Team-building called critical for success

A sports psychologist shares stories from her time working with the New York Rangers and the Canadian Olympic team

Kimberley Amirault-Ryan remembers being on the phone with her mother when, all of a sudden, the people around her in New York began to panic.

It was her first day in the city to work as a performance consultant for the New York Rangers. She asked her mom if she knew if anything was going on. Her mom replied, ‘I don’t know,’ before the phone died.

Amirault-Ryan found herself in the centre of the city during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, learning that when the first plane struck the World Trade Centre, it disrupted cellphone service.

“Here I was on my first day in professional sport, and it’s 9-11,” said Amirault-Ryan, speaking to producers Jan. 30 at FarmTech in Edmonton.

“I share that story because even though not every day is as stressful as 9-11, we are all living in such a stressful world where we have so many things going on,” she said.

“Whether it’s personally or professionally, no matter what, we are expected to perform every single day.”

During her presentation, Amirault-Ryan explained the importance of building teams and relationships, using personal stories to show that anyone can persevere during difficult times.

In New York, for example, Amirault-Ryan managed to make it to Madison Square Garden, even though nearly everyone else was fleeing Manhattan.

Once there, she learned that nearly all 151 staff managed to show up to the arena.

She said Glen Sather, the president of the Rangers at the time, stayed back because he figured the staff, that were coming in from around the world would likely show up because they had nowhere else to go.

“What Glen (Sather) did with me, he did with every single one of us. He gave us this small task to calm down and have us feel that we are part of the team and part of the solution,” Amirault-Ryan said.

“When we were stressed and upset, he calmed us down and got us focused.”

Teamwork was critical during this time.

Amirault-Ryan managed to find a land-line to change her voicemail, telling it she was safe. This way, her mom would know she was OK when she listened to the new voice message.

Following that, she helped everyone else change their voicemails.

“Days and weeks after, (Sather) followed up with us, asking me how I was doing. I thought it was a 9-11 thing, but it’s an every day thing,” she said.

“He wanted everyone to feel like we were one team.”

Amirault-Ryan worked with the organization for four years, as well as with numerous other professional sports teams.

She was the sport psychology lead for the entire Canadian Olympic team during the Vancouver and Sochi games.

During her presentation, she shared anecdotes about her time with the Canadian men’s hockey team.

She said she learned it’s important to involve teammates who feel inadequate, showing them they are critical members.

To highlight this, she told a story about player Jonathan Toews and an unnamed teammate.

The unnamed player made the Olympic team, but wasn’t selected to play, causing him to feel embarrassed.

Toews noticed this and asked the player to help improve Toews’ game. The player had a history of outplaying Toews in the NHL, Amirault-Ryan said.

The player complied with Toews’ request. The two then practised together, managing to improve their game.

Amirault-Ryan said the coaches noticed this, and decided to put the unnamed player on the line. He then had an amazing Olympics, she said.

This shows that when people feel like they have something to offer, the entire team benefits.

Amirault-Ryan said these principles of inclusion and encouragement can be applied to any farm with family, friends, neighbours or employees.

“I want you to all think about who on your team is the Jonathan Toews and who is the player who needs that extra encouragement,” she said. “It truly is possible to set people up for success.”

The same goes for the individual, she added.

She said even though it’s tricky at times, goals can be achieved through persistence. It’s important to connect with the ‘why’ behind a goal.

She referenced an example of a man whose goal was to get healthy, allowing him to one day ride a bike with his grandson.

To keep him motivated, she said he slept in his workout clothes and had pictures of his grandson all around the house, as well as on his phone screensaver. When he worked out, he had a photo of his grandson next to him.

“It really allowed him to push through,” she said.

During Christmastime, the man sent her a card featuring a photo of him and his grandson riding their bikes.

“He’s now doing well health-wise,” she said. “It shows that focusing on that ‘why’ will help push you through tough times.”

  • Release it: Stop yourself from dwelling on the mistake.
  • Relax: Take deep breaths to calm yourself down.
  • Rewind: Look back at what went wrong. Find the solution.
  • Replay: Do the event over again in your head but, this time, have it so the mistake wasn’t made. This way, you are no longer feeling negative about what happened.
  • Go forward: Fake it until you make it. You can’t change the past, but you can control what’s in front of you.

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