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Pay Your Dues Volunteering Like Athletics Canada Manager of National Teams Jessica Scarlato Did

Jessica Scarlato | Manager, National Teams | Athletics Canada

The sporting world, especially Canadian amateur sport, is small with not a lot of room for growth within an organization. You have to pay your dues of volunteering and interning for events and national sport organizations to get your foot in the door.

Jessica Scarlato

Manager, National Teams

Athletics Canada

× The interview with Jessica Scarlato was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Manager, National Teams of the Athletics Canada.

June 3rd, 2020, marked my five year anniversary working with Athletics Canada as the Manager of National Team Programs. The best way to describe my role is like a conductor of an orchestra putting all the logistical pieces of the puzzle into place to get our track and field athletes, coaches, and medical staff to training camps and competitions while working closely with sporting stakeholders like Canadian Olympic Committee (COC).

What does a typical day look like for you?

There really is not a typical day in my role but the days all start the same with a lot of emails and a few cups of coffee. The remainder of the day depends on where we are in the season and where we are in the Olympic/Paralympic quadrennial.

If 2020 had gone to plan, the first four months of the year I would have been the ground at various warm weather and altitude training camps with athletes and staff as they ramp up their preparations towards the outdoor summer season. Simultaneously, I would be working with the COC about our Olympic logistics in terms of accreditations, group flights, Village accommodations, ticketing, clothing, national trials, and movement between our preparation camp to the Games.

Post Games, we evaluate all-athlete results to determine appropriate funding levels for elite athletes and developing athletes with our Own the Podium (OTP) and Sport Canada allocation.  Before I know it, it is almost the end of the year and the planning for the next year’s training camps begin again.

Would you say your path to your current position was quite easy or rather challenging, and can you discuss why?

I would have to say that the path to my current position was quite usual for those in the sports industry. The sporting world, especially Canadian amateur sport, is small with not a lot of room for growth within an organization. You have to pay your dues of volunteering and interning for events and national sport organizations to get your foot in the door. From there, it is being able to develop your skills and transfer them from sport to sport to move up in roles and responsibilities.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your role and at Athletics Canada?

The biggest challenge I face is that even though track and field is considered a single sport there are multiple individual events within. Most athletes train individually and have very different equipment needs, preparation, and competition plans. It becomes the ultimate balancing act of trying to ensure each athlete gets what they need to perform on the day while trying to create a team atmosphere amongst all these individuals.

What strategies do you use to overcome those challenges?

Having not been a track and field athlete myself, I rely on the coaches to help ensure I have not missed any details for each event group. Over time, this has become second nature and I am able to anticipate possible obstacles like having to cargo ship pole vault poles to competitions which at times feels more difficult than having horses fly on cargo planes.

I know that you are a graduate from the Masters of Human Kinetics, concentration in Sport Management program from the University of Ottawa. Why was it important for you to be educated at a masters level in Sport Management? What attracted you to the field?

To be honest, I was not even aware of the availability of the Sport Management program until after I finished my internship with the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF) as a requirement for my undergraduate degree (Honours Bachelor’s of Arts with Specialization in Leisure Studies; Minor in Business Administration).

The Human Kinetics Internship Coordinator, Dominique Champeau was so impressed with how I organized the HSF event that she told my parents and me that she was going to make me stay in Ottawa and do my Master’s. I had every intention of returning back to my hometown Richmond Hill and working in the recreational sector for the town. I cannot even comprehend how different my life would be if it were not for Dominique and opening the door for me.

When did you realize you wanted to pursue your career in the field? Take us through that realization.

I have always been a planner, enjoy organizing events, and much prefer working behind the scenes so I am not sure if there was a specific moment when I realized this was what I wanted to be doing. With every event or team, I still get that excitement of playing the wizard behind the curtain and getting to watch the athletes succeed and become almost superhuman. It is in those moments I am reminded why I do what I do.

What are some aspects of working in sport you didn’t learn in Sport Management at the University of Ottawa that you’ve acquired through experience in the field?

I love learning new things and during the Sport Management program, we were always being educated by experts in the field. For myself, I know I learn better when I am on the ground and right in the thick of things which I did have the opportunity during my internship and employment.

Sport is not always as glamorous as it is thought out to be. Not everyone will win medals or succeed and you need to be in control of your emotions to be able carry-on right till the end of the event, sometimes even being an unofficial psychologist.

Having strong skills at utilizing Excel and Google Sheets will help you with all your logistical needs especially as it is not always possible for you to be able to travel with the team or to actually get to the competition venue. Having all logistical information easily accessible on your phone or to share as a file with others keeps the team all on the same page.

Even with almost a decade of working in sport, I am still not immune to administrative tasks and unfortunately, there were no classes on how to pack over 100 Olympic team clothing kits!

What would you include on a list of your top 5 biggest accomplishments (or moments) between working in and playing sport?

I have been blessed with so many fulfilling opportunities that it has allowed me to achieve significant accomplishments/moments for myself.

  1. I am the first in the family to graduate from post-secondary school with both an Undergraduate and Masters. I was even wild and took a qualitative writing class to keep my options open should I get the motivation and courage to do my PhD.
  2. Being hired on for the 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship as the Coordinator, Operations from Intern and being present as the puck dropped at the first match for the Group B teams.  Seeing all your hard work come to fruition for your first international event, is indescribable! 
  3. My first National Team was with Athletics Canada as the Team Manager for the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games. I had just been hired on a month before the Games from Equestrian to pull together all the logistics to get the athletes and staff prepared for a successful “Home Game”. I was fortunate enough to be able to see both the Canadian Athletics and Show Jumping team compete! 
  4. As an Intern for Canada Artistic Swimming, I assisted with some logistics for the London 2012 Olympic team, but attending and getting the full Olympic experience was with Athletics for Rio 2016. It was the largest team in terms of named athletes (64) and staff (65) among all sports for Canada and one of the most successful in terms of medals (6) for Athletics.
  5. I had never been to a Para Athletics competition until Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games where both able-bodied and para-athletes compete at the same event instead of separate weeks like the Olympics and Paralympics. Being part of an integrated sport at an integrated event was amazing and how I want all Major Games to be. 

Winning medals is not everything but definitely a component to each of the moments above.  I take no credit in what the athletes are able to accomplish but being part of the team behind the team in seeing the athletes reach their dreams is a fulfilling moment for me. And yes, Team Canada did not win Gold at 2013 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship but we did get our redemption at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Games where I proceeded to cry during the Canadian National Anthem… which I continue to do.

Hayley Michie Hayley's Final Thoughts

The role Jessica Scarlato is in now with Athletics Canada is incredible! But, it took some work to get there, specifically through volunteering and internships. The sports world is not an easy one to break into but Jessica Scarlato did it through both her prior volunteering endeavours and her hard work and passion. People in the sports industry will consistently encourage volunteering as a way to make connections and build your resume. We’ve all heard it time and time again but, volunteering truly is a way to jumpstart your career! Take it from Jessica Scarlato, she did exactly that.

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