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Sports Are Much More Than Fun and Games

By Captain Lisa Evong, Public Affairs Officer, 5 CDSG –

We have all heard that a healthy body helps a healthy mind and sports and fitness are a great way to achieve both of these goals. The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) framework places emphasis on sports being important for the mental and physical health of all members, but why is it so important?

Just over a century ago, American philosopher William James called for the creation of a “moral equivalent of war”: the search for something – other than war, that would enhance a person’s self‐discipline, hardiness and self‐sacrifice. Nowadays it is better known as “sport.”

In fact, the Olympics were partly designed so that countries would compete on the sporting field rather than on the battlefield. Young men would train to be athletes rather than warriors – fascinating, isn’t it?

Sport is now seen as a way of uniting people rather than dividing them. People can translate the hard work they’ve put into their sport by working harder to be a better student or employee and a better person overall. Working towards a goal while cooperating with others on a team can teach players and coaches the value of hard work, commitment, dedication, friendship, and important life skills. Since the CAF’s Military Ethos is based on a unifying spirit that brings all members of the CAF together along with the Canadian public, it only makes sense to encourage sports among all ranks.

The CAF Sports Program is divided into two main sub-groups, the intramural and the extramural programs. At the local level, every Base, Unit and Wing conducts intramural or local sporting events for all levels of athletes. Extramural competition includes Regionals, Nationals and Conseil International du Sport Militaire, what we call CISM.

CISM is one of the largest multidisciplinary organizations in the world made up of elite athletes. CISM organizes various sporting events for the 140 member countries in which the largest number of disciplines is represented. The aim of CISM is to establish permanent relationships in the fields of sport and education between the Armed Forces of the World.

If CISM’s motto is “Friendship through Sport” it can be argued that the motto could also be something such as, “Personal development through sport” or “See the world through sport” but those aren’t quite as catchy.

So how do sports develop the mind exactly and why is it important for sailors, soldiers and aviators to compete? Well, I recently had the pleasure to meet a few of the Canadian CISM Women’s Basketball team, namely Lieutenant-Colonel (LCol) Sharlene Harding, Assistant Coach, Sapper Catherine Bougie, point guard or shooting guard, Acting Sub-Lieutenant (A/Slt) Blaire Coffey, shooting guard, Captain (Capt) Megan McDougall, power forward, and Able Seaman (AB) Leah Robinson, all positions, to explain to me the benefits of sports to the CAF.

Each one of these remarkable women believe that sport has made them somehow better as a person. They each shared their experiences relating to leadership, accountability, responsibility, organization, time management, socialization, respect, and sportsmanship.

For example, AB Robinson, a Naval Reservist at HMCS York and full-time student, had to learn at an early age that in order to balance her schoolwork, her sports and her job in the CAF, she had to be organized and make arrangements with her professors. She said, “I immediately reached out to my school and work and made everything work in order to attend the training camps.” Sometimes it means getting up earlier, staying up later and just plain working harder than your peers to get what you want. For AB Robinson, it means she gets to play basketball on the international stage in China this year.

Sapper Bougie, a Combat Engineer from 4 Engineer Support Regiment, a high-readiness unit that came to the aid of Maritimers during two different domestic Op LENTUS events in 2019, has to earn hardcore respect in her Occupation. She says being physically fit helps her in her daily work routine. More importantly though, teamwork and working hard gain her respect from her comrades.

For Capt McDougall, CFRC Calgary, CAF sports allowed her to interact with members of all Occupations and ranks. For her, meeting her assistant coach, a down-to-earth, balanced, senior CAF officer, LCol Harding, it was the first time she was up close and personal with a female role model to whom she can relate. Capt McDougall sees LCol Harding as a mentor and someone to emulate. Developing sportsmanship in her view is also very important. She thinks learning to lose well, by learning from your mistakes and being happy for others’ success, is a great character builder and life skill.

A/Slt Coffey, Supply Officer at HMCS Cataraqui believes that she has met some of her closest friends while playing sports. She has built a strong network nationwide. “These connections have proven helpful in my career and personal life,” she says. Meeting so many people from all over the country from different bases, ranks, trades, we are ultimately building a stronger CAF.”

Assistant Coach, LCol Harding, Commanding Officer of the Canadian Contingent at NATO SHAPE HQ and the Deputy Canadian National Military Representative to NATO SHAPE HQ, is a seasoned veteran when it comes to sports. After 25 years of playing at both university and international level through the CAF, she believes she is a better leader for it. For years she’s honed time management skills. “It is not easy to eat to fuel your body, get enough rest, manage a busy schedule and, climb the “chain of command,” she said. Her sports training has made her mentally tough, resilient to challenges she faces being part of the CAF. She has had various successful deployments to the far reaches of the world, managed a rewarding career and is currently raising a happy, balanced family. LCol Harding continues to be amused by running into so many random people she’s met during her sports and CAF career in international airports all over the world.

All of these women echoed similar character traits they developed through sports. Most important is the bond they share. Teamwork in sports can help give members stronger communication skills and teach them to work better with others. Likewise, many tasks in the CAF require group work and every member of that team must be pulling in the same direction to meet the objective of our missions.

So if you are ever wondering why CAF sports are so important, just look at some of the most driven, resilient leaders, whether they are soldiers, sailors, or aviators, and be sure that most, if not all, have learned some form of their life skills and work ethic through the power of sport.

To find out more about CAF sports or basketball in particular, please visit

Feature Image Provided by the CISM Womens Basketball Team

This post is also available in: Français (French)

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