Coach Profile: Deborah Carter Special Olympics Athletics

Coach Profile: Deborah Carter Special Olympics Athletics

National Coaches Week, Sept 19-27

Author: BC Games Society/Tuesday, September 22, 2015/Categories: 2015 News, Alumni, Athletics

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The first ever National Coaches Week is September 19-27.  An initiative of the Coaches Association of Canada and the Provincial and Territorial coaching organizations, this week celebrates the tremendous positive impact coaches have on athletes and communities across Canada.  This week is an opportunity to recognize coaches for the integral role they play by simply saying #ThanksCoach.

The BC Games and Team BC are part of BC’s athlete development pathway, but also provide an important opportunity for coaching development.  Organizations like BC Special Olympics and Athletics BC have seen the progression and success of their coaches through these programs.

In honour of National Coaches Week, the BC Games and Team BC are profiling five of our outstanding coaches and saying #ThanksCoach with a gift card and Team BC recognition item.


Special Olympics Athletics Coach
Photo: Deborah (far right) with her team at the 2015 Western Canada Summer Games

1.    Why did you choose to get into coaching?
My childhood and teenage years were spent being active in various sports and volunteering at both Sunnyhill Hospital and the Variety Club in Vancouver.  During that time my passion grew to give of my time to help change the world one person at a time.  I decided then that I wanted my career path to be in Special Education.  However, in my graduation year the cutbacks in my field of choice were large and the thought of four more years of education with the possibility of eventually being unable to get a job within that field was more than I was willing to risk. So I started working and made the decision to continue volunteering within the community – my hope was being able to combine both passions through sport.   

I was introduced to Special Olympics right out of high school.  Surrey Special Olympics was still very young when, in 1986, I attended my first practice for athletics.  I was hooked and registered on the spot.  The following year I accepted the head coach position and in 1989 started the powerlifting program then in 1990 added figure skating to the mix.  By 1994 I knew athletics was my passion and to get the results I so wanted to achieve I would need to focus on one sport.  I wanted the technical knowledge to do the best job I could, took my certifications, attended various seminars and clinics, and attended games at the regional, provincial, national and international level.  

In 1995, I knew I wanted to be a mom and decided to adopt a child internationally.  I started the lengthy process immediately and 3 years later, in 1998, brought my daughter, Alyssah, home from Haiti.  That season I had a 3 year old with definite developmental delays, on the track, in a stroller with 25 athletes on our team.  The following year she was willing to stay in the stroller during practice so I could keep an eye on her and still do what I needed to do to coach on the track.  By 2000, my daughter wanted to run with the team and by 2001 she had a mind of her own and wanted to run in a different direction than the team.  That year I needed to make a tough decision and walk away from Special Olympics to raise my daughter and ensure she was given the opportunity to succeed with the challenges she was faced with.

When Alyssah turned 12 years old we were talking about humanitarian work and community service.  We wanted to do something together and Alyssah said “let’s go help the people of Haiti and let’s go back to the track again”.  So, we did both.  We have been on five Mission trips to Haiti and together we have been back training with the Surrey athletics team since 2007.  Alyssah is now a certified coach for athletics and is coaching at the provincial level. It is a team effort.  I am grateful for the opportunity to share my passion with my daughter and it is a true blessing to see that same passion through her eyes.

Ultimately now I continue to coach to change the lives of people with intellectual disabilities one athlete at a time.  “I coach them but they teach me everyday”.

2.    What is your coaching certification level?

Certified NCCP Level 2 for Special Olympics in 2001 and currently pursuing NCCP Competition Development stream.

3.    What is your favorite thing about coaching?

Through coaching I get a sense of satisfaction in teaching and watching others grow and develop.  I enjoy the process of engaging others through coaching.  Through coaching, I get a sense of personal appreciation and accomplishment and it rejuvenates me and keeps me growing.  I enjoy coaching others to change and adapt.  Coaching is part of my paying back for what I have accomplished and received and deepens my relationship with other people.  Coaching others leads to a sense of satisfaction, excitement, enjoyment, personal appreciation, accomplishment, rejuvenation, growth, and deeper relationships.  By trying to make a difference one person at a time, has given me an immense sense of achievement and has added to my personal self worth.

4.    Do you have a particular coaching style?

I have an exceptional ability to inspire athletes to greatness through attentiveness and caring to achieve their full potential employing a winning combination of firm leadership and genuine caring for all my athletes.  I am professional and firm during training and excited and joyful for my athletes when I’m watching them in action.  I motivate all my athletes to be the very best they can be.  I celebrate their victories as enthusiastically as they do.  Every personal best achieved is a victory for the whole group.  I know my athletes well and I do what is necessary to get the maximum performance from each one.  I place a lot of focus on personal bests to help athletes realize their own growth rather than comparing themselves to others.  I find opportunities for each of them to be successful as I know the athletes well and I find ways to develop strengths and overcome weaknesses.

5.    What multi-sport Games have you attended?

2015 Western Canada Summer Games
2015 Team Canada – Worlds LA2015
2014 BC Summer Games
2014 National Special Olympic Games
2013 Special Olympics Provincial Games
2012 BC Summer Games
1998 National Special Olympic Games
1996 BC Summer Games
1994 International Special Olympics Games Ketchikan, Alaska
1991 BC Summer Games

6.    How is coaching at a multi-sport Games different from a single sport event?

So much is the same and yet so different at the same time.  Whether at a multi-sport games or single sport event as a Special Olympics coach we are with our athletes at all times.  And no matter what Games we attend I need to remind myself to enjoy every moment because before you know it - the Games are over!  The friendships made are priceless (with coaches, mission staff, athletes and people from around the world).  The Games experience (whether in BC Games, Western Canada Summer Games or a track meet in our home town) is inspiring both on and off the field of play.  I watch and listen to be involved as athletes grow from not knowing where they fit in to strong, very independent young people with determination, confidence and a desire to be the best they can be.  There is nothing more rewarding as a coach then to see an athlete meet, achieve and exceed their personal best and being proud of their accomplishments.  The opportunity for this to happen is stronger at a multi sport games due to the length of time away and the new and exciting opportunities presented to each of us.

No matter what Games we attend I find it most important to try to create a culture on the team to leave a legacy within our own team and other teams around the province, the country and around the world.  Even after the Games are over, to this day I need to pinch myself that this was not a dream.  We had phenomenal results on the track (both with Team Canada and at WCSG) but above even that being part of Special Olympics feels like a landscape to change the world.  It is a great honor and responsibility representing my province and country and being an awesome ambassador where lessons of ability, acceptance and inclusion are taught through our athletes.  For me this is a platform to educate people from all walks of life working together to make the world a better place with more respect and tolerance of the challenges we face and of each other. I am so proud that we achieved that in so many ways.  The games experience ended up being so much more than the track.

7.    What was your favorite memory from coaching at a multi-sport Games?

My favorite memory is from Team Canada at the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.  It was quite a jolt for me to come back to reality after the Games after being so immersed for a year... but to witness HUGE strides made by many of the athletes; gold medals ON and OFF the field of play were plentiful - what an amazing legacy that will impact not only the athletes, but their families, their communities and the world.  I think watching Ryan, Katie and others at the Closing Ceremonies and at other times during the Games with the Haitian team and Catherine with the Senegal team was a definite highlight and a truly beautiful connection to witness.  Outside of Team Canada and a moment of the Games themselves was when I saw one of the Haitian girls before and after attending Healthy Athletes to find no one knew she was hard of hearing and received a hearing aid and could hear for the first time in her life.  It was no longer about the track but the legacy of Team Canada and the World Games.

8.    Do you have a coach mentor and what have you learned from him/her?

Team Canada Athletics Head Coach
Special Olympics World Games LA2015
I think one of the most important aspects of leadership is that not every leader is the same.  There is ‘mushroom’ leadership (keep them in the dark and feed them on manure) and ‘seagulls’ (swoop in, squawk, and drop unpleasant things on people), but joking aside, there are many different styles of leadership and we had the best on Team Canada athletics.  Perhaps the most important skill a leader needs is to be able to think strategically.  Leadership is all about having a vision of where you want to be and working to achieve that vision. Alongside strategic thinking is organizing and action planning, both essential for delivery of vision and strategy, and risk management to help avoid things going wrong, and manage when they do.  Leaders also need to be able to make good decisions in support of their strategy delivery.  We had all of this as in our team leadership. 

Along the way to achieving our vision a leader will come upon many problems so effective problem solving is therefore another key leadership skill. With a positive attitude problems became opportunities and learning experiences, and Aleila was able to gain much information from a problem addressed.  Aleila was also organized on a personal level, and able to manage herself and her time, so she could spend time doing what she needed to do, and not on other tasks.  She had self motivation and was therefore able to motivate others with sincerity.  She was able to delegate and although a difficult skill for many, by delegating it gave me responsibility and a taste of leadership myself and helped me to remain motivated.  She listened to my views on personal performance in a way that was constructive rather than destructive and heard my opinions.  Leadership is about making key decisions and guiding your team to act on them.  Aleila did this and her personal approach and leadership style determined that her team benefited in the end.

Two significant components of a leader’s decisions are the quality of the decision and the level of buy-in associated with it.  She got both from each of us. She was not an avoider (afraid to take risks and have few good ideas).  She was not an accommodator needing affirmation from us.  She was not a competitor with a need to do everything her own way.  She was a collaborator where she was able to make effective decisions and build necessary support within our team.  

Aleila was a leader good at assembling team members.  She had something to contribute and worked with the team in such an interactive way that everyone contributed and bought into the decisions made. Words cannot express my feelings well enough for Aleila.  Her integrity and values are unwavering with her actions reflecting positively on the team.  She performs with insight and intelligence in all areas of the team making sound decisions and taking a positive action approach.  She fosters a strong team culture while giving me room to grow and learn.  

Aleila delegates effectively while coaching others to develop their capabilities and provides feedback.  She ensures appropriate and timely team development, uses the strengths of each team member and plans in advance (proactive vs reactive).  She has a “do what it takes” attitude.  She has an organized, relaxed and comfortable demeanor and maintains self control in intense situations.  She sets expectations and goals for our team, tracks progress against those goals and provides timely feedback.  Aleila encourages inclusion of all skills and successes of everyone while promoting fair play and equitable treatment by all.  She notices and interprets and anticipates others concerns and feelings.  She truly gets the best out of people.  I know I feel I need to work hard and be ever better in order to be worthy of standing alongside her.  It is a true privilege to have been her teammate and I cannot thank her enough for all the remarkable things she does and does so very well.

Associate Coach – Team Canada Special Olympics World Games LA2015
Special Olympics Canada Coach of the Year 2015
Team Manager – 2015 Western Canada Summer Games
This man is such an incredible combination of heart, compassion, and support alongside essential discipline, structure, and standards. I am so grateful to have the opportunity over more than 20 years to coach with him and learn from him.

9.    What has been your best success in coaching?

Team Canada LA2015 was simply magical and life changing.  I saw athletes helping athletes.  I saw the public realizing that first impressions aren’t always the final impression.  I saw the world change for a brief moment and see what a person can’t do must not interfere with what they can do.  I saw how much can be done and our athletes united the world in a way that no one and nothing else can.  It was a celebration of life, of unity and of inclusion.  Our athletes represent the Olympic ideal to work hard to be better than you’ve ever been before. It amazes me to this day that one person started this organization and made all this happen and it is up to each of us to keep her dream alive.  One person can truly change the world forever and it inspires me to dig deep and do whatever I can to help.  To meet athletes and coaches from around the world and see the excitement the games created as a pathway to understanding – it just doesn’t get any better than this.  I’ve never had as much pride as I had in LA representing Canada.  Truly magical!
Instilling in our team a desire to be the best they could be knowing they were prepared as best as possible for the track so they could enjoy and celebrate the games and be excited for the games was my highlight.  They worked hard to be better than they had ever been before and I was fortunate to be a part of instilling that work ethic and team culture.  It went beyond the track and allowed our group of athletes to come together as a team to show the world what can be done with unity and team work and inclusion.  Each person did their part to make the world better for themselves and others around them.

My athlete achievement highlight of the program was seeing the growth of athletes was my highlight.  The strides taken that I witnessed over 10 months with these athletes was nothing if not amazing and life changing and I have no doubt they (like I) will forever be changed by the experience of World Games.

10.    What are your next goals as a coach?

This movement has enriched my life in ways I cannot ever describe in words. How blessed am I to be taught by our greatest teachers, our athletes, both on and off the field of play.  “I COACH THEM, BUT THEY TEACH ME EVERYDAY”
My goal was just achieved this past season by being an associate coach for Team Canada.  Next goal will be to prepare my team of athletes in the hopes of repeating with them next World Games in 2019 in Guadalajara Mexico.

ViaSport is the lead for National Coaches Week in British Columbia.  Read more about how you can recognize coaches and all the activities taking place around B.C.


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