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(Left to right) Olympic gold medalist Cheryl Pounder, Sports Prefect Polly Graham and U of T Associate Professor Dr. Ashley Stirling at the Women Strong: Fostering a Resilient Spirit through Sport event.
February 13, 2018
Sport Can Teach Resilience
With resilience top of mind as part of Branksome’s focus on well-being, we recently had an opportunity to find out about the strong links between participation in sport and developing resilience. In a high-powered evening — where we heard from Olympic gold medalist and hockey champion, Cheryl Pounder, and award-winning U of T Associate Professor of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Dr. Ashley Stirling — it became very clear that sport is a great teacher, teaching much more than a set of physical skills and teamwork.

Moderated by Mira Gambhir, Director of the Chandaria Research Centre (CRC), “Women Strong: Fostering a Resilient Spirit through Sport,” was part of our Conversations with Parents Speaker Series. The lively discussion was organized by Branksome’s Athletics Department in collaboration with the Chandaria Research Centre (CRC).

“[Resilience] is about the ability to deal with day-to-day challenges, such as being on the swim team and keeping up your grades," Dr. Stirling told the large audience of parents and students. "You don’t need to face one hardship to develop resilience but you need to deal with multiple small challenges.”

An inspiring storyteller, Cheryl Pounder spoke about what she has learned from the challenges and successes of her career, with the greatest learning coming “at the toughest times.” Developing her attitudes and ways of thinking, she has found that perspective is key: “I had to really work on what my perspective was. When I made it all about winning gold, this led to fear and I became too scared of making mistakes and not being successful.” Throughout her career, Pounder has worked on her perspective, changing her mindset and way of thinking with strategies such as visualisation and positive self-talk.

Another factor, highlighted by Dr. Stirling, was the importance of an athlete’s support team. Speaking from her own experience, she referred to her family, who supported and loved her “whether she medalled or not.” Her family enabled her to believe in herself and she advised parents to help their athletes by supporting them in their goals.

As our athletes know, the road to success is full of challenges, failures and disappointments. “It’s okay to be sad. It’s normal to feel devastated when you get cut. Resilience is accepting, and not masking those feelings,” said Ms Pounder, adding: “The empowerment you feel when you get back up is great.” Lessons highlighted by both speakers are relevant to our students who play sport as well as more generally, in pursuing their passions, knowing themselves and becoming resilient in relationships.

Katie Flynn, Branksome Hall's Director of Athletics, pointed out that resilience is promoted by Canada’s Sport for Life Long-Term Athlete Development Model, which includes healthy, mandatory challenges for athletes, such as “control under performance pressure” and “meet[ing] the physical demands of the sport.”

“We are interested to find out more about the learnings that result from these healthy challenges and one’s ‘ability to recover quickly and bounce back from difficult situations or setbacks’,” said Ms Flynn. She also provided statistics on the attrition from sport, which is alarmingly high for young women and often attributed to lack of resilience.

At the end of the evening, students and parents were thrilled to chat with our speakers. They particularly enjoyed holding Cheryl Pounder’s gold medals, symbols of what can be achieved with the right attitude, learning, resilience and a lot of hard training.

We were very fortunate to have hosted Cheryl Pounder before she headed for Pyeongchang, South Korea, as CBC’s Ice Hockey reporter at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Thanks to both Katie Flynn and Mira Gambhir for their initiative in bringing these two inspiring speakers to Branksome! Families can find resources on our Portal in the Learning Commons section.

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