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Using an evidence-based approach, the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC) developed tools to improve the experiences of coaches in mentorship programs. Training for Effective Mentees is a free resource that equips mentees with the knowledge, connections, and tools to create a better mentorship experience.

Building a successful team involves identifying, selecting and integrating people with complementary skills and characteristics that improve team dynamics. First, identify the skills and characteristics that your team needs. Second, select people with these skills and characteristics, and consider how they fit together as a group. Third, integrate teammates by establishing clear roles and expectations, and engaging them in group-oriented activities.

While management is about “getting the work done,” governance ensures organizations pursue the right purpose, in the right way, and continuously develop. In any sport organization, the board of directors’ role is to govern the organization. When board members are also on the management team, it can help to divide meetings into 2 parts. One part for focusing on governance roles and the other for management responsibilities. Otherwise, day-to-day responsibilities can distract from the board’s work.

Findings from the Football Players Health Study, which includes self-reports from 3,794 former NFL players, show Black, Hawaiians, Native Americans and Asian players players were significantly more likely than white players to experience diminished quality of life due to pain, cognitive troubles, depression, and anxiety. The study’s lead author, Dr. Andrea Roberts, notes “our findings underscore the urgent need to develop public health interventions and policies that address underlying systemic factors that give rise to such disparities both among former athletes and in the general population.”

The global knowledge society is one in which we can never know everything we will need to know to be successful – something the pandemic has brought into sharp focus. Sport leaders need an agile method capable of gathering knowledge from many sources and that encourages reformulations and innovations to address ever new challenges. With increasing frequency, sport leaders are engaging in social learning spaces (SLSs) without knowing it, and without explicit knowledge of how best to make these interactions most effective. In response, this article aims to help build literacy around SLSs – an innovative tool to help sport leaders more effectively tackle the key issues today and in the future.

What is a social learning space?

The term SLS is less familiar to many than its cousin “community of practice” (Wenger, 1998).  Both concepts are rooted in social learning theory and underpinned by three basic assumptions:

Understanding learning in this way means that as we learn through interacting with others and the world we are developing our identity; the person we are at any time being the sum of all our previous experiences (Jarvis, 2006).

Wooden blocks connected together on blue background. Teamwork, network and community concept.An effective community of practice is one form of SLS. Other forms include one-on-one conversations or mentorships, conferences or workshops, and online networks of hundreds of people. SLSs are a mechanism for learning and change that enable participants to create knowledge and formulate new ways of doing the things they care about. This “doing” is our practice and can refer to anything from coaching a specific group of athletes, to developing sport leaders, to promoting social justice in an organization. SLSs are not defined by physical area, but by the social relationships of the participants along with a mutual understanding that they can learn together (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2020). The three important characteristics of a SLS, which make it different than participation in other places of interaction, are that participants:

Caring to make a difference (i.e., having a passion to learn and effect change) is necessary but not sufficient to make a social learning space. What makes a social learning space distinct from other groups where people gather around a passion, for example a reading group, is that the other participants appreciate, and indeed welcome, the uncertainty resulting from the “tension between caring to make a difference and having a clear path to get there” (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2020, p. 21); and are committed to working together to muddle through key issues, while paying attention to the effects of any changes made to practice.

This article draws on our work with SLSs since 2000 through our lab, the University of Ottawa Research Group for Coach Development. This work includes at least seven projects with ten host organizations (e.g., local clubs, and provincial and national organizations) that brought together coaches and sport administrators to engage in cycles of collective and individual reflection interspersed with the application of new ways of doing things in their practice, all in the service of learning to make a difference.

Table 1: Examples of social learning space outcomes
PersonalGroupOrganization
Women coaches came to understand that they could continue to coach and become a motherMajor shifts in perspective, such as coaches sharing rather than guarding their knowledgeIncreased numbers of women coaches, coach developers, and referees recruited and trained
Professional development credits for coach developmentShared understanding of technical terms and novel technologiesBetter alignment between high performance standards and developmental programs

Social learning spaces and value creation

Value creation in SLSs is a process rather than an end goal. When the participants in a SLS feel their participation is helping them move toward the difference they care to make, they see value (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2020). In the SLSs with which we are involved, we use the Value Creation Framework proposed by these authors to guide how we generate value, how we translate this value by doing something with it, how we set our hopes and expectations for a SLS, and how we evaluate whether the value is making a difference. The framework proposes eight value cycles – immediate, potential, applied, realized, enabling, strategic, orienting, and transformative – described in Table 2.

Table 2: Value creation framework descriptors and examples of dimensions
Value Cycle Descriptor Example of dimensions
Orienting Interactions with the broader landscape Exploring connections across the landscape
Immediate Your experience of the SLS Fun being around like-minded people
Potential What do you get out of the SLS Social capital, tools, tips
Applied What you do with what you gained Confidence; implementing an idea
Realized The outcome of applied value Personal, group, and organizational level changes
Transformative Deeper or broader effects New identities and reframing perspectives
Strategic Conversations with stakeholders Alignment and deliberate planning
Enabling What should be in place to make it possible Logistics, back-channel

Adapted from: Duarte, Culver, & Paquette (in press).

For example, our research group created and sustained SLSs for parasport coach development. Using the framework we supported the participants to map their learning landscape to better understand where and with whom they developed their practice. This allowed us to collectively create an approach to leverage the existing structures in the sport system to build learning capability, broadening the flow and nature of knowledge. The success of the project was supported through strategic thinking about how to enable learning opportunities (strategic and enabling value). For example, planning meetings in conjunction with times when participants would already be in the same place, such as national tournaments. These meetings aimed to co-create knowledge (immediate and potential value), and stimulated reflection on how to use the new ideas and knowledge created in this space (applied value). During this process we listened attentively and observed how and when participants were applying new practices, looking for evidence of the positive and negative outcomes (realized value). In this way we believe we have shifted the thinking of the sport organization in terms of how to bring about change (transformative value).

Putting social learning spaces into practice: A story about creating value

The best way to explain the process that can lead to value being created in an SLS is through a story about creating value. The fictional story below is based on our research and is designed to introduce you to the eight value cycles and some of the crucial elements of nurturing an effective SLS. Our story starts when Alex, who oversees development for a provincial sport organization, gave us a call.


Alex: Hi, Diane. Thanks for taking my call. Last week we had our AGM and many participants raised concerns about girls dropping out of sport at age 14 to 15. What’s a bit frustrating is we had the same conversation last year. At that time, we identified a gap and even attended a workshop on the subject that suggested creating a community of practice. So, when the season started, we hosted a “community of practice” during one of our competitions and we shared some ideas from across the country. I learned a few tips during that meeting, but no one took the leadership and we have not met since.

Diane: Hi Alex, unfortunately that’s not only happening to your sport. By the way, I’m referring to both the drop out of girls and to organizations misinterpreting what a community of practice is and its limitations. Your comments are on point on many levels. First, being excited when meeting people who share the same passion and who want to learn is an example of what social learning theory calls immediate value. Second, the ideas, tips, and gaining access to the network of people are dimensions of potential value.

Alex: I really want to understand more about the other types of value.

Diane: Sure, what your organization did was a great start! For instance, looking for gaps in your own sport and giving me a call to search for new ways of doing things are two examples of orienting value. Moreover, your organization established “girls’ drop out” as a priority, which is an example of strategic value. Once a priority is identified and accurately communicated to the other members of the organization, it becomes easier to justify the investment of resources to tackle that priority.

Alex: Resources! I cringe just of thinking about money and how to handle all the priorities that our mainly volunteer organization has.

Diane: Fear not Alex. What enabling value refers to is not just financial resources, but also human, knowledge, structure, media, etc. Let me give you an example. Our research with Curling Canada identified that developmental wheelchair curling coaches wanted to have more access to the National Team Program coaches and chat about their training tools and strategies. So, Curling Canada provided enabling value in a several ways, such as supplying the software for online meetings, and asking the high-performance coaches to join the developmental coaches in our meetings and the virtual discussion forums.

Alex: If I’m following your rationale, what we incorrectly called a community of practice lacked the ongoing aspect of the example you just gave.

Diane: You’re right again, but let’s focus on what ongoing engagement allows us to produce. Just hosting online meetings, courses, or webinars does not allow people to benefit from what a SLS has to offer.

Alex: How so?

Diane: Let me share another example from our research: SLSs for women leaders. Some of the meetings were educational and experts would share their knowledge and experience, just like a webinar or a workshop; other meetings were smaller groups where leaders reflected on and shared how they applied what they had learned and the outcomes they achieved. Which brings us our next two values: applied and realized. But as you might expect, some changes are more easily applied than others; some will need enabling value from an organizational level. Of course, negotiating the strategies that are worthy of investment and implementation takes time, and is not likely to get done with only one meeting. The applied and realized values for change require ongoing strategic conversations between people from various levels within an organization or system (e.g., coach developers, sport administrators, funders, athletes, volunteers).

Alex: And could you share the actual outcomes of this?

Diane: Absolutely. One sport association implemented a policy (applied and enabling value) requiring a woman coach on the bench for all female teams. Thus, female athletes benefited from the presence of a female role model (realized value). Moreover, organizations had to invest in ensuring these coaches had appropriate coach training (strategic value). A women’s only course was then designed (enabling value) and was successfully run several times during the project (applied and realized value). As you can see, one strategy can result in diverse types of value, creating a domino effect.

Alex: Domino effect! So, we could see the steps to achieving our strategic goals as domino pieces.

Diane: That’s a great metaphor, and by using the value creation framework it would be easier to inform your domino pieces, or actions, and assess their impact. This assessment, or paying attention to the effects of participating in a SLS, can be formal or informal. While the following examples are more structured, simple methods such as appointing one or two participants to carry out check-ins and check-outs at all gatherings can also assess created value, especially if there is a follow-up with participants to track their value stories. Some measures of success are quantifiable, such as the number of coaches involved in a program – much of this sort of data is collected already by organizations. In our research, we have also used assessment tools such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups to assess value. Surveys are helpful for getting ratings on the usefulness of information received in a SLS. Interviews and focus groups are used to get participants to reflect on their experience participating in the SLS. For example, you can ask questions about how their participation has changed the way they practice, or the influence they might have in their organization. You can ask for specific stories about something they learned or changed, and how that came about. These stories capture activities (immediate value), outputs (potential value), applications (applied value), outcomes (realized value), and new definitions of success (transformative value).

Alex Should projects aim for creating value in every cycle?

Diane: The Value Creation Framework does not rank the values on importance, and not all projects will support value creation in all of the cycles. What’s more, value is in the eye of the beholder – the experiences of one participant, might not be the same as another.

Alex: It is more complex than I anticipated.

Diane: Yes. Organizations are often unaware of the amount of work it takes to lead an SLS. We are calling this work “social learning leadership.” The research around communities of practice suggests that without leadership, initiatives will not continue or will drift into meetings with no specific value to the practitioners. The work of social learning leaders includes:

Alex: That’s sounds like an important role. What sort of skills does a social learning leader need?

Diane: Well, first off, the role of social learning leader can be shared within your group, with different individuals leading distinct aspects of the role – whether, communication, evaluation, planning/hosting, networking. A social learning leader should be someone familiar with your context but not necessarily an expert in your sport. They need to do their homework and find out who knows what in the context. Furthermore, a social learning leader needs to understand the nuts and bolts of the value creation framework.

To help you understand this role, I am going to share a deck of reflective cards (see Figure 1) that serve as a reminder of the eight values and what types of data we should pay attention to when framing and assessing a social learning space. The idea behind these cards is for social learning leaders to keep them easily accessible and check them regularly to help reflect on the state of your SLS. For example, you may have a clear idea of your aspirations – the change you would like to see. Here you would start with the realized value card. From there, working within your social learning space, you would explore what must be in place to achieve that realized value. So, you might then consider what potential and immediate value need to occur, and whether there are strategic and/or enabling values that should be considered. Or, you may have an example of realized value from another context that you decide to present to our SLS, at which point it may become potential value for your SLS. The act of using the value cards to reflect on SLS is not a one-off activity. It should be conducted throughout your project. In this way, assessing value and framing activities are intertwining processes.

Figure 1. A deck of value creation reflective cards

Alex: That’s very helpful. Where should I start?

Diane: Having appointed (and trained if necessary) your social learning leader(s), here are a few simple steps that could make your journey smoother. First, find others who want to make a difference. Our research shows that it is not that hard to find them. You could start with an issue or gap that really resonates with you, or bring people together and ask what difference they want to make. Nothing brings people together better than a reason that keeps them awake at night. For instance, the core purpose of the social learning space examples I spoke about earlier were a passion to enhance sport for people with disabilities, and the quest for gender equity in sport. Moving forward on your desire to address girls’ drop out is a great place to start!

Second, encourage people from different levels of your organization or community to join. More often than not, complex issues cannot be effectively solved by a single individual or organization, but demand a collaborative effort to overcome. For example, the Alberta Women in Sport Leadership project brought together individuals from the Coaching Association of Canada, six mentors with connections across the nation and province, sport leaders from 12 provincial sport organizations, as well as numerous individuals working at the provincial and club levels. What is important here is to encourage the participation of people with different backgrounds and perspectives. Respectful and well managed divergence, not consensus, moves a SLS forward.

Alex: How are we sure we’re finding the best way to handle these complex challenges? Or is there one best way of doing things?

Diane: That’s such a great question! What countless studies have proposed is there are many ways of doing things. Creativity, emotional intelligence, and collaboration are being treated as major competences for the 21st Century. There is a lot of uncertainty with many of the complex challenges we face, and that’s okay. Recognizing our uncertainty leads us to the third step on the journey to create an SLS: paying attention to change at the individual, group and organizational levels. Let me again share some examples from our research. At the individual level, some of our participant coaches, who worked in isolated areas of the country, started to feel more confident as they engaged with other coaches through the SLS. At the group level, legitimacy was given to the social learning space when the women sport leaders presented at a provincial sport conference, discussing the benefits of participating in the initiative and helping to promote gender equity. At the level of organizational change, many policies were implemented as a result of the work in the SLS. For instance, Curling Canada now invites developmental coaches to attend training camps for NextGen athletes, increasing social learning opportunities among coaches, athletes, and integrated support teams.

Alex: I see. Is there anything else I need to consider?

Diane: Yes. Before I give you my last few words of advice, let me point out that this conversation is an example of “potential value” for you, Alex – you can take the advice from this conversation and try applying it to the issue of girls’ dropout in your organization. But back to my last tips, and this may seem obvious: keep in mind that nurturing a community of practice or other social learning space is all about people interacting in a non-judgmental, ego-free environment. This requires work! A few small but important things can help:

These opportunities for people to interact with other participants in the SLS make it easier to develop relationships and therefore trust among the group. And trust is essential for an effective SLS. Alex – I can’t wait to hear more about your SLS, and the value it creates for the participants and your organization!


Conclusion

Appropriately framed and supported, social learning spaces can be used by any organization or group caring to make a difference in professional development, diversity and inclusion, or any initiative for growth. A social learning space is a learning tool for the 21st Century because it requires people to work collaboratively to co-create innovations; it brings them to places where they have not yet been in terms of their practices. In this way, it is agile.


Interested in learning more? Watch Diane’s presentation on Promoting and Assessing Social Learning in parasport coaches and organizations, presented at the 2020 Sport Canada Research Initiative Conference.

Although 2020 was a challenging year, it was rich with learnings and silver linings for the Canadian sport and physical activity sector. Featured below are highlights of SIRC’s top content from the last 12 months. Whether you’re looking for insightful reading during a quiet moment over the holidays, or a quick video to get your family and friends up and active during a virtual gathering, we trust this content will be valuable now and in the year ahead!

Top SIRC Blogs

  1. The Psychological Implications of Returning to Sport Post-Isolation
  2. Coaching Strategies to Maximize Long-Term Learning and Performance for Athletes
  3. Football Makes Bold Pivot
  4. Inclusion Must be Intentional
  5. Mental Health Considerations of the Athlete Transition out of Sport

Top SIRCuit Articles

  1. Learnings from COVID-19 Lockdown – Stories of Event Cancellations
  2. Performing in a Pandemic: The Resilience and Leadership of Canadian athletes
  3. The Role of Nutrition in Sub-Concussion Injury Protection
  4. Virtual Volunteering in Community Sport
  5. Digital Gamification of Youth Sport Engagement

Top SIRC Webinars

Politics vs Principle: Retaining Integrity in Sport, and Why it Matters

Creative Thinking – Tools and Techniques to Better your Brainstorms

The Art of the Great Presentation


Videos of the Year

Partnering for Impact – SIRC Researcher/Practitioner Match Grants (2019/2020)

SCRI 2020: Diversity & Inclusion Panel

SIRC Active Break


Top Content by Topic

SIRC shares innovative, evidence-based, and relevant content from our network of researchers and thought leaders to advance the Canadian sport and physical activity sector. Thank you to everyone who contributed content this year! If you have interesting research results, insightful evaluation findings, or innovative practices that you want to share, please contact us.

International Day of the Girl is celebrated globally on October 11th, focusing attention on the need to amplify girls’ voices, advocate for their rights, and elevate their position in society. Within the Canadian sport and physical activity sector, International Day of the Girl provides a reminder of the persisting challenges girls and young women confront to realizing the benefits of participation, and the opportunities for action.

Current evidence shows that only 39% of Canadian children and youth between the ages of 5-17 years are meeting the physical activity recommendations found in the Canadian 24-hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth, with an overall reduction in physical activity involvement between the ages of 12-17 years (ParticipACTION, 2020). Further, gender-related disparities have been highlighted among Canadian children and youth (ages 5-17 years), showing girls’ participation is approximately half that of boys (ParticipACTION, 2020). This is concerning given the number of social and physical benefits associated with participation in physical activity and sport, including:

As highlighted in great detail in the Rally Report (Canadian Women & Sport, 2020), withdrawal from sport and physical activity is most prevalent in girls during adolescent years. Specifically, high drop-out rates have been observed around 13-14 years old, at which time girls often withdraw from competitive sport, choosing to engage in non-competitive physical activity at their leisure, or become inactive (Harber, 2010; Eime, Casey & Harvey, 2020). Research suggests the high rates of dropout during this time are influenced by a lack of access to quality sport opportunities; safety and transportation concerns; social factors; reduced enjoyment in sport or decreased quality of experience; financial barriers; shifting life priorities such as school or part-time work; body image concerns; and a lack of female athletes as positive role models (Staurowsky et al., 2020; Eime, Casey & Harvey, 2020). However, with appropriate knowledge and increased awareness, coaches, program leaders, sport administrators, teachers and parents can address these barriers and support sustained, positive sport involvement for girls and young women.

Developing the Keeping Girls in Sport online resource

To help address the knowledge gap, Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, in collaboration with Canadian Women & Sport, the Respect Group and the Coaching Association of Canada (CAC), developed Keeping Girls in Sport (KGIS), an online resource that helps coaches and youth activity leaders create safe and respectful environments for female athletes. The KGIS program requires about 90 minutes to complete, and consists of four modules exploring the participation trends of girls in sport, factors influencing drop-out, various types of injuries specific to the female athlete along with prevention strategies, and insights to keep girls engaged. At the beginning of the program, learners are guided through a self-assessment of their coaching or leadership philosophy, which is revisited and reassessed at the end. In this way, the KGIS program provides a comprehensive and insightful educational experience supplemented by the opportunity to engage in self-reflective practice. Launched in October 2018, it was time to ask, “What has been the impact of the KGIS program?”

With support from a Match Grant from the Sport Information Resource Centre (SIRC), researchers in the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport & Recreation at the University of Alberta collaborated with Jumpstart Charities to explore the uptake and impact of this unique education program. Researchers developed and distributed an online survey to everyone who had completed the KGIS module to understand who had taken the module and collect feedback on the module’s content.

Who has completed the KGIS Module?

Analysis of the survey responses revealed a number of interesting characteristics about the KGIS participants. The survey was distributed to the 1,548 individuals who completed the KGIS program and a total of 511 responded, a response rate of 33%. Representation of women and men was well matched, with 56% of survey respondents identifying as women and 43% identifying as men. The majority of survey respondents were residents of Ontario (49.8%), with 11.5% from British Columbia; 13.6% from Alberta; 5.6% from Saskatchewan and 6.7% from Manitoba. There was little representation from elsewhere in Canada among our survey respondents, with 3.6% from Quebec and 8.8% from the Maritime provinces. Less than 1% of respondents resided in the North West Territories, Yukon, or Nunavut. This demonstrates the KGIS program has been well promoted and shared within Ontario sport systems, likely because the educational resource was made mandatory by some Ontario sport organizations, such as Ontario Soccer. However, the demographic information made researchers wonder if less population-dense and more remote regions of the country lack representation among survey respondents as a result of reduced girls sport programming in general and therefore, fewer sport leaders who are interested in this training.

Survey respondents occupied a variety of sport roles, including coach, athlete, mentor, administrator, parent, volunteer, and teacher. Although respondents individually embodied various roles within the sport context (i.e.: one respondent might identify as athlete, coach, and parent simultaneously), 69% of respondents indicated it was their role as a coach that inspired them to take the KGIS online resource. This demonstrates the KGIS program is considered primarily a coach-education tool, despite being beneficial for numerous other roles in sport and physical activity. Participants also represented a diverse range of sports – more than 50 sports were represented including hockey, basketball and ringette. Soccer was the most frequently reported sport across the survey respondents, likely because of the mandated training mentioned above. To increase the reach and impact of KGIS across the country, other sport organizations could consider mandating this unique educational resource to support uptake. Moreover, promoting the KGIS program as a professional development tool for non-coaching leadership roles may also support further uptake.

What was the impact of the KGIS module?

Feedback provided in the survey demonstrated the KGIS program was well received, with 99% of respondents rating various attributes of the program (length, quality of interface, accessibility, understandability, and quality of content) as “Good” (22%), “Very Good” (42%) or “Excellent (35%). Respondents described the program as “thought provoking” and said it “helped [to] conceptualize the scope of the issue”. Respondents appreciated that the KGIS program offered insight to a perspective different from their own, helping to better understand motivations and barriers experienced by girls and young women. Even those who reported a high level of existing knowledge and experience found the program useful and expressed desire for more widespread uptake across leadership in girls’ sport.

young girl holding a badminton racket, Outdoor

From the survey analysis, two important takeaways emerged relating to the value of the KGIS program. The first related to improved understanding about how to foster positive sport environments for girls. Respondents emphasized factors such as feeling safe, being engaged with coaches and teammates, having fun, and socializing as a way to do so. Within the survey comments, there was warning that creating a “fun” atmosphere can be misinterpreted by some leaders: “Coaches take this as ‘we have to play games all the time and never push the girls outside of their comfort zone.’ Once girls love a sport, being challenged and competing IS fun to them.” Cultivating positive environments that will help keep girls in sport requires attention to the specific physical, emotional and social needs of girls.

The other main takeaway related to exploring the nuanced differences between girls and boys within sport environments. This has previously been highlighted in work by Dr.Vicki Harber, professor emeritus from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport & Recreation, who suggested more effective and supportive sport and physical activity environments for girls can be created, keeping in mind that “women are not men and children are not small adults” (Harber, 2010, p. 2). The KGIS program was commended by survey respondents for recognizing the unique needs of girls and their varying needs throughout their developmental stages.

Next steps

In addition to these key takeaways, recommendations for supplemental and subsequent educational materials were gathered from the survey data and will be useful as future resources are created on this topic. Learnings from the survey results revealed opportunity for broader public health impact of the KGIS program across sport and physical activity leadership that could be realized through updated content focused toward a more diverse audience.


To complete the Keeping Girls in Sport online resource, or to share the program with your network, visit https://jumpstart.canadiantire.ca/pages/keeping-girls-in-sport

Led by Dr. Chantale Lussier, PhD, Mental Performance Consultant, Founder & CEO, Elysian Insight

Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 1 – 2:00 p.m. ET.

About the Webinar

Those working in sport often experience a double-edge sword. Leaders, coaches, and other staff often gravitate to these roles because we value being of service and athlete-centered in our daily operations. On the flip side, we often neglect our own mental wellness as high performers ourselves.

The purpose of this workshop is two-fold:

  1. to explore mental wellness considerations as they apply to you as a high performer at work, rest, and play; and
  2. to discover how to optimally integrate mental health literacy, mental skills training, and mental performance consulting across our sporting ecosystems.

About the Speaker

Proven game changer in mental health literacy, mental skills training, & optimal mental performance. Architect of sustainable excellence. Disruptor, innovator, team player. Dr. Lussier is the Founder and CEO of Elysian Insight, a company dedicated to mental performance solutions. A highly sought after specialist in her field, and Professional Member for the Canadian Sport Psychology Association (CSPA) and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP), Chantale has worked with hundreds of nationally and internationally-ranked competitive, elite, and pro athletes (NHL, CFL, NFL), as well as military service men and women, and emergency services professionals (police, fire, first responders, etc).

As a kidney cancer survivor, Chantale utilized her mental skills set to support her healing journey back to wellness. Her personal motto is Less Kidney, More Heart, and informs both her professional and personal outlook in life. She is passionate about enhancing mental health literacy, striving for optimal mental performance, supporting healthy transitions, and fostering a culture of sustainable excellence. Knowledgeable and innovative, she has been called a “game changer” by her clients. She brings a level of care, dedication, and loyalty that is unmatched in the industry. For more info: www.elysianinsight.ca

Being the most skilled athlete or possessing the most experience in a group does not make us good at leadership – we need to learn it. In the latest SIRCuit, Cari Din, leadership learning facilitator and teaching faculty member at the University of Calgary, shares her top four leadership learning strategies.

The sport landscape is full of great stories. Those working in the field have a unique opportunity to bring those stories to life and tell them in a way that’s compelling and thoughtful.

In SIRC’s October 14 Experts in the House webinar, Storytelling in sport: Why it Matters, and How to Master it, Jill Sadler of blueprint North America provided a practical framework to craft better stories, using examples and webinar participant ideas throughout.

Below is a video recap of the session and a Q&A blog with Jill, answering some of the questions posed by participants.

This was the sixth session in SIRC’s new webinar series, Experts in the House. Register now for upcoming sessions, and look back on previous sessions.

Please note: this webinar recap has been edited for brevity.

Q&A:

Q: In your view, story success depends on the D-A-D process. Can you walk us through what separates this three-letter acronym from other storytelling best practices and tips?

There are many different components to storytelling – structure, delivery, body language, timing, etc. Where we find people have the most trouble is figuring out WHAT story to tell. The D-A-D acronym provides three steps to help with the story building process:

The acronym is really about supporting one of the toughest parts of storytelling – finding an appropriate story that fits the message.

Q: What are the 5 key elements of a great story?

  1. Relatable Character – The audience has to be able to relate to the person or situation in the story. It doesn’t have to be that they’ve experienced that EXACT scenario, but they have to be able to say “I felt the same way when…”.
  2. Emotion – We know that emotions, not logic or fact, is what holds our attention, creates a bond with the storyteller and generates empathy for the overall story.
  3. A moment – A good story has a defining moment where things change. It’s when Cinderella leaves her shoe behind at midnight. It’s when the boy rushes to the airport but misses catching the girl on her flight by 1 minute. These are the moments that tell you a new normal is about to be established. It creates suspense and a desire to hear more.
  4. Enough detail – Skimming over details like the smell of the fire or the pink hue of the sunset deprives the listener of connecting to the situation. So give enough detail that the listener can picture themselves there but not so much that they lose interest. There is a fine balance!
  5. Structure – A beginning, a middle and an end. A baseline, a moment and a new baseline. All great stories have a structure to them. Think of your favourite fairy tale and you’ll see a predictable structure to follow.

Q: Are there differences in effective storytelling in different mediums or platforms e.g. written form, audio, video or otherwise?

Definitely. We know that body language, pacing of speech, and intonation all play a role in how a story is told. As such, the medium can really affect the outcome. If you’re in person, you have access to all of those physical components of delivering the message. Being on video gives you many of those same opportunities.

In audio form, you may work a little harder at pacing, leaving pauses for effect, or exaggerating the changes in tone to make the point a little clearer. When you can’t physically lean in to your audience like you would in an in-person session, you might take your voice to a really low whisper in audio to give the same suspenseful effect.

In written form, you lose the components I’ve just mentioned so you’ll need to create those emotions through the language. You may end up being a little more descriptive in written word to more clearly paint the picture for the audience.

Although there are differences based on the medium, take comfort in knowing the fundamentals are the same. Does the story match the message you’re trying to relay, does it have an effective structure, and have you delivered it with detail and drama to keep the audience engaged?

Q: There are a growing number of competing voices online, combined with increasingly shorter audience attention spans. What does this mean for storytellers, and for those aspiring to get better?

I would have two pieces of advice here:

  1. Work hard on a compelling hook. A hook is the thing at the beginning that gets the listener interested. Perhaps startle the audience with the first line, choose a surprising setting, or begin with a life changing moment. If you can start with a great hook, the reader will give you permission to take them beyond the average eight second attention span.
  2. Don’t be shy to tell a short story. We’ve talked about delivering with detail and drama and that holds true to all storytelling, but it is possible to tell a very short story and still paint the picture. Wired magazine asked a number of sci-fi authors to write a story in only 6 words. William Shatner came up with this:

“Failed SAT. Lost scholarship. Invented rocket.”

It is possible to convey meaning, emotion and a message in just six words.

Q:  What’s the most common mistake or pitfall when delivering stories?

The most common mistakes we see in storytelling would be:

Q:  Who are some of your favourite storytellers?

Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou, Bob Costas, Simon Sinek, Malala Yousafzai, John Wooden and Roald Dahl to name a few. I think CBC offers some fantastic storytellers right in our own backyard – Stuart MacLean, Terry O’Reilly, and I can’t leave out Bob MacDonald!

Q:  Finally, can you recommend a few resources we can use to continue to build our storytelling expertise?

There are some fantastic resources available to help improve your storytelling skills – here are a few places to go:


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