Community impact: Two Special Olympics coaches in Saskatchewan share their story

Love of sport and giving back to the community are two common reasons why many get into coaching. And with 20,000 trained coaches in Saskatchewan, the impact they have on the community is immense.

As part of Coaches Week in Saskatchewan, two Special Olympics coaches in the province share their story of how they got into coaching and the impact they are making in their communities.

Brennon Madland, Special Olympics Saskatoon — Basketball

Brennon Madland grew up in Flin Flon, Man. watching his uncle, who has Down Syndrome, participate in Special Olympics weightlifting, cross country skiing and bowling. It was his uncle’s participation that prompted Madland, who now lives in Saskatoon, to take on a role helping others compete in sport.

“It was always something I wanted to get involved in because of him,” said Madland. “I know he doesn’t live here, but I just figured it could be something that he would be proud of.”

When the coaches of Special Olympics Saskatoon Basketball moved away six years ago, someone was needed to fill the position to keep the operation going. Madland saw it as a chance “to do something good” and stepped up, along with Nick Hanson.

“I love it,” said Madland, who also credits Carl Kruger and Ruth Exley for their help. “When you come in, you don’t really know anyone, but I’ve had mostly the same crew since I started.”

While the competition levels of specific Special Olympics programs can vary, Madland says that being involved with the program is about a lot more than just the results on the scoreboard.

“Seeing the athletes bond as friends through sport is really rewarding and gratifying,” said Madland. “The fact that the players get to go out and be happy — it’s really rewarding knowing that you get to be a part of other people’s happiness.”

Coaching the Saskatoon basketball team is only the latest in Madland’s coaching journey. He first got bitten by the bug back in Flin Flon, citing his high school soccer coach, Mr. Letwin, as his inspiration. The two ended up coaching Mr. Letwin’s daughter’s soccer team together, which only helped influence Madland more.

“I grew up with so many great coaches and mentors that it would be selfish of me not to at least try and do for other people what they were able to do for me. That’s something I’m extremely grateful for,” said Madland.

Today, it’s Madland in the shoes of his old teacher. And while he continues to play sports of his own, he acknowledges that he won’t be able to play forever. Thankfully, he has coaching to act as his bridge to remain in sport.

“To see athletes succeed and actually implement something that you’ve taught them — it’s cool to see. It makes you feel good. You’re happy to see them learn and grow.”

Phyllis Madigan, Special Olympics Regina — Bocce, Curling & Softball

It was through Rhonda Penno that Phyllis Madigan got her introduction to Special Olympics.

Penno, who has served as the chair of the Special Olympics Regina community executive committee, needed someone to umpire a curling bonspiel for the organization. Madigan, a certified official, volunteered her name.

While it easily could’ve been a one-time occurrence, Madigan had a conversation at the bonspiel with a fellow official about how the athletes could benefit from proper coaching.

Someone overheard her conversation and she was approached the next week about coaching.

“It kind of came about in a roundabout way,” said Madigan. “Having this conversation — it got back to the higher-ups to say ‘Why aren’t we asking them to coach because they know the game, right? They understand it. They know the strategy. They know the thought process.’”

That comment has led to a decade-long partnership with Special Olympics for Madigan, who has since added coaching bocce ball and softball to her repertoire. It was a relatively easy transition for her though as she’s always had a passion for sports, making the move to coach pretty seamless.

“It was time to pay back,” said Madigan.

Madigan admits it’s interesting to look back on the conversation now more than 10 years ago and wonder what if she wasn’t overheard?

“I would’ve either continued to play the sports that I played or just did nothing,” said Madigan. “I would have not thought about going the Special Olympics way.”

“People always do things for different reasons — I always did mine for friendship and the love of the sport.”