It’s a pretty typical day when Michael Andersen Jones drops off kids for an early (6:00 a.m.) morning practice, and then after working all day as a dental hygienist in St John’s, Newfoundland, he heads off to make sure one (or more) of his three children makes it on time to their afternoon sport event.
The busy dad is one of the thousands of volunteers who help grassroots sport thrive in Canada. He got involved in synchronized swimming when his daughter took up the sport and now serves as the President of Synchro NL. This Newfoundland and Labrador Provincial Sport Organization is the definition of a small but mighty group. With four clubs and about 100 athletes, 10 coaches and 20 officials, they are bringing to life their motto – Synchro Rocks on the Rock!
When Michael’s own children became involved in sport, he had two rules. The sport had to be psychologically healthy, and they had to love (not just like) the sport. He’s carried this philosophy over to his role at Synchro NL where Michael is absolutely passionate about making sport a welcoming, fun activity for everyone involved, from the young athletes, to the parents, coaches and officials.
After hearing Roland Vidal speak about the Respect in Sport Program last September at Synchro Canada’s AGM in Montreal, Michael was immediately captivated by the message and the approach. “I just thought that as leaders in the sport this was really important. We don’t have a lot of money as an association and I saw it as a good investment because we only have so much time and energy as leaders within sport. I absolutely hate crisis so if I can do something that will create a better sport experience for athletes and reduce crisis on the sport management side of things – I’m all for it.”
The Respect in Sport Program’s mission is to empower people to recognize and prevent abuse, bullying and harassment through interactive, online certification, which makes it attractive for busy volunteers to be able to participate on their own schedule. This user-friendly approach with minimal administrative time required made it very appealing to Synchro NL.
One of the advantages of being a small PSO is the ability to make a decision and begin implementing it quickly. “We’re pretty nimble, because we’re so small. Once we met and decided to proceed, we were able to begin implementation right away. Our officials, who are also volunteers and often parents, bought into the program right away, as did our coaches.” Synchro NL rolled out the program in February of 2017 to their leaders and officials. “We all went through the training. We sent everyone an email and gave them a deadline to complete the online training with a link to the website and people did it.” This September it will be introduced to coaches and parents, and then will be a natural part of the intake program as new people get involved in the sport.
Looking back, Michael now sees his own experiences with bullying in Junior High as a strength. “It’s given me empathy for anyone experiencing bullying, abuse or belittling today, which is even more difficult because with social media, those behaviours can follow kids right into their home. It doesn’t just stay at school, or on the sport field. The Respect in Sport program reminds us that we, as sports leaders and as “bystanders” have an obligation to speak out against it.”
He also feels that having gone through the program has made him a better ‘sport parent’ with his own children. “It gave me a lot of insight as a parent too. It taught me when to respect the coach and when to stay quiet. All of our kids work hard in sport and it’s something that they truly love and I don’t want to take away from that experience.”
That’s something his own daughter had reminded him with the wisdom of an 11-year old when he was offering feedback after a synchronized swimming session. “She reminded me that the workout ends when she leaves that pool. So my daughter very kindly asked me to let her coach do the coaching and for me to not offer feedback after the session. That really reinforced for me that I have to respect the coach and to remember what my role is as the parent.”
Having the Respect in Sport Program so widely accepted “puts us all on the same side of the table. So whether we’re a parent or a coach, or a sport leader or an official, we’re all looking at it from the same side and we’re all respecting one another. One of the things that we really don’t want to do is to openly put down a coach in front of our kids, which really erodes their authority and we have to respect that. We might not always agree with the coach’s call but at the same time we have to respect it.”
Synchro NL recently had a synchronized swimming summit with all the leaders and parents all together. “We reviewed what was important about the program and we had lots of good feedback from coaches and officials so we’re excited.”
While the organization is not dealing with a major crisis, Michael feels that they now have a good foundation to draw on when something does go awry, using the teaching of the program to frame the conversation. “We can use it as a starting point in that conversation. And say ‘When you did your respect in sport program and they talked about bad behaviour or bullying or abuse or belittling or acting out in front of others’ we can refer back to it and say this is clearly unacceptable behaviour.”
Michael is so proud to work with the group involved in Synchro NL. “We have an awesome group of athletes and an awesome group of parents. We know we’re not perfect. I know I’m new at this – but the training reminds you that you can make mistakes and this program draws you back to success. We only have so much time and resources to make synchronized swimming as good as it can be in the province. And the more time that we spend time trying to manage crisis related to unwanted behaviour is time taken away from doing the important work of getting swimmers to be better in the water and for them to have a better overall athletic experience. That’s why we see it as an investment, not a cost.”
As we celebrate National Volunteer Week in Canada, we salute all the volunteers who make synchronized swimming such a tremendous place for our athletes, and thank the people at SynchroNL for demonstrating how effective Respect in Sport can be when everyone is involved and engaged.
Twitter: @synchronl; @RespectGroup
Facebook: Synchro NL