Rink-side with Sacha LeBlanc
Sacha LeBlanc, a 20-year veteran speed skating coach, took in her first Special Olympics Canada Winter Games (SO CWG) in March as part of Team New Brunswick after 7 years of working with local Special Olympics athletes. An NCCP Certified coach in cycling, soccer, and speed skating, Sacha recently discussed some key lesson from her SO CWG experience.
coach.ca: In one word, how would you describe your experience at the SO CWG?
Sacha: ENERGY! There was a buzz in the air that you could feel. It was incredible! This energy came not only from the athletes, but from the coaches, the mission staff, team managers, the crowd, the officials and the volunteers. Usually, by this time in the season athletes and coaches are tired and are ready for the off-season but this year is different, we are all hungry for more.
coach.ca: Did you have any apprehensions about going to the SO CWG?
Sacha: None that related to the sport itself – I knew the athletes were ready. It’s the travel and being away from friends and family that worried me. I wasn’t sure how the athletes would react to that. Ultimately, it wasn’t an issue. We were really able to focus on the sport.
coach.ca: How was your experience as a coach at the SO CWG different from your experience as an athlete at the 2003 Canada Winter Games?
Sacha: I was more stressed and nervous as a coach! As an athlete you have control over your performance but as a coach you just have to hope that you have given your athletes all the necessary tools they need to spread their wings and succeed. As a competitor, I never realized that coaches wanted their athletes to reach their goals as much as the athletes themselves.
coach.ca: What are some coping strategies you used as a coach to keep the stress from affecting your coaching responsibilities?
Sacha: Roger, the other coach, and I established a routine for the athletes that really helped. Everything from lacing up, to warm-up, to practice, and debriefs, was part of the routine. We packed our bags with the athletes the night before and we prepared for what we were expecting and it gave us more confidence in the athletes. Routines are something you can do at home, at local events, at practice. Find what works for you. Of course, when our routine didn’t account for something, mission staff was a big help.
coach.ca: How has this multi-sport games enriched your coaching abilities?
Sacha: Having the chance to chat and share the ice during practices with coaches from the other provinces was a great learning experience. We were able to exchange ideas on new drills, new approaches, and about the general challenges we face. I am also heading home now with a new appreciation of what the Special Olympics movement is all about, I got to witness great performances and great sportsmanship and I am now feeling inspired to do more!
coach.ca: What did you learn during the SO CWG?
Sacha: First, it helped me understand what was possible and the athletic standard that is required to be competitive. It’s real life! NCCP workshops provide you with a wealth of information but you eventually have to deal with reality. Second, you need a huge support system. I learned that behind every athlete is an incredible team working hard to make their dreams come true. There was an unbelievable amount of support from families, mission staff, team managers, competition organizers and volunteers. As an athlete, I never saw it much, but as a coach I am now much more conscious of it. Finally, don’t shy away from asking questions of the officials, the mission staff, and the other coaches. They are a huge source of information!
coach.ca: What do you know now as a coach that you wish you knew when you started coaching?
Sacha: I wish I had realized how capable Special Olympic athletes are. When I first started coaching them, I had set barriers in my mind of things I didn’t think they would be able to accomplish. I figured certain drills or techniques were too complicated or advanced for them. They quickly proved me wrong! Special Olympians attack every challenge I put before them and they have gone way beyond the limits I had first set for them. I have learned my lesson and instead of seeing limits, I now see possibilities.