Community: Rotten Apples and Hidden Gems

My post for #Cong19

Anyone that came across our training sessions on the Courtown burrow over the past four or five years couldn’t but see a community at its best – fun, fitness, and a healthy dose of competition. It’s the closest I’ve got to experiencing that multi-generational outdoor life I’d seen all those summers in Spain – young teenagers assisting the coaching of the primary school aged athletes, parents like me trying to keep up and not be lapped by the youths and grandparents and extended families minding the younger siblings, too young yet to participate but you know are dying for their eighth birthday to be able to join in. What was particularly galling was despite numerous invitations, no officer of WSI-Wexford has ever visited or attended a SLS training session in Courtown nor did they present any justification of their decision to stop training there. We were distraught.

Skills in the woodwork
Within hours of the announcement in April, the Courtown group formed an action plan to get the decision reversed and followed Water Safety Ireland’s complaints protocol by dealing directly with its CEO, John Leech. From the very beginning, John Leech was supportive and requested the Water Safety Ireland-Wexford (WSI-W) committee meet to reconsider their decision. It’s amazing to see in times of trouble, the exact skill sets you need to take on “the system” come forward. Who knew we had a barrister, a QS, an academic and a social worker in our midst who put together an impressive rebuttal file worthy of the high court? My role was to get as much media attention as possible and I’m pleased to say that journalists in both local and national print and broadcast media hounded both the area committee and the national body. The upcoming European election also helped solicit support and letters from local councillors, TDs and three Ministers. Water Safety Ireland was under pressure.

The Fight
For 3 months, we followed protocol and participated and respected the problem solving process being delivered by WSI. What we met was a rollercoaster of no shows at meetings, not being told of county trials, being told the decision was reversed then another U-turn that nearly saw us throw in the towel. I think the turning point was when representatives from Water Safety Ireland mediated a public meeting between the athletes, families and the area committee and could see the visible upset of the youths and children being denied access to a sport by a committee who had never been involved in it. The following day, Courtown was reinstated as a training ground and despite missing several months training, our athletes went on to compete at regional, national and international competitions throughout the year. We picked up some bling too but it really is all about the participation.

Tough Love Lessons
It was horrible to see so many youths and children upset by unjustified decisions made by people they had never known but I hope they came away with the following life lessons:

  1. As these athletes are our future CEOs, team leads or even plain old employees, it’s good to learn early that it is not acceptable to swing in and make life changing decrees without consultation. As a leader to do it or a follower to accept it.
  2. It was a lesson in tenacity, so many times we felt like just rolling over but we couldn’t let irrationality and personal bias succeed. That kept us going and we prevailed.
  3. This is an important one. Children today are under such pressure to be popular, beautiful, cool – everything is orchestrated and curated to perfection. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes so it’s important for them to see adults admit that and show that admitting you’re wrong or weak is actually a sign of strength.

This blog post was originally published on the website, a really cool ‘un-conference’ style digital media and technology festival that takes place in Cong, Co. Mayo usually in the end of November every year. Started by PR don Eoin Kennedy, it welcomes attendees from very diverse backgrounds and fosters deep discussion and dialogue. Access is earned by submitting a post on the year’s theme. Go along, blog your way in! I hope to see you there.

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