“Sports are much more than fun and games”

January 6, 2020 - Defence Stories

The Canadian CISM Women’s Basketball team.

Captain Lisa Evong

We have all heard that a healthy body aids in a healthy mind, but how do sports and fitness fit into the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) framework? Why are sports so important?

Just over a century ago, American philosopher William James called for the creation of a “moral equivalent of war”: the search for something – other than war – that would enhance a person’s self‐discipline, hardiness and self‐sacrifice. Today, we call this equivalent “sport.”

In fact, the Olympics were partly designed so that countries would compete on the sporting field rather than the battlefield. Young men would train to be athletes rather than warriors – fascinating, right?

Sport is now seen as a way of uniting people rather than dividing them. People can translate the hard work they've put into their sport by working harder to be a better student or employee and a better person overall. Working towards a goal can teach people the value of hard work, commitment and dedication and team sports are a great way to learn these values.

It’s true that teams that end up on the winning end of the score in team sports are those that work well together. Learning to cooperate with others toward a common goal in sports is what builds character, friendship and important life skills for players and coaches.

Since the CAF’s Military Ethos is based on a unifying spirit that brings all members of the CAF together along with the Canadian public to guide its operations, it only makes sense to encourage sports among its ranks.

The CAF Sports Program is divided into two main sub-groups, the intramural and the extramural programs. At the local level, every base, unit and wing conducts intramural or local sporting events for all levels of athletes. Extramural competition includes Regionals Nationals and Conseil International du Sport Militaire, what we call CISM (phonetically said: Sizem).

CISM is one of the largest multidisciplinary organizations in the world made up of elite athletes. CISM organizes various sporting events for the 140 member countries in which the largest number of disciplines is represented. The aim of CISM is to establish permanent relationships in the fields of sport and education between the Armed Forces of the World.

If CISM’s motto is "Friendship through Sport" it can be argued that the motto could also be something such as, “Personal development through sport” or “See the world through sport” but those aren’t quite as catchy.

Able Seaman Leah Robinson
Sapper Catherine Bougie

So how do sports develop the mind exactly and why is it important for soldiers, sailors, and aviators to compete? Well, I recently had the pleasure to meet a few of the Canadian CISM Women’s Basketball team, namely LCol Sharlene Harding, Assistant Coach, Sapper Catherine Bougie, point guard or shooting guard, A/Slt Blaire Coffey, shooting guard, Capt Megan McDougall, power forward, and AB Leah Robinson, all positions, to explain to me the benefits of sports to the CAF.

Each one of these remarkable women believe that sport has made them somehow better as a person. They each shared their experiences relating to leadership, accountability, responsibility, organization, time management, socialization, respect, and sportsmanship.

For example, AB Robinson, a Naval Reservist at HMCS York and full-time student, had to learn at an early age that in order to balance her schoolwork, her sports and her job in the CAF, she had to be organized and make arrangements with her professors. She said, “I immediately reached out to my school and work and made everything work in order to attend the training camps.” Sometimes it means getting up earlier, staying up later and just plain working harder than your peers to get what you want.

Sapper Bougie, a Combat Engineer from 4 Engineer Support Regiment, a high readiness unit which came to the aid of Maritimers during two different domestic operations in 2019, has to earn hardcore respect in her trade. She says being physically fit helps her in her daily work routine. More importantly though, teamwork and working hard gain her respect from her comrades.

Captain Megan McDougall
Lieutenant-Colonel Sharlene Harding
Acting Sub-Lieutenant Blaire Coffey

For Capt McDougall, CFRC Calgary, CAF sports allowed her to interact with members of all occupations and ranks. For her, meeting her assistant coach, a down-to-earth, level headed, senior CAF officer, LCol Harding, it was the first time she was up close and personal with a female role model to whom she can relate. Capt McDougall sees LCol Harding as a mentor and someone to emulate. Developing sportsmanship in her view is also very important. She thinks learning to lose well, by learning from your mistakes and being happy for others’ success, is a great character builder and life skill.

A/Slt Coffey, Supply Officer at HMCS Cataraqui believes that she has met some of her closest friends playing sports. She has built a strong network nationwide. She says, “These connections have proven helpful in my career and personal life.” Meeting so many people from all over the country from different bases, ranks, trades, we are ultimately building a stronger CAF.

Assistant Coach, LCol Harding, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Contingent at NATO SHAPE HQ and the Deputy Canadian National Military Representative to NATO SHAPE HQ, is a seasoned veteran when it comes to sports. After 25 years of playing at the university and international level through CAF, she believes she is a better leader for it. For years she honed time management skills. It is not easy to eat as if you are fueling your body, get enough rest, manage a busy schedule and, climb the “chain of command.” Her sports training has made her mentally tough, resilient to what the CAF has to throw at her. She has had various successful deployments to the far reaches of the world, managed a rewarding career and is currently raising a happy, balanced family.

LCol Harding continues to be amused by running into so many random people she’s met during her sports and CAF career in international airports all over the world.

All of these women echoed similar character traits they developed through sports. Most important is the bond they share. Team work in sports can help give members stronger communication skills and teach them to work better with others. Likewise, many tasks in the CAF require group work and every member of that team must be pulling in the same direction to meet the objective of our missions.

So if you are ever wondering why CAF sports are so important, just look at some of the most driven, resilient leaders, whether they are soldiers, sailors, or aviators, and be sure that most, if not all, have learned some form of their life skills and work ethic through the power of sport.

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