians will wear the sweater of their favourite team to show their true colours and demonstrate a passion for sport.
Get out and play Canada!
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