catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 14 :: 2004.09.10 — 2004.09.23


Sport as it should be

An interview with Elaine Raakman

What passions and personal experiences prompted you to establish JustPlay?

I have always been passionate about sports, perhaps to a fault. I am very competitive. In the past I would push myself to dangerous extremes in an effort to achieve physical perfection. I was married to a professional cyclist and we lived in Europe. As a professional athlete much of your time and energy is focused on your physical being. I became very obsessed with the physical and mental discipline of professional athletics and although I myself was NOT a professional athlete, I pushed myself as if I was.

However, when my marriage ended and I came back to live in Canada with two young children, my perspective changed. All of the energy and effort I devoted to training each day failed to fulfill me. I redirected my energy and focus, and I went back to university to study Sport Management. I wanted to do SOMETHING that would have a positive, lasting impact on society. I really believe that JustPlay has very little to do with me—I am simply the conduit that God is using. The entire concept developed like a Polaroid picture during a Program Development class just months before my graduation! I went home that day, shared the idea with my boyfriend (now husband), and asked him if he could write a computer program that would provide the information I needed—the rest is history, as they say.

What sort of training do you have and what is your specific role in the organization? How have others helped you grow JustPlay?

I studied Sport Management at Brock University. My husband has been the backbone of JustPlay, although he works full time as a patent lawyer. He provided the initial computer program, and continues to guide me through the business decision-making process. We were also incredibly fortunate to have one of my best friends join the business as a partner. Karen Martin contributed time and money to the development of JustPlay when it was barely a reality. This is really amazing to me when I think about it, because I am an entrepreneur by nature I think—I enjoy the risk involved—but Karen is not a risk-taker by nature. So for her to invest so much of herself was probably much more courageous than anything I?ve done. We really couldn?t have gotten off the ground without her.

We also received some amazing support in terms of sponsorship. Sportex is a company that supplies artificial turf. They are a local company, that actually does most of its business in the U.S. Although the benefits to them were fairly limited, they saw the potential of JustPlay to positively impact youth sport and gave us money and material to support our public launch of the program.

By what methods does JustPlay achieve its mission of “creating an environment that teaches that there are ‘no excuses’ for poor sportsmanship”?

Our program is fairly scientific. The JustPlay program helps to minimize or eliminate the anecdotal nature of the youth sport environment. The youth sport environment is based on a volunteer model of operation. We definitely need to encourage and support the volunteers who make this system work, but we also need to recognize its limitations. Problem identification and resolution is extremely difficult because of the relationships that exist within this model: executive board members, coaches, players and parents have friendships and even working relationships with each other. So, JustPlay provides data/information about the circumstances and conditions under which problem behavior occurs. This allows the administrators to make data-driven staffing and policy decisions regarding any action or inaction that may be necessary to anticipate, avoid, or respond to problematic behavior among coaches, parents, and participants. Therefore we have created an environment that teaches that there are ?no excuses? for poor sportsmanship. Instead we have an environment that supports accountability and responsibility.

What does the ideal sports environment look like and what will be the long-term effects of fostering that environment for more people?

The ideal youth sport environment is one that strives to meet the needs of ALL children at PLAY. Broccoli is good for you, sport should be fun. If we are committed to creating a youth sport environment that emphasizes virtues such as sportsmanship, participation, fun, friendship, and skill development, we will go a long way in helping children and youth to make a lifelong commitment to sport and physical activity. Perhaps most importantly, we will be helping to create youth that are engaged as good citizens.

What elements of starting an organization like JustPlay have been challenging to you and what challenges do you expect in the future?

Without a doubt the biggest challenge is and will continue to be the ?sport builds character? myth. Our youth sport culture is unfortunately modeled after professional sport, which is to say, it is results-oriented ?winning is, if not everything, extremely important. For many parents, coaches and participants, sport is seen as a means to a glorious end. It is and will continue to be very difficult to eliminate the profit-taking nature from youth sport.

What are some of the societal problems that ultimately lead to various kinds of violence in youth sports? What factors typically instigate conflicts during games?

There are many theories regarding the social impact on the youth sport environment. The outrageous salaries of pro athletes, the competitive nature of the baby boomer generation, our ?me? oriented social norms, television and media, the trend toward organized activities for children at younger and younger ages, are all just a few of the ?excuses? made for the current state of affairs. Typically at games problems arise when the expectations of the parents, coaches and/or players are perceived as not being met. For example, as Johnnie?s mom, I might expect that a coach should give all children equal playing time. However, Johnnie?s coach expects that children, even though they are only 7, should recognize that sacrificing their playing time for a better player will help the team to win. Doesn?t everyone want to be on a winning team? Therefore, when Johnnie doesn?t get to play, the levels of frustration of Johnnie?s mom and subsequently, the coach, go way up. The same kind of scenario plays out regarding officials. Poor officiating is often cited as the ?excuse? for poor behavior. For example, ?if the official was more competent it wouldn?t have cost us the game and our team wouldn?t have made those death threats.? The expectation of coaches, spectators and players that officials should be infallible is simply unrealistic. Sometimes the officiating may be bad, in fact it may be terrible, but that is still no excuse to be verbally or physically abusive.

What is the relationship between good sportsmanship and good citizenship? What is your vision for the children who grow up skilled in sportsmanship because of JustPlay’s efforts?

The original goals of organized youth sport back in 1929 when Pop Warner created an organized football league for children were, sportsmanship, friendship, fun and citizenship. It has been said that, ?Sportsmanship is the starting point, if not the essence of good citizenship.? Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympics, said that participation was the most important aspect of the Olympics, not winning a medal. I envision children who will grow up knowing how to be gracious losers, empathic and yet motivated to contribute; children who understand the value and importance of being part of a team, having and sharing common goals and objectives; children who are healthy, fit and active.

To learn more about JustPlay, visit the organization?s <a href=“” target ="_blank">web site and check out two articles published in the August 13, 2004

Toronto Star, ?Abuse heaped on officials sparked JustPlay? and ?Program takes ugliness out of sport?.

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