Sport Culture : A survey of retired short track speed skater in Canada

This is a translated version of the french version

In the past couple of years, amateur athletes’ well-being has become a growing issue. This is evident when we see the surfacing of multiple scandals, abuse and bullying in different sport organizations throughout North-America.

A personal mission of mine has been to bridge the gap between science and application within the sport world. In that way, I always try to seek some form of objective truth – that’s the scientific method.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve developed, administered and analyzed a survey and the results of an exit interview for retired Speed Skating Canada athletes. This will serve as an example for implementation in order to look into a sport organization’s use of “best practices for governance”.

During an athlete’s career, they are not keen to talk freely about their sporting experiences. The objective of this survey was to provide the athlete an anonymous opportunity to relay their experience about their organisation’s level and use of transparency, accountability and focus on athlete general well-being. Free from an athlete agreement, these retired athletes can now give a more accurate account of their truths.

This survey was composed of retired athletes from Speed Skating Canada’s short track program. Inclusive and exclusive criteria are as follows:

  • Retired after the 2010-2011 season and beyond
  • To have trained at least 1 season at the national center of Montreal
  • To not currently be employed by Speed Skating Canada or be on one of its committees

55 athletes were contacted via Facebook messenger; 36 athletes have submitted responses to the survey. This survey was anonymous.

Here are the results

Sexes

Year of retirement

At the end of what year did you retire?

Age at the moment of retirement

In order th keep results anonymous, I will not provide the detailed of every age, but there was an even distribution throuhout all ages. From the initial list of skaters that the survey was sent to, ages could go from 19 years old to 35 years old.

Average age retirement in each olympic cycle was 24 years old during the Sochi cycle, 24.67 during the PyeongChang cycle and 23.99 during the present cycle.

National Team

Have you ever been part of the National team?

86% yes 13,9% no

Academic support

Did you feel encouraged, discouraged, or neither by your NSO (coaches, management, support teams, etc.) to pursue your scholarly pathway?

11.1% Encouraged 44.4% neither 44.4% Discouraged

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly discouraged, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly encouraged)

Managers & well-being

Do you think that your NSO’s managers placed enough importance on the human factor into their day-to-day processes?

11.1% Never 75% Rarely 11.1% Often 2.8% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Coaches & well-being

Do you think that your NSO’s coaches placed enough importance on the human factor into their day-to-day processes?

2.8% Never 58.3% Rarely 27.8% Often 11.1% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Philosophy

Do you believe that your organization followed a philosophy of winning and high-performance (at any cost) regardless of the expense to your well-being or the well-being of your team members?

25% No 75% Yes

Transparency

Do you feel that your organization was transparent, that is to say that information was shared with you when it was supposed to be, and in a clear and open manner?

16.7%% Never 75% Rarely 8.3% Often 0% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Sense of belonging

Athletes have reported that they felt like “a number within their organization”. Did you ever feel this way (replaceable and / or used to earn medals)?

5.6% Never 25% Rarely 47.2% Often 22.2% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Decisional process

Do you believe that athletes took part in the decision-making processes of the organization (selection, supervision, direction, mission, values)

50% Never 47.2% Rarely 0% Often 2.8% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Discretionary choices

Do you believe that the use of a discretionary choice, rather than the ranking from competitions, lowers the motivation of athletes?

69.4% Yes 30.6% No

Vision

Did you have confidence in your organization’s vision and sport focused direction (culture, performance, pathway, etc.)?

94.4% No 5.6% Yes

Accountability

Did you feel that your organization held its leaders and coaches in your organization held themselves accountable when issues arose or when issues were reported to them?

30.6% Never 63.9% Rarely 5.6% Often 0% All the time

The next figure is representative of the average athlete perceptions for each Olympic cycle ( -1 being strongly never, 0 being neutral, +1 being strongly all the time)

Do you have recommandations or any other commentaries that could help the quality of the sport environment in your organization? (open responses)

“When I first arrived, I really enjoyed my time as an athlete, felt part of the group and well taken care of. I felt I had freedom I felt that the organization worked well and that there was a focus on development rather than performance. However, as years progressed and leadership changed there became a greater emphasis and pressure for results. The human-side of being an athlete seemed to fade away into the background.”

“The process is way too slow and heavy when a decision need to be made.”

“The coaches need to some educational level to be able to coach the best athletes in the country, but in my opinion its lacks the human approach within all of the organisation and I strongly think that it would be a duty to make it mandatory for every staff in the organisation to take leadership classes so they can understand how to communicate with high performance athletes in a respectful and open manner.”

“When I was skating, there was no promotion and encouragement to actively be part int eh Game Plan program.”

“While skating there was never any promotion or encouragement to engage in Game Plan or any INS activites. Staff higher up in the organization had the chance and responsibility to promote life outside of sports but managed to repress Game plan.”

“The “knowing how to be” was not at the center of the team when I was there, the focus was entirely on the “know how” and that was at the expense and the well-being of many skaters.”

“Many questions asked in this survey made me rethink at my stat of mind when I stopped skating. At that time, I remember talking to my parents that I was feeling like a robot fighting for milliseconds. I was not having fun doing my sport. I took the decision to stopped and I never regretted.”

“The organisation need to understand that an athlete with a well balanced life will perform better in his sport. More, the athlete will stay in the sport longer.”

“All the right words were being said but the actions were not following. For example, the coaches were saying “we are better together” but were having favorites skaters, wich was ruining the team cohesion. There was an atmosphere of winning at all cost instead of having an atmosphere of “better together”.”

“The coaches and support staff often said to me that I should be involved in other things than sport (volunteering, school, work) but irregular schedules made impossible to involve myself outside of skating.”

“I found the atmosphere incredibly controlling. At the point that I was squared to do anything that could be seen as a “bad athlete” in the case that my coach use this against me in a selection decision. Globally, I stopped having fun because of this atmosphere and the politics and I retired.”

“The case of school has always been difficult for me in my career as an athlete. My willingness to go to university was critized often and the fact that I was missing one training per week for school was put negatively in my face at many occasion. Also, my biggest critic towards the organization is the willingness to create skaters without opinions or openness to the world. I think that they would gain so much to have engaged athletes who would see other things that the 4 walls of the rink.”

“The Next Gen concept is a big source of demotivations within the organisation at this moment. The fat to gave an external motivation (carding) at such a young age is destroying intrinsec motivation and when the athlete loose its carding at 21 years old, this skater stop skating.”

“I recommend an approach  more focused on the athlete as an individual (general well-being physically and psychologically, prespect of individual differences) over its performances. This would have the effect to increase the confidence, motivation and ultimately the performance of the athletes.”

“The need to offer academic and professional orientation services.”

“To be aware of the new managerial tendencies. (ex. Autodermination principle) Take classes about pedagogy. Improve gratitude towards athletes (primary ressources of any sport organisation). Value knowledge transmission by more experienced peers to younger athletes. Understand new generations.”

“Take care of the long term development of athletes and not just results on a year to year basis. Not considering speed skating as early maturer sport and bring 14-15 years old skaters at the Junior center.”

“Better support coaches (continuous formation). Decrease the number of discretionary choices (more weight to important competitions), talk more about academic pathway and the after sport life by the coaches or the organisation or a ressource person to guide athletes. Increase the flexibility by the coaches for training to be able to take more classes. Talk about the INS ressources (Game Plan, ressources person) and do a recognition for retiring athletes at the end of each season. I felt like I had to hide in my decision to retire even if every athletes will have go through that process one day.”

2 thoughts on “Sport Culture : A survey of retired short track speed skater in Canada

  1. This highlights a lot of issues within our sport that are rarely talked about. There are many athletes in long track as well that feel this way. Thank you for your research and for sharing this.

    Like

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