With less than seventy days until the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, I had the absolute pleasure to interview Joan McDonald – Team Canada’s National Recurve Coach for the sport of Archery. At the age of 73 Joan will be attending her 6th Olympic Games as a Coach, and honestly has me more enlightened about sport for women in Canada than ever before.
Joan started her coaching career when she was still a competitive international athlete in the sport. Helping the younger or less experienced athletes she trained with on a daily basis. In 1985 she officially retired from competition, and in 1991 began to think of herself as a coach. Until 2015 when Joan was appointed, there was not a national coach for archery. Throughout her time as an athlete she had numerous mentors to look up to and learn from including Ken Archer Brown, Clarence Shred and Dick Tone. In fact, today she works along side Dick Tone coaching the female archery athlete heading to Rio in August.
Joan really opened my eyes to how one can learn, and in turn, become a better coach when she spoke about her current mentors in sport. Often coaches look to those with more experience or perhaps to coaches who have produced exceptional athletes. But when asked about her mentors today, Joan said ‘I learn most from the experiences with other sports high performance coaches, such as Andy Higgins from track and field or my learning opportunities at the National Coaching Institute or seminars run by Own The Podium coaches and High Performance Directors.” While Joan notes she takes every chance to attend such opportunities, in Canada there are far from enough.
At the 2012 Olympics, only 11% of coaches were female. Joan attributes much of this issue in Canada to a lack of a set path shown or provided to up and coming female coaches. Moreover, Joan notes, “No matter how much we improve for worldwide women’s rights, there are still some things that don’t change. We are still raising the families of the world and most having to work full time on top of it”.
Not identifying a clear path for coaching combined with a lack of female mentors or role models in coaching is making this career a difficult one to choose. Moreover, Joan says, “If Canada puts a pile of money into one athlete, we get one athlete. If we put a pile of money into one coach, we get unlimited athletes.” The combination of increased salaries and coach development opportunities are a must for Canada to continue to develop strong athletes who are successful internationally and at the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games is a fairly small tournament for the sport of archery in terms of athlete participation. Sixty-four men and sixty-four women compete. In fact, Canada has not sent a full team to compete, rather single athletes only, since 1996. Joan is quite confident these Games might be different. For the first time in 20 years, Team Canada might send a men’s team to shoot as well as one-woman shooter.
The training regime for Canada’s archery team is different than any other sport I know. The team trains five to six days per week, twice a day. Their morning routine consists of the physical training including cardiovascular and weight training, as well as sport psychology, nutrition and other non-sport specific training. The afternoon session is on the range where they are often hoping for bad weather. A windy or rainy day is excellent training conditions. In fact, the only weather condition that will ever stop a tournament is lightening, otherwise, the competition will always go on. For Joan’s team, it is imperative to be able to shoot with immense accuracy no matter the weather conditions.
Leading up to the Games Joan is really excited! When asked what excites her most about the Olympic Games she answered, “Everything! It is the greatest show on earth! I get to work with the best people on the planet!” Staying focused and having a day-to-day itemized plan while in Rio will be a key point to her team’s success.
This excitement carries over to her love for the sport. Joan finds herself inspired every day by her team. Seeing people improving, getting people out of their comfort zones and seeing them feel excited about their achievements is what she lives for. In fact, her greatest successes as a coach have had nothing to do with high performance. Joan sometimes works with athletes who have mental disabilities. “To see them do things they never thought they could do and be called successful, then to see their parents see this too…this is success as a coach for me.”
Joan is the type of coach I want to have around me and the young girls in my family. Although I only had the chance to talk with her for one hour, I could sense her ability to help girls feel confident in their own skin and in their abilities as both an athlete and as a human being. Her grace and wisdom as a coach was a true honor to listen to and learn from. I want to wish Joan and the entire Team Canada Archery Team the very best of luck on the 2016 Summer Olympics!
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