"Believe in the transformational power of Athletics coupled with a University Education." - Greg Ryan

"Believe in the transformational power of Athletics coupled with a University Education." - Greg Ryan
Athletic Director, Greg Ryan, had the following message for Student Athletes & Coaches at Augustana's recent Colour Night Celebrations.

Last fall I was asked the question: What gets you out of bed and excited to come to work each day? I must admit I did not have a great answer. It has been a difficult two years.  Being involved in amateur athletics in Canada requires you to seek affirmation for what you do anywhere that you can. So in January, when I got a call from The University of Calgary I must admit I got a little more "hitch in my giddy up" as Larry the Cable guy describes it. I was invited to the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, since a team I coached in the late 80s was being inducted. This team competed before many of you were born, before Al Gore invented the internet, and was at the time you actually had to physically go to the library to get resources for a paper you may be writing.

I was surprised to find that the greatest affirmation was not in the external reward of being in the Hall of Fame, but rather the greatest affirmation came through three conversations I had that evening with three athletes that I had not seen in 30 years. You see, I believe in the transformational power of Athletics coupled with a University Education.  Not everyone does, and I needed a wee bit of validation. To date I had only my personal experience to recite, so, I am going to share briefly with you the stories of three very different athletes and the impact that their team experience had on them and perhaps by extension how that might impact you. My purpose in doing this is to help validate the extraordinary efforts of you as athletes, trainers, and perhaps help everyone in the room have a greater appreciation for the efforts of the coaches.

But first some context for those that don't know: I coached in Calgary for 20 years, 13 of those years the team won 5 Conference Championships, had countless all stars, appeared at the National Championships 13 times finishing no worse than 4th all but one time. Many players went on to play pro in Europe, played on our national team and 2 played in the Barcelona Olympics We appeared in the National final 3 times winning twice with the 88-89 team being undefeated in Canada. We were very good for a very long time.  The overall "body of work" is remarkable, yet going undefeated is really, really extraordinary. However, winning for me has always been an indicator of character and thus more important than the actual winning. Once character is built winning takes care of itself.

If you have read Charles Duhigg's book the power of habit you will note that he speaks of Cornerstone habits.  These are usually quite simple, like making your bed when you get up. His research suggests that you build success on fundamental habits done each day. Interestingly, the Dinos Volleyball program had three cornerstone habits:  1) be on time 2) go for every ball 3) take responsibility for your actions.

So here are three quick stories:

Scott Miller came to the Dinos Volleyball program after being cut from the men's basketball team. He was 6'3", touched over 11 feet on spike jump testing, but had not played volleyball since grade 9. We selected him because of the physical possibilities of a really good jumper and the fact that he worked very hard in the tryout camp. He played very little in his first two years but in his third year, he became a starter. In his final year in the National Championship final he got set six times (in volleyball terms he was a non-factor as a hitter.) However, he played his role to perfection. He made three very important digs in the second set of the finals that stopped the opposition in their tracks, took the wind out of their sails allowing us to win the entire match in 45 minutes in the first ever televised men's volleyball National Championship Final (on TSN). He is now the father of two, a high school physical education teacher at Lord Beaverbrook High School in Calgary for 20 years. At the end of the evening he told me the following, "the reason why our team was undefeated was that we were unselfish. We refused to let small things upset our resolve. We did not care who played, how many times one got set, or that the coach was constantly pushing us to improve. How did we learn unselfishness? I think we learned unselfishness through 'Ryan Time'." I asked him to explain. Scott replied, "You always said if you weren't 5 minutes early you were late, and being on time was an act of unselfishness. If anyone was late they were responsible for that stupid tool kit we thought you bought at a garage sale. You made it the tape kit. You packed enough stuff in it to outfit an operating room. It was heavy but that was your point. The burden of unselfishness is sometimes heavy. And if one was late you were stuck with the "tape kit" until the next guy was late.  Eventually, the unlucky player who was late might have to carry it that to games for months, since everyone strived so hard to be on time. We hated Ryan time, but through that we learned a practical way to be unselfish. I teach that to my kids every day. I am now coaching my son's 15 year old team. In a recent tournament we defeated a much higher ranked team. The opposing Coach said after the match, 'I can't believe your team they play like such a team, they are so unselfish, especially number 5'." You guessed it Scott's son is number 5.

Shawn Wallich, came to us from Penticton, BC, our only out of province player. His father suffered greatly because of MS, and as a result Shawn became an Occupational Therapist, his wife is a nurse. Shawn competes regularly at the age of 48 in 100-150 mile marathons. I said, "How did you learn to do that?" He replied that he learned that from "going for everything" in practice.  I asked him to explain. He said "You made us understand that every contact was crucial in practice (and by extension that you should do everything as well as possible) and you did that through 10 up.  If someone did not go for a ball on defense during practice then everyone on the team did 10 up.  If this happened again in the same practice 20 up then 40, then 80 up. The most we ever did was 80 up.  The purpose of the drill was to learn to override our own occasional laziness and desire to take short cuts.  Doing 10, 20, 40, 80 up taught me to be prepared and when necessary that I had a much deeper reservoir of grit than I had previously thought. Hence, I now know how to diligently prepare and then run these very long races. I learned how to do something well and then extend my self beyond what most people think is possible."

And finally, Doug Wiebe or Dr. Doug Wiebe as he is now known, was voted least likely to graduate on our team since he only studied twice in his entire undergrad degree at U of C.  Doug earned his Masters at Indiana State in Criminology and a PhD in Social Ecology from UC Irvine in Los Angeles in 2006.  He is co-author of 29 different studies. He took me aside at the end of the evening and said. "I need to apologize for not giving you everything I had". I asked him to explain, because at 6'5" tall, a lefty and a great athlete, he should have been a "shoo in" for the National Team. He said, "I came to practice very day to work as hard as I could but I did not understand till I was in the middle of graduate work the value of personal responsibility. You preached this through the weight room. It was our job to go do the hard, personal and lonely work of making sure that we worked out in the off-season and thus to take responsibility for our own development. Some of us did not see fast enough results and we lost interest. In the middle of a PhD, I finally understood how hard, lonely and personal that it was to be accountable, yet it was the greatest gift I have given myself." He continued, "You see that lesson in the people on this team that did take heed, conquered themselves and have done great things as athletes, I was lucky to be confronted again by this as a graduate student and conquered it. I hated it when you said you will never know how good you can be unless you train hard in the off season. Well, as a graduate student I began to understand how good I could be. I found that I was really adept at many things including thinking deeply about difficult topics."

So in research, one inevitably asks the "so what" question. What can these three teach you:

1) Continue to cultivate unselfishness. There is evidence all around here.  Nicole Brockman and Brett Ponich started Vikes for Tykes and raised almost $5,000 in Toys with the help of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee for local children at Christmas and sick kids at the Stollery. Darian Smigorowsky, Connor Gusdal, Spencer Marion and Mike Stasuik spent time with Special Olympics basketball. Rebecca Bates, Logan Pasishnik, Morgan Rigelhof, and Meghan Sly coached volleyball in the community Shea and Beliana coached community basketball. There are countless others involved in this community. My conservative estimate is that we put 2000 volunteer hours into the Camrose area.

However, we also need to recognize the extraordinary unselfishness of our coaches. You probably don't know that Coach Gusdal recruited recently in North Battleford, I never see the bill for this, or the hours Coach Galenza spent working on a Curling National Championship for his athletes, or the hours Coach Lyons spends in gyms in Alberta seeking great talent for her team, I never see a bill for that either. This behavior is consistent among our coaching staff.  I would ask one thing from you as athletes, a simple request, call them coach rather than by there first name, this is distinctly un-Canadian but it confers respect for all the things they do on your behalf that you never see.

2) Know that your well is far deeper than you think. It is self evident that athletes on this campus do tremendous things, 50 National Scholars, Conference Medals, All Conference awards, and All Canadians, however the well is still deeper. How about 75 National Scholars for example? How about 5 conference banners?

3) Be accountable. Use the weight room this summer to nail this cornerstone habit of personal responsibility. Don't do this to win a conference championship, do it to better understand who you are and the deep reserves that you have. The wins always follow.  Also, use your study habits moving towards your exams to strengthen your habit of personal responsibility - not to get an 'A', but to achieve understanding. I guarantee that you will be amazed at how much deeper your understanding of the subject will be the more you take responsibility. Better grades always follow.

Finally, to the Coaches. Please understand how valuable you are. Sometimes, like me you have to wait for 30 years to see evidence that your impact was what you had hoped it might be.

Headline photo by ProSports Photography; group photo courtesy Greg Ryan