Leading the Way
Courage to be Great
Every girl has a place in BSS athletics – and should dare to take it
University of Houston professor and best-selling author Brené Brown focuses much of her research and writing on the human potential unleashed when a person can accept being both vulnerable and brave. In her academic study, she has uncovered a fundamental truth: “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.”
What does this mean for a girl’s education? For one, that healthy growth and development are rooted in feeling secure, accepted and included. For another, that the determination to be one’s best should not be confused with being perfect. A school culture that fosters belonging provides a strong bedrock for a girl’s developing identity. She then acquires the courage to take on new challenges and avoid the trappings of perfectionism. As the saying goes, fear kills more dreams than failure ever will.
Head of School Angela Terpstra believes that athletics provides an ideal balance of security, risk-taking and the occasional setback.
“So much comes together in the lives of girls when they participate in sports,” she explains. “They gain confidence within a supportive team environment, while at the same time experiencing the inevitable sting of making a mistake or losing a game. Very rarely will teams only experience
success on the field, ice or court. And this is a good thing. The goal is for our girls to develop habits: the habit of trying something new, of learning from failure, of adapting to change.
“Of course, there is much to be celebrated in our girls’ wonderful wins!” adds Ms. Terpstra . “The beauty of sport is that reaching toward that win requires a significant amount of inner strength and perspective. Each girl needs to know who she is and where she can contribute and improve, which are insights needed for life. That’s why we encourage every BSS girl to find and deepen her passion for athletics, beginning with our youngest students.”
Sheila Allen, the new Director of Athletics for the Junior and Middle Schools, agrees that sport offers a unique stage for supporting the developmental needs of girls.
“The physical challenge of athletics is just one piece of the puzzle,” she explains. “Physical skills and fitness are important, as a healthy body supports a healthy mind. But sport also offers a unique opportunity for identity formation and building peer relationships. A girl’s sense of self emerges through athletic pursuits, as does her understanding of relationships. She learns how to set goals and work with others to achieve them. So many attributes of the Signature of a BSS Girl are developed through the joys and demands of athletics – whether on traditional teams or in individual pursuits like strength training, rock climbing or paddle boarding.”
Though new to BSS, Ms. Allen speaks from experience. She has a Master’s of Kinesiology in Coaching, decades of combined experience as a physical education teacher and Athletic Director at Havergal College, and expertise in coaching women’s varsity soccer at the university level. She has also taught the Health and Physical Education component at OISE and led professional learning for teachers on the impact of physical activity on student learning achievement.
“If I had to identify one passion I have as an educator, it would be student engagement in athletics,” Ms. Allen explains. “Research tells us that girls start to drop out of sports in middle school. But studies also show that those who keep playing are more confident and secure in their identities. The key is to have an athletic program that draws girls in all the way through to graduation. That means offering a range of both competitive and recreational activities. Not every BSS girl wants to be an elite athlete. But every BSS girl can be engaged in physical activity and reap its benefits. That’s my dream.”
Those benefits include higher academic attainment. Studies have shown again and again that physical exercise stimulates cognitive functioning – in particular, those areas of the brain associated with learning and memory. In a school setting, any girl engaged in regular exercise is optimizing her academic potential.
Sharon JAMESON ’90, Director of Athletics for the Senior School, shares Ms. Allen’s passion for student engagement and her “athletics for everyone” philosophy. The two leaders work in close partnership to steer the athletics program for the whole school. “I’m a BSS Old Girl, and athletics was, and still is, a big part of who I am,” says Ms. Jameson. “So much learning happens on a sports team, and you can’t underestimate the benefits of camaraderie. The sense of trust, support and friendship among team athletes runs deep and provides the security and acceptance girls need be their best. No matter her individual skill level, every girl is recognized and appreciated if she brings her best to practices and games. That’s all team members ask of each other. The team won’t always win, but each member still succeeds, just by putting herself out there and daring to reach higher.”
After graduating, Ms. Jameson returned to BSS in the fall of 1999 to fill a maternity leave as a math teacher. She then taught math and physical education for a number of years before transitioning into a full-time phys ed position. She has coached volleyball, swimming, track and soccer – with her Senior Girls Soccer team becoming the 2017–18 Division II CAIS Tournament Champions – and also coaches outside BSS for the North Toronto Soccer Club.
“I love working with both elite athletes and pure enthusiasts,” says Ms. Jameson. “At whatever level a girl plays, she reaps the same rewards: better fitness, greater self-esteem and self-confidence, improved mental health and higher academic achievement. Plus, of course, improving at her sport! In the next few years, we will be looking at new ways to meet the variety of interests and needs of all our students. For example, a girl who doesn’t make a team in Grade 9 needs another opportunity to learn and grow as an athlete. Maybe later she’ll be ready for a Grade 10 team. Or maybe she just wants to play throughout high school for fun. Either is great for her growing sense of self.”
Ms. Allen and Ms. Jameson have stepped into the shoes of outgoing Director of Athletics, Jane King, and plan to build on recent successes within the program. The ski team, for example, won gold at the CISAA Championships in slalom and giant slalom, and team member Steffi Ralph won individual gold and silver. In addition, at a rousing community event at the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the Senior Girls hockey team won the Foster-Hewitt Cup in the annual contest with Havergal College. Ms. King also introduced rugby to the school for the first time, which proved to be an exciting new challenge embraced by students.
“Sport is a great builder of spirit,” says Ms. Terpstra. “All of our athletes and teams have it in them to bring their sport to the forefront and showcase their excellence and their heart for the entire BSS community. With Ms. Jameson and Ms. Allen leading the way, I know all our girls and young women will find something they love to do or play while here at BSS and they will carry that throughout their lives.” They will also carry a sense of belonging that gave them the courage to be great, not perfect.
LIV SCHNEIDERMAN, JUNIOR SCHOOL
When Liv Schneiderman arrived at BSS for Grade 3 – with older sister Lela in the Middle School – she had already been playing hockey for a few years. “I play left wing and I’m pretty comfortable with both skating and shooting,” says Liv. “When I joined the BSS hockey team, there were a lot of beginners. I really enjoyed helping them to be stronger skaters, and there was so much improvement over the year!”
Liv also signed up for track and field at BSS and especially enjoys running the 100m and throwing the javelin. “I think every girl should join teams and find out what they’re good at. There is a range of skills on every team, and everyone fits in somewhere. Plus we all learn when to lead and when to follow, because you have to do both in sports. But the best thing about athletics at BSS is the friendships! You make new friends when you win and lose together. That makes us close as a team but also in class and everywhere else. That’s my favourite part.”
Liv is planning to try some new sports, such as soccer, so she can enjoy being mentored by other girls. She will also keep playing hockey and competing as a track and field athlete.
HANA MILLER, MIDDLE SCHOOL
Hana Miller moved from Vancouver to Toronto six years ago, choosing BSS because “everyone was just so nice when we visited for the tour!” She began playing soccer in House League on the West Coast. Once in Toronto, she started playing rep with the North Toronto Soccer Club and advanced to their Ontario Player Development League team. She practices and competes five to six times per week for North Toronto soccer while also playing basketball, hockey and softball at BSS.
“What I like most about sports is the collaborative aspect,” says Hana. “Working as a team to achieve a goal, helping each other get better, dealing with disappointment together – all of that is about combining our hearts and minds and skills to be our best.”
Hana also appreciates the skills that she carries over to other areas of her life.
“You’ve got to learn how to improve – whether you’ve lost a game or done poorly on a test. You’ve got to make mistakes and figure out how to fix them for next time. You’ve got to give and accept constructive feedback. Those skills are as important in sports at BSS as they are in life.”
Now in Grade 9, Hana enjoys playing on BSS teams with older girls – and is especially looking forward to hockey – so she can learn from the best and improve even more.
GRACE FIRMAN, SENIOR SCHOOL
You might call Grace Firman a renaissance young woman when it comes to athletics. She was on the soccer, volleyball and badminton teams in Middle School. In her Grade 11 year, she played field hockey, varsity ice hockey, tennis and was captain of her rugby team, a newly-added sport at BSS.
“None of us had touched a rugby ball before!” explains Grace. “We watched some games to see how it works and then just started. We learned so much in one year and got better every day. And I love contact sports!”
In addition to the challenge of learning new athletic skills and strategies, Grace embraces the emphasis at BSS on uncovering your passion, developing mental tough- ness, and learning how to get back up after being knocked down by a losing game.
As a role model for other girls, she received the Senior Athlete of the Year Award at the end of Grade 11.
“Everyone has a place here, everyone is good at something, and we all get to find out how to be our best self – which doesn’t mean having to be the best. I love how much I have learned about getting along with others and moving past personal discomfort. And I love the friends I have made for life. That’s what BSS athletics means to me.”
Karen Sumner, Ph.D., is co-owner of the freelance writing company Sumner & Lang.