Meet Special Olympics Team Canada 2019 Honorary Coach: Three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean

An In the Spotlight interview on the Special Olympics Canada website

Marnie McBean with daughter Isabel and a Special Olympics Team Canada athlete.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel with Special Olympics Team Canada soccer player George Ricardo.

Canadian rower and three-time Olympic gold medalist Marnie McBean has passed on her expertise as an official Team Mentor to Canadian athletes at five Olympic Games and two Pan American Games. 

The Olympic champion is gearing up for her latest leadership role as Honorary Coach for all 109 athletes on Special Olympics Team Canada for the Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019, taking place in the United Arab Emirates March 14 to 21.

Marnie and daughter Isabel try out some races at Athletics Training Camp.
Marnie McBean and daughter Isabel participate at a Team Canada training camp.

“I really want to bring my experiences of working with generic, high performance athletes and continue that on and pass the same knowledge through to the Special Olympics athletes,” McBean said. “They have the same fears and doubts and confidences that any other athlete I’ve ever worked with has.”

While it’s McBean’s first time as Honorary Coach at the Special Olympics World Games, she’s been involved with the movement since the early 1990s.

According to McBean, once she started to bring home medals from the Olympic Games, she was asked to attend a lot of events – and Special Olympics Canada events were her favourite, because she loved meeting the athletes.

“That sort of interaction always made it just so lovely and real,” she said. “I got to see them and their joy and as much as I was being asked to come and share my medals and my experiences – they were always super quick to share their medals and their experiences too.”

As Honorary Coach, McBean – with 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter Isabel in tow – has visited a number of Special Olympics Team Canada training camps over the past few months to offer words of wisdom as athletes prepare for the world stage.

She’ll also be in Abu Dhabi for the nine-day competition, offering inspiration, insight and, of course, to cheer on the team.

With less than 30 days until World Games kick off, McBean has three main messages for the team:

1. YOU ARE THE ROLE MODELS NOW.

In every speech she’s given so far, McBean assured Team Canada athletes they no longer need to look to the Champions Network – a group of Canadian celebrities and professional athletes, including McBean, who help promote the movement – for inspiration or guidance.“They are becoming their own Champions Network – they are community role models now,” she said.

2. FOCUS ON CONFIDENCE.

“For the last year or more they’ve been working on their competence and looking at all the things they need to do better,” McBean said. 

But now is the time to shift that perspective.

When they arrive in the UAE, Team Canada will look at their competitors and notice everything they’re doing right, she said, so they need to do the same for themselves.

“An ambitious person will always feel that there’s more to do,” she said. “That’s good to think when preparing, but a bad thing to think in the middle of a competition.”

“From now through to the Closing Ceremony, the consistent message will be to focus on our confidence and everything that we’re doing right – because we are prepared.”

3. ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE.

McBean cautioned athletes not to have “blinders” on while in the UAE.

“Have fun and be eyes open and meet people,” she said. “Take in the experience of travelling all the way to Abu Dhabi – there’s a lot to be taken in in a non-sport sense.”

Do you look for solutions to problems or problems to solutions?

 In many different ways I’ve written about being open to new ideas and change. In my book I shared a story about snowboarding through a gladed run. This particular story spoke of the importance of looking and moving to the spaces around the problems and not looking at the problems themselves. If you want to hit the trees, I concluded – look at the trees. If you want to ‘hit’ the fresh powder, well then …(For that full story click here, but I’ll also put a link at the end of this message.)

Previous to this post, I’ve also written about the value of being young and naïve vs. well seasoned and experienced. I have found that it’s not uncommon for experience to sometimes act as a burden when it comes to problem solving. When we think we know it all we start to become those who know less and less. At some point, because of our experiences, we inadvertently become closed off to challenge of new or changing ideas. That’s when we hear from others, or think to ourselves, “I’ve been doing it this way for X number of years – why would I / should I change?” Our well-honed routines provide us with the comfort that we know what we are doing but they put us at risk for becoming less curious about what we could be doing differently.

So, I come back to my opening remark; do you look for solutions to your problems, or Continue reading

Are you ready? Ready is relative.

On approach to their 3rd Olympics : Me with Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue and their coaches Patrice and Marie-France (who I mentored in 2006!) What a team!

I met Kaillie at the 2006 Olympics – a 1st Winter Games for both of us… Now she’s at her 4th, going for 3rd gold.

 

With the 2018 Olympics starting soon, I’ve found myself in a recurring conversation with athletes who are about to test years of their preparation against the World. Most of the athletes I’ve been talking with are going to their 3rd and 4th Olympics; they are successful and experienced veterans and yet they are troubled by the question “Are you Ready?”.

 

 

The question isn’t a conundrum for just Olympians… it’s one that – in the presence of ambition – will (should?!) always circle back on you…..

So how many times do you get asked – Are you ready?
– Is the answer you give the same one that’s in your head? Ready is relative.
Consider the Dunning Kruger Effect. It says….
If you ask an incompetent person “Are you ready?” or “Do you know enough?”- because they are incompetent and they believe that what they know is everything – they will tell you, AND believe, that they are as ready as they could possibly be.
On the other end of Dunning Kruger scale…
If you ask a competent person “Are you ready?” or “Do you know enough?”- because they are competent, and know how much there is to know – they can’t say and BELIEVE that they are as ready as they could possibly be. (Consider – I imagine that if you ask Stephen Hawking what he knows about the universe – he will tell you that he knows almost nothing. )

Continue reading

Be Extraordinary – Western Alumni Gazette – A chat with Marnie

A chat with Marnie about Performance and Winning

by Jason Winders, MES’16, PhD’16 | October 13, 2017

One of the most decorated athletes in Canadian history – most notably as a three-time Olympic gold medalist – Marnie McBean, BA’97, LLD’03, shares what she learned from a life on the water at Western and beyond.

My ultimate thing was not to win, but to get better. Getting better all the time meant attention to detail, to learning, to figuring things out. And all that – that attention to things – took care of winning.

I was not a star athlete. I always made teams. But I was never the star. I was not a scorer or a playmaker. I was a grinder who moved things along. But I have come to understand that everyone is excellent at something; it is the lucky few who find what that is.

I had great water feel. I wasn’t a great rower at the beginning, but somebody saw something about me on the water. And that was me – it was being on the water, how rowing boats moved, knowing how a team moved together. I loved it from the first day.

Get a feel for your water. I cannot hit a three-pointer. I don’t have that kind of coordination. But I have water feel.

When you find that thing you are great at, it is easy to put time into it. It will always feel like a choice. It will always feel like you are choosing to be more. Continue reading