Concordia Commits to Helping Student Olympians
Balancing Both School and Sport Will Now be Made Easier for Olympic Athletes with Game Plan Program
It’s rare to find someone who grew up with a world-class athlete as a father. It sets a precedence of excellence—of always striving for the best and doing what it takes to get there.
In watching her father Cătălin Guică—a three-time national judo champion in Romania—Ecaterina Guică, a fourth-year psychology student at Concordia, found inspiration for the type of athlete that she wanted to become. “I was really hoping to be one of them one day,” she said.
And now she is. Guică placed ninth at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic games in judo back in August. Since returning to Montreal, she’s had her eyes set on the Olympic 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.
In order to qualify, Guică commits to a rigorous training schedule: two hours in the morning, from 9:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m., and again at night from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., five days a week. Sometimes, she said, she trains on Saturdays as well.
From Monday to Friday, in between practices, Guică will find herself sitting in a classroom on her way to finishing her undergraduate degree in psychology with a minor in linguistics.
Student athletes must always balance school and training. Guică said her own schedule leading up to the Games was really hard to manage, but she tried to only take two classes.
“When I look back, I realize it was really crazy and it was hard, but when you’re doing it, you can’t really acknowledge it, or else it’s going to be really hard to keep a positive attitude and still be motivated to […] go through with it,” she said.
For Guică and other student Olympians, finding stability in their hectic schedules will now be easier.
In early December, Concordia University became one of nine schools to join the pan-Canadian Game Plan Education Network program. A product of the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic and Paralympic Sport Institute Network, the Game Plan offers student athletes more resources to help them succeed in both aspects of their life. Education is one of its five pillars.
John Bower, Concordia’s associate director for student athlete services, said that most universities in Quebec have institutional policies on student athletes in place. Concordia, he said, is in the midst of preparing a proposal to follow suit. The policy would act as a framework for how the Department of Recreation and Athletics would like to help its athletes. The Game Plan would put those ideas into action.
“You’re an athlete, you’re not making millions of dollars, so it’s important to prepare for what’s coming after.” — Élise Marcotte, former Olympian
Although Game Plan remains separate for the Stingers varsity teams, Bower said that they’re hoping to create “a sense of connection between the varsity and our non-varsity student athletes in the university.”
As a student athlete, Guică said she would appreciate these types of programs. “It’s really hard. You’re not [at school] that much so it’s hard to get to know people and the school is really big,” she explained. “It would be nice if there was more networking for students who are athletes and aren’t necessarily on varsity teams.”
Elise Marcotte, marketing manager for the Game Plan and a former Olympian, explained that Quebec universities have always tried to support elite athletes with their studies. Marcotte herself completed her undergraduate degree in marketing at Université du Quebec à Montreal between the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, where she competed on Canada’s synchronized swimming team.
Marcotte didn’t have trouble alternating her focus between sport and education. While training, she focused on what was happening in the pool and vice versa when studying. “It was a balance that I had all the years leading up to making it to the Olympics, and I was able to keep that balance during my training years,” Marcotte said.
She said that her ability to manage both was partially due to the help she had from her schools. “Quebec universities [have] always been really interested in supporting athletes,” she said. Marcotte also explained that, even before Game Plan, Quebec prioritized helping athletes study and compete at once.
“You’re an athlete, you’re not making millions of dollars so it’s important to prepare what’s coming after,” said Marcotte. She cited research suggesting that balancing both commitments helps student athletes perform better as a whole.
According to the Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations, students who train are more successful overall. It says they scored higher on 40 of 41 developmental assets as compared to those who don’t participate in sports.
With this in mind and Game Plan in place, Marcotte hopes that more athletes will focus on their educations and planning their post-Olympic futures. “At least try to give it a shot at the same time,” she said.
At the moment, Bower said that Concordia has 20 to 25 students—although not necessarily Olympians—are involved in the program. He explained that as the Game Plan grows, it would ideally become another means of recruiting high-caliber athletes to the university.
“If we can get those students who are considering going to the States, but see that there’s all kinds of benefits [and] services, being offered by Canadian universities, we’ll certainly hope that that will assist the student-athlete in making the decision to come to Concordia,” he said.
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