UTURNS: When Talent Meets Opportunity

By Randy Uens, Aug. 12, 2021

Recent events such as the NHL draft, the NBA draft, the Olympics, National team camps, return to minor sports after the pandemic etc etc, have spurred a lot of conversation on social media about how do athletes get to the highest level in sports; how do you get the chance to be in the Olympics?

Why does one athlete succeed and another one does not? Why not me? All of these questions resonate with many issues being discussed locally in sports. It is a very complex discussion.

It is true that success is when preparation meets opportunity and the vice versa. But it is also true that success is when talent meets opportunity.

So many great athletes never make it to the next level, or even worse, many potentially great athletes never get the opportunity because the opportunity was never afforded.

Brighton native and former Wellington Duke Ben Roger was recently drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the 2nd round of the NHL draft.

There was some minor vitriol on the internet questioning the Senators’ decision making of taking Roger in the 2nd round when he may have been available much later.

This draft had so much uncertainty due to the pandemic. Teams were taking educated guesses at almost every draft position after the top 10.

What the Senators did was take advantage of something they can control and trust, which is the input of their staff.

Belleville Senators staff had a ringside view of Roger’s development this past year. Adding 30 pounds and growing to 6’4”, Roger had blossomed despite the fact that no one could see him play this year.

Once again Ben’s hard work and determination to get better may have been unnoticed by the masses, but the Senators connection to Belleville got him through the door with the organization. His talent was ready for the opportunity. Congrats Ben!

Sometimes it’s not just about the elite athletes making it to the next level, it’s also about athletes getting the chance to compete at all. Often this is a socio-economic discussion that often leads us down a complicated discussion of gender or race and economic privilege.

I want to derail that tangled web and simplify the discussion with another cliche … “It takes a village to raise a child.” As a society it behooves us to invest in our youth through sports. This is not about creating the next LeBron or McDavid, it’s about giving opportunities to individuals to be the best they can be which in turn creates better human beings.

There are organizations such as Jump Start and First Start that are great charitable organizations doing great work, but they are also advertising vehicles for big brands. Charity starts at home (lots of cliches today) and often we as individuals sometimes need to look at how we approach our sports to create more opportunities.

I’m proud of my dad for many reasons. He was a dedicated educator and always was and is a great guy. One of my favourite things he did as an educator was to provide opportunities for some of his students that maybe they may not have gotten by opening doors or directing them to opportunities.

One young man went to my dad’s school in Tyendinaga. He was being raised by a single mom and the family didn’t have the resources to allow for him to participate in lacrosse. Just getting him to the games was sometimes a challenge for them.

His mom did an unbelievable job, but it’s difficult with a big family on one income at the best of times. My dad encouraged him to come to our team and the team made it work so that he could play for us.

This young man went on to be one of my favourite teammates of all time and became a very good multi-sport athlete not to mention a pretty damn good lacrosse goalie. He has gone on to be a very successful police officer working in Western Ontario. “TY” was the glue guy that our team needed.

TY and I went on to play junior lacrosse together in Peterborough. He was another one of those great athletes from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory that we are discussing in this edition.

A few of the old lacrosse guys got together and were discussing war stories. It was about how Tim “TY” Kunkel started playing with us. It was a real turning point for our team in that we now had an elite goalie that helped us win the provincial championship. None of us believed we would have won without TY in net that year.

Once we started talking we kind of realized that we probably had 4 or 5 guys that played for us that year that may not have been able to play on that provincial winning team if it wasn’t for the help of all the families on that team, whether it was rides, shared hotel rooms or discounts absorbed by the others, those families bonded together to create those opportunities for all of those kids.

Sometimes it is awkward for families to even start the process of sports.

The costs are sometimes daunting and the desire to maintain privacy is understood. There are funding opportunities that families need to be aware of but it’s not easy to know where to find these sources of assistance.

Corporate sponsorships such as Jump Start have great programs that definitely make a difference. Locally, service groups like the Rotary Club have programs to help kids get involved with sports as well.

Belleville natives Jeff Broekema and some of his friends have created an organization locally called Pay It Forward Sports that is focused on raising funds for those athletes that may not have the resources to get into sports. They have a number of events planned to not only raise money but to raise awareness of how we need to support some of these potential athletes that may miss out for various reasons.

Many local sports groups have funds to help potential athletes to get involved. These funds or programs are often not advertised or promoted.

Total Sports has set up a directory for local businesses at Totalsportsquinte.ca/directory. This directory needs to include contacts for athletes assistance. If your organization has such a fund, please let us

know and we will get the word out by including it in our sports directory or you can add yourself free by clicking on the link.

It doesn’t take much to change the course of a young person’s life. Sports can be that conduit for positive expression and personal development.

We need to create more opportunities for young athletes so that more of these talented athletes get the opportunity to be prepared for success;

So when that opportunity to succeed arrives, they are ready.

Tip of the Week

Athletes are starting to realize the correlation between sleep and performance. We have always known that a well rested athlete performs better but research is showing that optimum performance requires attention to details as it relates to sleep and recovery. There are a number of cool gadgets and apps out there to help track your sleep and monitor your responses. If you are an elite athlete, it is something that you should be monitoring closely.

These are my own views and do not reflect the views of Total Sports Magazine, Dukes Sports & Entertainment or the Wellington Dukes Hockey club.