Team Canada - Hayley Wickenheiser at Sochi 2014.

Wickenheiser: Enable athletes to succeed in both sport and life

On the same day I heard Steve Montador had passed away, I presented Dylan Armstrong his Olympic medal as a member of the IOC.

My heart hurt so bad that day and here I was faced with two sides of sport: the agony and the ecstasy. If the all-round wellness of your people isn’t your priority, in any profession, then you have missed the mark. This is why the Canadian Olympic Committee’s new holistic athlete wellness program called Game Plan truly matters.

Game Plan is a groundbreaking high performance athlete wellness and transition program designed to give Canadian athletes new tools to pursue excellence during and beyond their sporting careers.

This program acknowledges that athletes are people. Real people with the same fears, anxieties and life challenges (believe it or not) as everyone else.

And it couldn’t come soon enough.

Specifically, athletes and coaches, will have access to five key pillars of support, including career management, network, education, skill development and health. Game Plan will give these athletes access to resources like mental health support 24/7, career counselling, flexible class schedules, public speaking training, financial planning and mentoring programs. What is fantastic is that these resources are offered to all carded athletes and non-carded athletes designated as members of the national team by their National Sport Federation. It also includes all athletes who are up to two years out from retirement as defined by when they stopped receiving carding or when their national team no longer considers them a national team member.

Dylan Armstrong receives his medal from Hayley Wickenheiser on behalf of the International Olympic Committee.

Dylan Armstrong receives his Beijing 2008 Olympic shotput medal from Hayley Wickenheiser on behalf of the International Olympic Committee at a special ceremony on February 15, 2015, shortly after Wickenheiser learned that her close friend Steve Montador had passed away.

So many of Canada’s athletes begin their careers as kids and therefore do not get the same opportunity to experience life like most people. I have asked this before and I will ask it again: how can these athletes be expected to adjust to normal life after competition when they haven’t lived in the real world before? As an adult, it’s a new world.

Canada’s athletes can’t compete forever, and when it is time to retire, they are thrown into a gauntlet of obstacles: transition, completing education, finding the right career, securing an income – living in the real world. Most people face these challenges after high school or college. For the first time in their lives, athletes aren’t at the top of their game.

Hayley Wickenheiser leads Canada out during the Opening Ceremony at Sochi 2014.

Hayley Wickenheiser leads Canada out during the Opening Ceremony at Sochi 2014.

The bottom line is: when an athlete can remove the stress associated with life beyond sport, they can focus on competing, winning medals for Canada and maximizing their potential when it matters most. These athletes can also compete for longer knowing they don’t have to retire “in time” before they are too old to begin a post-competition career. Game Plan truly has the power to inspire athletes to take control, build their own path to the podium and ensure continued success beyond the field of play. What amazes me about this program is that by enabling athletes to succeed in both sport and life, it shows our youth that you can win in sport and in life. This only serves to inspire the next generation of Olympians, making Canada a stronger nation on the field of play.

RELATED: Game Plan: What the athletes have to say
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Canada’s athletes give their everything to make you proud and be the best they can be for their country and this program ensures they are taken care of when this service comes to an end. Kudos to the Canadian Olympic Committee and all the partners behind this incredible initiative. By recognizing the need for a support program like this, we are ensuring our athletes are developed holistically, as well-rounded human beings. When a person feels complete, they flourish and it won’t be long before we see this capitalized on the field of play in Canada.