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What We Really Learn from the Games

I was fortunate to get to coach at the 2012 BC Winter Games, hosted in beautiful Vernon, BC. If you’ve never been a BC Games you really should go, even if it’s only as a spectator. One of the unique aspects to the games is that athletes and coaches are together the entire time; from the moment you meet at the bus to depart from home. 

Like many competitors at the games, our meeting time for the bus was 2am on a Wednesday morning. If you think a group of teenage girls is going to get any sleep on this bus ride, think again. This might not be an issue if we were going to stay in a hotel, but at the BC Games the teams (and team staff) bring sleeping bags and stay in local schools on mats on classroom floors. As we said a few times, “it’s all part of the games experience”! Fortunately all of the teams are in the same situation, so there’s no advantage to be had. (Note: The mats are actually quite comfortable and through coaching at two games I’ve had a great sleep every night!). 

As we were discussing this and the girls were excitedly strategizing who would sleep beside whom, someone asked how we would stay in a classroom when everyone was in school. We explained that the BC Games are such a big event that the entire host community gets on board to support it. All of the schools in use take the days off, and many of the students and their families volunteer. They hadn’t realized that the four days of competition they were about to endure was the result of years of planning by thousands of volunteers. 

While they attempted to rest on the bus ride (this didn’t really happen), our athletes seemed to reflect on this dedication of the volunteers, and it began to show as soon as we arrived at the game and throughout the four days. Every time we got on a bus, they said hello to the driver followed by a series of thank you’s when we got off. When we went to team meals at the banquet hall, our girls threw out their garbage, pushed in their chairs, and took the wet cloths from the volunteers and wiped down their own tables. They even cleaned up after other athletes. They asked to go watch other sports, where they cheered on both teams from the stands. Every time they saw a volunteer they shared how much fun they were having and concluded with another round of thank you’s. 

In the middle of all of this our team competed very well. They made us proud on the ice as they put our plays and systems into practice and did everything they had learned over the months leading to the games. After one of our victories an athlete who I coached at a previous games came up to me. She was at the games because her brother was now competing, and she came to watch him. This was an athlete who was very talented and had gone on to play at a high level in many sports. She told me that her best experience in sport had been when we went to the BC Games, and that it was the most fun and best competition she had ever had. That says a lot for this event and reminded me of the importance of the experience both on and off the ice.

 On the last night at the games the girls were excited, but knew they needed a good night’s rest. They were in the gold medal game the next day and it was against our rivals. For inspiration they started reading the good luck notes on the board left by the elementary students whose classroom we were occupying. The students had made a huge banner with drawings and signed their names to it. Our team discussed how nice it was that these students had not only given up their classroom but taken time to make it so welcoming, and decided leaving a note for them would be a good idea too. 

Since we were staying in an elementary school classroom it had the usual supplies. The girls found paper and markers and got to work. They didn’t just make one thank you card; they made a card for everyone they could think of. Each card was signed by every athlete and included personal notes wherever there was room.  There was one for the volunteers at the school desk, the bus drivers, the kitchen staff, the sport representatives, the officials, the BC Games society, the Vernon host society and the most cherished of cards for their coaches. But they didn’t realize whom they were really thanking until the next day.

 After our final game the girls had a discussion about if they should even go to the ceremonies, as they were exhausted and worn out and ready to get home. We had a bus to ourselves and our driver was anxious to get on the road. The decision was made that the closing ceremonies was “all part of the games experience” and this was the last thing they would get to do as part of this memorable event. The opening ceremonies had been incredible, with amazing talent, and if this was going to be anything similar they didn’t want to miss it. 

During the closing ceremonies there were a number of speeches made. Akbal Mund, president of the 2012 BC Winter Games Host Society, wasted no time in noting how proud he was of his volunteers and his staff and what an obvious impact it made on everyone around. As he was giving thanks and praise, he pulled out a card that he wanted to read out loud. It was the one our team had given him, and it meant so much that he shared it with the entire games. 

Our team was beside themselves, they cheered and screamed. They couldn’t believe that such a small gesture on their part had gone so far. This discussion carried on as we boarded the bus. One of the athletes made a comment that it’s amazing that so many people would volunteer their time to give them this experience. Another said that they couldn’t believe that it meant so much to people just to hear a “thank you” or a comment about how much fun they were having. It was a proud moment for the coaches when we realized this lesson the girls had learned, and reminded us what sport and the games is really about.