$1.2 M annual operating budget
8 medals at the 2014 Sotchi Paralympic Games
14 participants in CANU’s program
8 months in total program duration
In April 2015, the Canadian Para Alpine Ski Team and CANU join forces in the build up to the Pyeongchang 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in South Korea. Faced with the retirement of many of its veterans, the team is leaning on CANU to assist them in creating change and preparing for Pyeongchang 2018. This changing of the guard has inevitably led to leadership challenges, with coaches now shouldering the weight of transition and leading by instinct in an effort to bridge gaps and develop what has become a more youthful team. By focusing on themes relating to performance, state of mind, behaviour, standards of excellence, and “raison d’être”, CPAST management are hoping to redefine the team’s culture.
Through the partnership with CANU, each CPAST athlete follows a comprehensive development program where he or she will evaluate his or her own contributions to the team and play an active role in the team’s overall success by committing to change.
In the following video, we offer you a glimpse in the discussion on leadership that emerged from the on-water experience. Then, we present a written interview in which Jean-Sébastien Labrie, Canadian Para Alpine Ski Team Head Coach, gives us a first-hand account of the transformation that took place.
“ Along the way, each and every individual bettered themselves through introspection and self-awareness, which in turn facilitated self-reflection. One’s ability to be self-aware is critical in determining how to best contribute to the team. ”Jean-Sébastien Labrie
We felt a certain disconnect between staff and athletes on matters such as team standards and expectations vis-à-vis one another. This inevitably led to pushback and communication issues. After the Sotchi Games, the team’s composition drastically changed. Our focus was therefore to strengthen our foundations, communicate our vision for the 2018 Paralympic Games, ensure the buy-in of all our members, and create a dynamic where better results, both on and off the slopes, could be achieved.
Describe your experience with CANU. How did the program impact the team?
While preparing with Brianne (the team’s High Performance Director) and I, CANU helped identify and explain the root causes of our problems. This better understanding allowed us to make a proper diagnosis and helped shape our next steps.
We then attended, as a team, a series of workshops in Montreal over the course of a week. At first, we were all slightly taken aback – there were some concerns over whether or not our time might be better spent training. After all, training camp was usually held that same week. However, any and all doubts quickly dissipated. Eight months after the fact, we still discuss the experience – we built a solid foundation that serves as a constant reminder on where we want to be as a team.
After Montreal, Brianne and I attended coaching sessions where we focused on how to best implement the key takeaways from those workshops. CANU then rejoined the group one more time last November at our training camp in Panorama, British Columbia, for the final step of the program. We evaluated progress, both from an individual and a collective standpoint, and made adjustments based on our needs for the current season.
What were you able to achieve thanks to CANU’s involvement?
As a third party, CANU created an environment that promoted open communication for athletes and staff. Time (or a lack thereof) and emotions are great examples of factors that work against our ability to have genuine, open discussions in our day-to-day. CANU helped by encouraging such discussions. They also developed tools that will enable us to recreate this environment moving forward.
Along the way, each and every individual bettered themselves through introspection and self-awareness, which in turn facilitated self-reflection. One’s ability to be self-aware is critical in determining how to best contribute to the team.
We’ve definitely come out of this experience a much stronger team. We have a better understanding of who we are, where we want to be, and what everyone’s role is. Our team members have become better leaders, due in large part to the development of an environment that encourages and fosters leadership and communication. We also noticed heightened personal accountability and involvement.
Is there anything else about the program that you would like to highlight?
Personally, I was really impressed by how much we evolved over the course of a week. It was pretty cool!
Despite our initial doubts, I am very pleased with our decision to undertake the program. Bringing experts into the fold was critical in helping us reflect and rethink how we did things. As a neutral third party, CANU were successful in shedding light on issues that we wouldn’t have identified ourselves.
Something that really stood out to me was the amount of pressure they are constantly under. Their objective is to win medals at the Paralympic Games and, because their funding is dependent on those results, CPAST management’s biggest challenge is to find ways to win more.
Another thing that struck me was the level of humility displayed by the team’s management, especially when it came to the realization that they themselves could no longer take the team to greater heights. They identified the need to bring in a third party with the expertise needed to take that next step. I was impressed by their ability to balance the motivation to achieve better results with the realization that such results could not be achieved without proper support.
Throughout this experience, one of my most memorable experiences was when I met with the team during its training camp in Panorama, British-Columbia. I had the opportunity to witness first-hand the progress made by all of its members, especially from a leadership standpoint. The safe environment that we built together in June – back when the athletes were at the very heart of the discussion, expressing their vulnerabilities and defining their levels of commitment and accountability towards impeding cultural change – had achieved impactful results. I am convinced that seeing themselves in the videos put together by our teammate Guillaume stimulated dialogue and increased both individual and collective confidence. Thanks in large part to great leadership, each individual championed his or her own program in order to take that next step.