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Celebrating National Girls and Women in Sports Day

By Claire M and Kira Makuk

In celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day, one of our youth members met with a REAL Role Model to talk about their sport experiences and what sport means to each of them.

Who are we?

Claire is a grade 12 student from Calgary and serves as a Youth Advisory Council representative for the Alberta area. Her favourite ways to move are softball and hockey at the moment.

Kira is also from Calgary and has been a Real Role Model for over five years. She played with the U of C Dinos from 2016-2020 while getting her Bachelor of Health Science. She is currently in a coaching role for high performance hockey in Whitehorse, Yukon.

What was your relationship with sports like and what does it mean to you now?

Simply put, the role of sport has been foundational for both of us. Sport can have such a clear impact on our lives, especially growing up. After taking some time away from hockey, Kira reflected on the community created by sport and how that has impacted her life. That influence has lasting effects that we find in interactions with a wide range of people including friends, teammates, and mentors. The community aspect of sport also reinforces soft skills such as time management, organization, and leadership that is just as important. For Kira, sports “shaped my confidence and my ability to act independently in the real world.”. These days, Kira continues applying these skills to her very ‘real world’ life when trying new activities and pursuits. 

In an ideal world, what do you hope the future of girls in sports could look like?

In a post-COVID world, sport looks different and there are so many things that we have to consider. But simply put, “it’s always been my hope that girls will continue to participate in sport.” Everyone was affected by COVID differently, but we can continue the momentum of women participation in sport by meeting people where they’re at. Getting back and going forward, everyone has different comfort levels in group settings like in social circles and there are new team dynamics. The sport world is going to require patience and understanding amongst teammates, coaches, and participants. We are going to discover new ways to engage participants and it is important that we (as coaches and participants) continue asking ourselves “how can we make this environment better for everyone that is in it?” So, let’s continue to grow the game as we focus on what keeps us coming back and wanting more. 

A major part of sports is the ups and downs. In your experience, what have been some contributing factors of the successful ‘ups’?

It really comes back to support. For Kira, support came from her family, teammates, trainers, and other mentors. As a player, having post game chats with her Dad or finding encouragement from her teammates during a ‘low’, stood out as the support that made her want to continue in sport and kept it fun. Now, Kira has taken on a coaching role, but still believes in the importance of this support. One of the biggest driving forces is the identity and friendship that we can find in sport, both in the good times and the bad. If we are able to cultivate a welcoming and supportive environment for all athletes it creates space for a support system to grow and ultimately, shapes an athlete’s mental game. “It is a little bit of an internal mindset, because if you know deep down that you have people rooting for you, you’re not afraid to put your best foot forward.”

Who were your role models as a young athlete? What did it mean to you then and how has that changed, if at all?

I was really interested to hear Kira’s ‘full hockey story’. Though it isn’t mine to tell, I was really inspired by her journey and the individuals who were part of it. These individuals include Kira’s own role models and past trainer, Carla. By supporting Kira in her journey of eventually playing for the Dinos, after months of dedication and hard work, she was able to accomplish and excel on the team. Kira still looks up to Carla who is “ a phenomenal representation of women leaders in sport”. 

If you could give one piece of advice to girls about staying in sport, what would it be?

Every individual, whether it’s a team sport or an individual sport, has the potential to make a difference. If you’re a teammate, you have a role to play in creating a good environment for your teammates. Athletes have a role in showing up and giving their all. In a team setting, when you show up for yourself you also show up for each other. This extends to coaches, too. As coaches, we can make a difference by creating safe and comfortable environments. When many of us get involved with sport and create this environment, there’s an obvious impact. It’s not just going to grow our athletes, but this can grow sport involvement and participation, too.