Three Cheers for our Coaches; They’re undervalued, but powerful

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The Province
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Page A16
By Paul Chapman

The B.C. Summer Games were held this past weekend in Langley, and they were a muted success.

The Games were well run, full of brilliant young athletes and spirited competition. More than 3,000 athletes from all over the province took part in 27 sports and brought home medals and memories of all shapes sizes and colours.

You didn’t hear much about them because the general population is much more concerned with how much the Canucks will pay Mason Raymond, who should start at quarterback for the B.C. Lions, how much the Canucks will pay Mason Raymond, etc.

I’m a 44-year-old man who’s been involved in sport most of my life, and the weekend was filled with lessons for me. On Saturday evening, I had one of the most memorable moments of my life when my daughter’s team, the Zone 5 Explosion, lost in the semifinal of the soccer tournament.

After shaking hands with the opposing team, the team formed a huddle and were sobbing together in the middle of the field for what seemed like hours.

They were joined by two men, team coaches Bruce Dutnall and Scott Christie, in a moment so powerful you were looking around to find the vortex that was spinning off this emotional energy. It was at that moment that I was punched in the face with the reality that one of the most undervalued resources in our society today are coaches.

Dutnall and Christie, veteran and storied youth coaches on the North Shore who got into soccer because of their kids, stepped up to coach this particular group, despite not having any kids on the team. They believe in giving back, in making sure every girl who wants to play has a chance, and in the power of sport.

I witnessed the power of sport all around me all weekend. And I’m still weak-kneed from its effects. Dutnall and Christie first took to the field with 82 girls back in April. They practised three times a week as they whittled the group down to 12.

They preached the values of teamwork, of togetherness, of sportsmanship and friendship. In those categories, Zone 5 won the gold medal.

This is youth sport, and it wasn’t all good. There was some ugly behaviour by a very, very small minority. And funnily enough, it started with the coaches on another team. Therein lies the lesson for me.

The men and women who step up to coach our kids bear a tremendous amount of responsibility and a frightening amount of influence. The messages and lessons they learn, wittingly and subconsciously, form and shape them as athletes, but more importantly as people.

Which brings me back to this moment during the B.C. Summer Games.

For three months, the goal had been the gold medal, for the kids, the coaches, the parents. In that instant, that goal was gone. Dutnall and Christie stood locked in this circle with a group of crying 12-year-old girls, speechless as they tried to process the disappointment of what had just happened.

Three hours later, the girls were at a family barbecue. They were laughing, hugging and having the time of their lives meeting kids from all over the province, sharing Facebook details to keep in touch and playing a game of cat and mouse with the boys’ teams staying in the same dorm.

The next morning, the girls were up at six to be on the field at 7 a.m. to warm up for the bronze-medal game at 8 a.m.

They played Zone 4 (Fraser River-Delta) in one of the most entertaining games I have ever witnessed. A goal in the last minute gave our team the bronze medal, and the kids erupted in a volcano of happiness, pride and relief. After the medals and pictures, there were the tearful goodbyes, the signing of souvenirs and the pledges to stay in touch.

Everyone wanted to win gold. But I couldn’t help but think the experience of suffering the loss, the process of building each other back up as a team and the result of going out and taking care of business the next morning was a more valuable experience in the long run.

When these kids are trying to get into university, going to job interviews, making life-changing decisions, these kind of events are invaluable in teaching them to deal with everything life throws at them. They know how you need to depend on your friends and family to help you through, and how you need to be there for them.

If you’ve been wondering whether you should get your kids involved in sport, do it. If they are involved in a sport, but don’t have coaches, volunteer.

Be a Dutnall or a Christie. The kids need you more than you’ll ever know.

You didn’t see much in the way of coverage for the Games. But every weekend we read about stabbings, shootings, arsons, assaults, gangs, drugs, etc.

The pull of the Downtown Eastside and its addiction issues never leave the pages, the websites or the newscasts.

There are people there from all over the province, their own form of B.C. Games, Zoned-out 5 versus Zoned-out 4, you could say. We continue to pour money into it, billions for counsellors, housing, policing, courts. Every election, municipal, provincial, federal, it’s a central issue. Despite the money, it never goes away.

I ask myself if those people were involved in sports as a kid, if they had coaches who cared, if they were involved in the arts and had instructors who inspired them, would they have ended up there?

As we drove away from the Aldergrove Athletic Park and sat at a red light, there was a boy sitting on the curb outside a convenience store. He looked about 12, about 40 pounds overweight and was sweating profusely while holding a mega-sized soft drink. I couldn’t help but think that this kid needs a Dutnall and Christie in his life.

I have never believed in the power of sport more than I do today.

Chapman, The Province’s Senior News Editor, can be reached at


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