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Pandemic has forced university athletics to slow down and pay attention, says head coach of women’s basketball at Langley’s TWU

‘We … often forget to celebrate the character of our athletes’
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Cheryl Jean-Paul, head coach of women’s basketball at Trinity Western University (TWU) spoke on on athletics, race and diversity at the Oct. 23, 2020 Spartan Sports Leadership Superconference. (TWU/special to Langley Advance Times)

“COVID-19 has enabled university athletics to slow down and pay attention to what’s happening in our world, and what’s been happening in our sport context for a long time,” said Cheryl Jean-Paul, head coach of women’s basketball at Trinity Western University and president of women’s basketball in the Canada West Conference.

In light of pandemic- related health concerns, this past June, U SPORTS announced the cancellation of six 2020 fall national championships. On Oct. 15, it further announced the cancellation of 2021 winter national championships in men’s and women’s basketball, hockey, swimming, track and field, volleyball and wrestling.

Jean-Paul said the pause in championship games has prompted the TWU athletic department to adapt their focus.

Jean-Paul was a one of the speakers at the 2020 Spartan Sports Leadership Superconference, a virtual event streaming on Oct. 23.

READ MORE: Spartans bench boss wins coach of the year

Ahead of the conference, Jean-Paul reflected on the importance of diversity.

“We tend to see the world from our perspective, whether that’s in sport or outside of sport,” she observed.

“We don’t often question why we do things a certain way or why we believe certain things, until someone from a different background or cultural foundation sees life differently and interprets life for us from their context.”

Diversity can challenge teams to grow, she believes.

“Diversity within a team or program allows everyone to gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them, but also of themselves as they are stretched in their thinking.”

Jean-Paul believed that diverse perspectives create potential for learning. “If guided properly, this can create such a social awareness that we become relevant to what’s happening around us, and this builds into our team culture and sport identity,” she said. “That can’t be gained in the same way if you are solely surrounded by people who are exactly like you, who think, react and asks questions from the same lens.”

Joining her on the Diversity Panel were six other coaches from various cultural backgrounds.

“We are excited to be joined by a panel of great coaches and organizational leaders who, despite having experienced the harshness of racism, have such optimism for how the sport world has a platform to change the future,” she said.

“I’m hoping attendees will find a new boldness to question themselves and their organizations for how we support and celebrate diversity through who we are as leaders, communicators and influencers,” she continued.

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Jean-Paul is now in her 11th season at TWU. Throughout her years as head coach, the Spartans women’s basketball teams have accumulated 103 wins and have made 4 playoff appearances. Winning, however, is not the entire focus of Jean-Paul’s leadership.

“We celebrate our athletic accomplishments but often forget to celebrate the character of our athletes, who they are as people and what they’ve had to overcome to even get to the university level of competition,” she said.

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