Coaching our colleagues through COVID-19

Sport for Life storyteller Will Johnson shares a personal story about the power of coaching as our industry faces the difficulties surrounding this pandemic 

I never really envisioned my life beyond age 35. 

When I successfully tied the knot with my wife Kristina earlier this year, just in time for my daughter Celista’s screaming arrival on March 27, I realized that against the odds I’d accomplished nearly every goal I’ve ever set for myself. After a series of mental health struggles that resulted in a month-long psych ward stay in January, I was looking at piecing together a future from a relatively blank slate — in the midst of a global pandemic.

Around this time, as Sport for Life began to grapple with transitioning our staff to working remotely, our Senior Manager of Operations Kabir Hosein began checking in with me every second week for some one-on-one coaching sessions. I think he could tell I was overwhelmed, as we transitioned to working and communicating remotely as a team. We both live in Victoria, so he took me out to his special thinking spot on Mount Tolmie. He helped me envision a future I could believe in and work towards, and gave me strategies for how to navigate the difficulties of COVID-19.

Together we began developing a working document called my goal-setting and implementation plan, identifying the trajectory I want to be on and laying out goals to accomplish with deadlines. It covers everything from fitness goals to creating a budget and being proactive about improving my work habits. Kabir was taking a holistic approach, based on the principles of our organization’s flagship creation: Long-Term Development in Sport and Physical Activity. During this process he's been sending me motivational videos, taking me through philosophical exercises, and helping me drill down to the ultimate "Why?" that keeps me going. Because even though my days as a competitive athlete are over, our physical literacy mandate urges us to promote and practice being active for life through programming and resources like Active for Life: Durable by Design.

Here's the mission statement I came up with: "I want to positively and powerfully impact people’s lives with my storytelling, while living my life as an example for Celista and my other future children. I am an evangelist for physical literacy, inclusion and community connection."

Kabir recently moved from Trinidad and Tobago with his wife Kecia and their four kids — arriving just in time for the pandemic to strike. He has a wealth of knowledge from working within the sport industry down there, and brings a special Caribbean energy to our work. As he explained to me, one of his mentors took him through this identical process when he was younger and trying to sort out his ambitions. His only ask was that I pay it forward one day.

As we face this pandemic as an industry, I think it’s important to acknowledge how much we need each other.

Will Johnson and his family

Whether you’re a coach, an administrator, a programmer, a volunteer, a parent or a participant, we all need to come together as a community to continue building the necessary infrastructure to get Canadians moving, and keep them moving.  This is a unique opportunity. Now is a good time to check in with your colleagues, to be proactive about building relationships despite our new online reality, and to reflect on what we want to accomplish post-pandemic.

We all understand and appreciate the power of coaching within the sport system, but when was the last time you thought about coaching yourself, or your colleagues? What knowledge can you share? What mental health strategies can you mobilize? How many people are you checking in with regularly?

Earlier this year Sport for Life created a “Facing COVID-19 Together” page, where we’ve compiled resources for those affected by the pandemic and shared videos — which starred Kabir and his children    intended to keep kids active at home. We’ve also shared the findings of a national survey into the impacts of this pandemic, and included links to the great work being done by our partners. As an organization, we understand that it’s going to take a team effort to keep on track, and we’re striving to do our part. 

Through my goal-setting document with Kabir I’ve established new daily routines, long-term goals to work toward, and short-term goals to keep me motivated and moving. Not only is it making me  a better employee, it’s helping me be a better human, including being a father to my daughter and husband to my wife.  As we near the end of this torturous year, I’m feeling newly optimistic about where I’m going. Coaching, being physically active, and a strong connection with a caring team all combined will get us through these COVID times.