Justin Vaughan is the High-Performance Coordinator for Wheelchair Basketball Canada. With past credits from Hockey Canada, and the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games Organizing Committee, and other various contracts, Justin hasn’t looked back! Coming from New Brunswick to Ontario (after finding a family ONLINE to stay with), Justin found his niche in sport after a quick internship with the TO2015 Organizing Committee. In his current role, Justin balances managing both the men’s and women’s Senior National teams, the DTE at the National Training Centre, scheduling, and a little bit of laundry when needed! He displays grit, determination, and adaptability in his various roles leading up to today. Below, Justin Vaughan discusses how his role is different prior to and during a competition, his unique path to his current career with Wheelchair Basketball Canada, and some advice to help you along the way! Enjoy!
Tell us about your role as the High-Performance Coordinator at Wheelchair Basketball Canada.
As the High-Performance Coordinator with Wheelchair Basketball Canada, I manage our daily training environment at our National Training Centre as well as working on national team planning. This includes things like planning national team training camps, working with various organizational stakeholders and vendors in addition to working with other sport federations around the world on competition schedule planning. For major competitions, like World Championships and most recently the Parapan Am Games in Lima, Peru, I act as Team Manager for both our national senior men and women’s teams and manage operations prior to and during competition.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me varies depending on the time of year. I’ve broken down a typical day in my office in Toronto and one when we are travelling for competitions.
A typical day in the office in Toronto
A typical day for me in this period involves working with our coaches, athletes and integrated support team to ensure our athletes have exactly what they need to be successful. It involves looking ahead to future competitions and camps and planning team logistical aspects like flights, ground transportation, accommodations, meals, team schedules and keeping everyone in the loop on the planning. If we happen to host an international team for a friendly camp or competition in Canada, I am the go-to contact for that group and work with them on anything they need while they are in Canada. Essentially, no day really looks the same but I take care of all the operations and logistical aspects of all our national team groups.
A typical day when travelling for competition
A typical day for me when travelling is very busy. It is filled with planning and following the team schedule that is set by myself and the team coaches the day prior. I’ve chosen a day from our latest Lima 2019 competition to mirror a typical day off. Generally, we wake up and get breakfast as a group. We then may have a variation of either activation, prehab or a weight room session to get the athletes moving. Depending on the competition, we may also have a practice or video session in the morning as well. We then go for lunch and have some rest and recovery time. Later that afternoon, we’ll jump on a bus and head to the competition gym arriving about 90 minutes prior to tip-off.
“Prior to the game, my role is to make sure the locker room prepared, all the jerseys and equipment are ready to go and that everyone has what they need for the game.”
We take court 30 minutes prior to tip-off for the official warm-up and I sit behind the bench to support anything the coaches or athletes need during the game. Post-game, we make sure the athletes have a quick snack to refuel, pack away our equipment and jump back on the bus. We then have a team dinner before our end of day staff meeting to debrief about how the day went and discuss the following day. At some point in the night, I also manage to do all the team laundry and have it ready for the following day.
This is a typical day for me at a major competition when working as a team manager with both teams. Earlier in the day whenever I can find some time, I’m looking ahead to the next day and planning all aspects with the head coaches and our external vendors and partners.
I’ve always had a passion for sports and what it can do to bring people together. I played all kinds of sports growing up and have always enjoyed the competition aspect of it. I decided to do my post-graduate certificate in Sport Management, just after I finished my undergrad in Commerce at Mount Allison University. I was fresh out of University and got a feel for the “real world” working for an electrical supplies wholesaler and knew I needed to do something that interested me and brought me joy in my day to day life. I chose Sport Management for my studies.
A lot went into this decision. I’m originally from New Brunswick and had only been to Ontario a few times in my life. I had a handful of friends who moved here after University but it really was the unknown for me. The decision to move to Ontario and uproot my life was a big one but a decision I had to make in order to try and pursue something I am truly passionate about.
Would you say your path to your current position was quite easy or rather challenging, and can you discuss why?
Everyone’s path in the sports industry varies as I’ve found out throughout my career. Some people naturally stumble into it after a successful athletic career while some people are more deliberate in their approach. My path to the sports industry certainly wasn’t easy as I spent a lot of time in the early days building my network and looking for any opportunity I could find. I moved to Ontario with a limited network to rely on. I lived in the city I studied in for 4 months while pursuing my studies with a family who I found online as that’s all I could afford at the time. I would do schoolwork all week and try to find volunteer opportunities on the weekends to broaden my network in the sports industry.
I managed to get an internship at the Toronto 2015 Pan & Parapan Am Games after my first semester in college and met some amazing people there who have really helped me in my career. I ended up getting hired full-time 3 months into my internship and completed the Pan & Parapan Am Games which was an amazing experience.
After that experience, I didn’t really know what my next step would be and had nothing lined up. I ended up taking a 1-month contract position with Bauer Hockey’s First Shift program and toured Western Canada introducing kids to hockey. This enabled me to get some more experience in the field and look for a more permanent position. I then got hired with Hockey Canada working with the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championships which is to date one of my career highlights. Supporting the marketing, media services and hockey development for an event that is so close to Canadian’s hearts was truly a surreal experience.
After the high of working on the World Juniors, I bounced around doing small contracts with various events like the 2017 World Wheelchair Basketball Championships, 2017 North American Indigenous Games and Ontario Soccer. In the fall of 2017, I landed my current role with Wheelchair Basketball Canada and haven’t looked back.
What would you say are four essential skills required for working in non-profit sport that you wish you would’ve known when you were starting off in the industry after graduating from a sport management program?
In non-profit sport, you will be asked to do things outside your job description due to the resources available. On a daily basis, I step into roles as office manager, human resources, procurement, operations, IT, etc. Being adaptable and comfortable stepping into roles that are a bit unknown at first is critical to the success of non-profit sport organizations.
This is a popular answer to these types of questions but communication is extremely important. It is far more than what you say, but how you say it (in-person, text messaging, emailing, phone call), with what tone and the timing. I find it in my day to day I use different types of communication for different stakeholders. One method of communication may work when working with athletes but may not be as effective when working with other sport federations around the world.
This is especially true when working for a non-profit sport in a high-performance environment. There’s a team working behind the scenes and around the team that everyone sees on the court at the Paralympics or World Championships. This team must all work together towards the end goal of supporting the athletes to the best of their ability. Whether you’re in management, medical, mental performance, physiology or strength and conditioning, everyone must put their personal differences aside and do what’s best for the group. You spend countless hours with these colleagues and having that teamwork and trust is key in building a successful team.
4 Problem Solving
I believe this is true for any role in operations but being able to access a situation and find a timely solution is key to the success of non-profit sport organizations. In my role, when I get a call from someone during our operations, it’s an issue that needs fixing on the spot so having contingency plans are very important in supporting your operations.
What have been some of your most memorable moments in your nearly 2 years at Wheelchair Basketball Canada?
I’ve had some pretty memorable moments in my time with Wheelchair Basketball Canada. Most recently, we won a gold medal with our senior women’s team in Lima, Peru at the 2019 Parapan American Games. It was amazing to see the girls come together over the past 2 years and beat the Americans in a comeback victory this past August. It was especially interesting competition for me as I worked on the organizing committee for the 2015 Pan & Parapan American Games in Toronto so getting to see the Games from the team vs the organizers’ perspective was really eye-opening.
As part of my role as a High-Performance Coordinator, I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the world with the teams as part of their competition schedule. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been to South America, Europe and Asia several times. Particularly, I have had some really great experiences in Japan and think they will do an amazing job hosting the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. Their focus on accessibility, inclusiveness and spreading awareness for the Paralympic movement is going to do great things for wheelchair basketball and Paralympic sport in general.
Who should SPMA interview next?
1 Mark Weirsma – Ontario Volleyball Association
2 Taylor Durand – Canadian Tire Corporation
3 Aimee Maggiacomo – Ministry of Tourism, Sport and Culture (now called the Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries)
4 Ryan Hurley – Hockey Canada
Thoughts from Annie
I had the pleasure of working with Justin Vaughan at Wheelchair Basketball Canada very briefly before we parted ways. In our time together, Justin had always been loyal to the NSO, the programs run, and all of the athletes. His organization, personality, and work ethic made him a natural fit for the HP Coordinator position!
Justin Vaughan’s journey into sport has certainly been interesting, gaining key experiences in various contracts to shape the person he is today. His journey displays bravery, grit, and determination to be where he is today. We’re looking forward to seeing both the men’s and women’s teams perform in Tokyo, Japan, at the 2020 Paralympic Games!