Elevating People and Performance in Pursuit of #BuildingChampions
With final preparations underway for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, CSIO presents a new article series highlighting the work we do in supporting athletes, coaches, and sport organizations for the Games. The title of the series is KAIZEN – a Japanese word which means continuous improvement, and one that seems so fitting. When training and competition were disrupted, athletes adapted and showed resiliency in their relentless pursuit of the podium, and our staff were right there with them. CSIO staff found innovative ways to provide best-in-class programs and services safely, demonstrating unparalleled KAIZEN - Elevating People and Performance in Pursuit of #BuildingChampions. Because #WECAN.
By David Grossman
They are in the category of “extraordinary people”.
Enthusiastic and inspirational in many ways, well known for raising hope and earning respect, and yet, rarely are they in the spotlight. They can be passionate and demanding, too.
Talk with them, and they’ll clearly define that seeking personal attention is not in their stockpile of achievements.
It’s more like devoting countless hours, dedicated to helping athletes reach a coveted plateau that results in personal-best triumphs or the consummation of accomplishments. Some, simply, call it seeking the ultimate award of excellence.
You have heard about these incomparable and effective individuals in the world of sport. Athletes, especially those in the non-professional ranks, turn to these mentors with words of admiration.
They are High Performance Coaches, tasked with bringing out the best from the best.
Thoughtful, encouraging and poignant at their craft. They are also acknowledged for tutoring the road to greatness and perfection. So often, they do it with a purpose and the results are proof. Yet, as great as they are, the majority of these same coaches are always seeking ways to improve.
Two of them are Richard Parkinson and Jennifer Lee.
Both are masters at teaching, coaching – and also huge benefactors of the Advanced Coaching Diploma (ACD) program run by the Coaching Association of Canada and delivered by the Toronto-based Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO).
The ACD is the flagship program offered by the CSIO to coaches across the country.
“The goal is to be a better coach, and as athletes get better, I need to stay ahead of them,” said Parkinson, who worked in corporate marketing for 25 years before choosing the world of coaching in 2015 and dedicating his life to helping athletes.
“As coaches, if we are asking athletes to get better, then we, too, must learn, improve and not just show up. I really believe that coaching educational programs; like the ACD, are/have been very important in my coaching development.”
A Toronto native, Parkinson is also a former athlete. He was nationally ranked in the javelin and the recipient of an athletic scholarship to Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Tex. Now, he’s focussed on responsibilities as a High-Performance Coach for Athletics Canada.
At the Tokyo Games, Parkinson will be one of those rare Canadian coaches with three of his athletes competing for a chance to stand on the medal podium. Sarah Mitton and Brittany Crew will challenge in the shot-put event, while Charlotte Bolton (if selected on July 20th) will tackle both the shot put and the discus throw in the Paralympic Games.
Mitton and Crew enter the qualifying round in Tokyo on July 31st hoping to be in the medal round on August 2nd. The Paralympic Games start August 24, and that’s where you’ll find Bolton competing to be the best in the world.
“I enjoy watching people succeed and these (athletes) are talented and determined,” said Parkinson, whose international coaching experience includes 18 National Team assignments, including two World Athletics Championships, two Pan Am Games and the 2018 Commonwealth Games.
“I wouldn’t be where I am, and the same for (the athletes), without the opportunities that are presented. It’s important to recognize that there is also a collection of people, specialists working together, along with huge resources at CSIO that I, and others, use and need to help athletes.”
Parkinson and Lee, both who have coached athletes at the Olympics in past, say that the impact the CSIO has had on them, has been enormous.
“Workshops, courses, working with qualified people in many areas – this has benefitted me as a coach and then relayed to the athletes,” said Parkinson. “This has all had a huge effect in their world of athletics and life.
“Coaches work their butts off, to push athletes out of their comfort zones, and I have learned from them. Mental focus is huge for athletes and coaches. As a coach, I can be a little intense, but I have learned to develop my coaching mental performance game to be in the moment, so I can support each athlete with what they need from me.”
Lee and Parkinson say they have always looked for the athletes with distinct characters that range from hard working and coachable to being responsible and mentally tough.
A devotion and affection to badminton is what is prominent with Lee. An outstanding badminton player in Hong Kong, where she won her first medal in the Girls under-14 competition, Lee focussed on coaching after suffering a knee injury that required surgery and ended her playing career.
“I actually thought about coaching as a hobby and used to dream about coaching an athlete at the Olympics,” said Lee, now in her 26th year as a highly successful coach, owner of Lee’s Badminton Club and a second Olympic coaching experience.
“After my injury, I wanted to coach and heard a great deal about the Advanced Coaching program,” said Lee, a former Ontario Coach of the Year. “I like challenges. I told CSIO my goal, worked hard at following that dream and the CSIO criteria. It was, and still is, a fabulous experience.”
Michelle Li knows quite well what Lee, her coach, brings to elitism.
“She’s more than a coach and we built a positive relationship, in which I see her as a friend, partner and adviser,” said Li, who along with Alexandra Bruce own the best Canadian finish in badminton at an Olympic Games placing fourth in 2012.
“Her expectations are high and learning from her has given me so much more knowledge and confidence. She’s always learning, benefitting from courses and offering up new ideas that have made me a better athlete.”
Li has been impressive in global competition with gold medals in the Singles competition at the Pan Am Games in 2011, 2015, 2019, and the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
Sarah Mitton, making her first trip to the Olympics, sings praise to her parents and her first coach, Tammy Gaudet with Bluenose Athletics in Nova Scotia. In 2016, she heard about Parkinson and has been with him since.
“It was at a conference in Moncton, I was there for athletic performance, heard him speak and there has been improvement ever since,” she said. “He made significant changes, taught me the techniques and how to spin and I quickly threw a personal best.
“He’s a perfectionist, learned from his professional career and expects a lot. That’s what I like and I’m a better athlete. There was a time when I struggled with pressure and anxiety. He recognized it, worked with me and has had a huge positive impact on what I do.”
Mitton, ranked No. 1 in Canada and 17th in the world, said Parkinson doesn’t just sit around and watch. She credits his personality, motivation and confidence in her becoming successful.
“He’s done every coaching course available to him, wants to be a better coach and that’s inspiring to an athlete,” she said. “I’m hoping for standards and he’s always two steps ahead with constant reminders about achievements and goals.”
The CSIO’s perspective, on helping High Performance coaches and athletes, has always been very clear. The focus is on comprehensive coach development, examining the technical, tactical, psychological, health and lifestyle domains.
During the pandemic, CSIO deliberately focused on expanding virtual education offerings in an effort to motivate, inform and support coaches as they navigated their own individual paths returning to sport.
Coaches from across Ontario, benefactors of CSIO programs, have moved from provincial programs to national teams with many selected to Canada’s Olympic, Paralympic, Commonwealth, and Pan Am / Parapan Am and World Championship coaching rosters.
David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.
Cover photo with the permission of Jennifer Lee (left) and Richard Parkinson (right)
READ OTHER ARTICLES IN THE KAIZEN SERIES:
Laura Albright, Senior Advisor, Communications & Marketing
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario