Fit to fight
A/SLt 24498 Noelani Shore (RMC 2009)
Director of Athletics Darren Cates (photo left) considers himself lucky to have worked solely in the athletics industry. He currently oversees the operation of the athletic department at the Royal Military College of Canada, which includes intramurals, recreation clubs, physical education, and varsity sports.
“I’ve never had a job outside sport. I was a basketball player, a long time ago. After an injury, I couldn’t play anymore, so I got a job with the basketball team. That led to a job with our national basketball team. I got to travel the world for three years, watching basketball; it was a great job,” he said. “Then I went to the University of Ottawa for seven and a half years as the Manager of Community Programs, and my job there was to be part of the team that developed a new sports complex. We took a piece of land and an old arena, and built a $24 million sports facility. And then I came to RMC, so I’ve had quite the life in sports.”
Since taking on the job in 2004, Cates has seen many changes to the college. While people sometimes focus only on the varsity programs, there are, in addition to the 11 varsity teams, 28 recreation clubs, 12 different intramural sport programs, and 42 different physical education activities.
The cadets meet twice per week for intramurals, with the new addition this year of a Sandhurst intramural.
“That has proved to be very popular, but every year, we have a focus group which brings cadets to do a year-end review. We ask the cadets how things went, and if there are any sports they’d like to see in intramurals. We want to keep it fresh, and we want to see activities that cadets are interested in,” he explained.
One of the biggest changes made in intramurals is that there is now a system in place to track what intramural sports cadets are playing term-to-term, as well as year-to-year.
“Gone are the days when cadets who like water polo can play it year after year, all four years. They have to play two different sports every year, and they can only play one sport a certain number of times. That way they get exposed to a number of sports, which I think is a real improvement.”
There have also been a number of changes in the recreation program. Some activities get more attention than others, like rowing, women’s rugby, and swimming, but the entire program is running more smoothly than in the past.
“The rec program is alive and well. Unbeknownst to most people, it’s approaching 750 cadets voluntarily involved in various activities,” he said. “The biggest change is that the college has worked with us to make it easier for cadets to participate in their chosen activities. In the past, we didn’t provide things like travel support, and we didn’t allow them to miss class to attend club events, and now these things take place.”
The physical education program hasn’t changed as much as the rec program, but it has been refined. There is now a greater emphasis placed on the physical aspect, rather than the theoretical components of the classes.
“Phys. Ed classes you think wouldn’t be demanding, are physically demanding, and that’s a really good change. We see that change reflected in the results on the PPT. In March 2008, the average score for entire wing was 326.4. This year, two years later, the average score in the Wing is 354.2. That’s up 28 points in two years. That’s a very significant improvement,” Cates emphasized. “So I think the overall program and the emphasis on fitness in the forces in general has significantly improved the fitness level of the cadets.”
Another positive change in the Phys. Ed department is the courses on nutrition.
“The cadets can learn to make better choices on what to eat, how much to drink or not drink in courses like Top Fuel for Top Performance,” he said.
As far as the varsity program is concerned, Cates faces unique challenges due to the small size of the RMC student body, but this does not interfere with the competitive drive of his coaches and athletes. It takes a lot more effort for an RMC varsity athlete to perform than their civilian university counterparts, but the cadets have what it takes.
“Life as a cadet, in my opinion, is much more demanding that at civilian university, and those extra demands are challenging to a cadet. A cadet’s sole focus cannot be on their varsity sport, nor should it be. I often explain this difference to colleagues outside of RMC; when athletes come here to play us, they go to their hotel, have a nap, play some video games, grab something to eat, have another nap, then come play the game. Our cadets will be in class, go to parade practice, maybe practice some obstacles, go to Phys. Ed. class, and then go to their game,” he said.
It is a challenge having a pool of 1,000 students, but, as Cates explains, “it doesn’t matter if you have a school of 1,000 or 60,000; you need 10-12 athletes for a sport like basketball or volleyball.”
There are challenges recruiting to RMC and the Canadian Forces, but there are also tremendous opportunities and benefits.
“We offer a fully subsidized education, and we guarantee employment upon graduation. We also have an amazing campus, tremendous athletic facilities, and full-time coaching in all our sports. We offer a lot of things that other schools might not have available,” he said.
Currently, the varsity program is undergoing a comprehensive review, and the committee is diverse. There are 13 people in total, representing everything from the academic wing, military wing, RMC St. Jean, as well as former and current athletes.
“I don’t think I have a monopoly on great ideas. I live the program day-to-day, and I have my personal views on what should and shouldn’t be done to the varsity program, but I think it’s important that we take into consideration what other people think of the varsity program,” Cates explained. “We’ve been meeting now for three months, and we’re close to wrapping it up, and I’m eager to see what comes of it. I think any program we run, we have to continually look at making changes to improve it. If you sit and rest on your laurels, you’ll be left behind. So, I do think there are changes that are needed to be made to the program and I’m confident that the varsity review committee will put those recommendations forward.”
In terms of the facilities, Cates appreciates the fact that he doesn’t have to sell the importance of physical fitness in order to get the equipment he needs. In other schools, that is not always the case.
“There are, from time to time, funding pressures, and the economy in general hasn’t been good lately. While the government has had to reallocate resources, if the college has money, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll get our fair share,” he said. “Something that drew me to RMC in the first place was that at civilian university, athletics has to fight for their place on campus. Here, we don’t. The importance of physical fitness, sports, and athletics in general is a given. In other schools, say you wanted to buy new weight equipment, you’ve got to educate them on why the weight equipment is so important, why it’s so expensive, what it’s going to do, and what our return on it’s going to be. Here, when you say you need new weight equipment, they’ll just say buy it, because everyone knows why it’s so important.”
Physical fitness is an important component to serving in the CF, and RMC provides many opportunities for cadets to develop their fitness.
“If our model is working properly, then the cadets should be making a commitment to fitness, and I like that they have the flexibility to pursue the activities they want to pursue. I think they need the time to make decisions on what they’re going to do to achieve and maintain their fitness. Because, once they’re not in our program, be it on summer training, at home for Christmas, or after they graduate, they will have to have that commitment,” he said.
“Officers should set the example. They should therefore have a higher level of fitness. The PPT at RMC is demanding, and much more demanding than the CF EXPRES. The standard of fitness is indeed higher than the CF EXPRES test, but it must not be forgotten that both tests are as demanding as you make them – they are both maximal tests.”
In order to assist the cadets in pursuing fitness goals, Cates has been working hard to get them the facilities and equipment necessary. There are now team rooms for the basketball and volleyball teams, which will be ready to use in September. There is an athletic therapy clinic, as well as the new Birchall Pavilion. RMC is being supported by the college and the RMC Foundation, which raised the money for the Birchall Pavilion.
“We’ve had the infrastructure support, and it’s taken a lot of people that have done this on our behalf – different Commandants, DCadets, Directors of Physical Plant – all these people have really supported the athletic program,” Cates said. “The day we had the official opening ceremony of the Pavilion was one of the proudest moments I’ve had at RMC. The other one is, of course, the day that our women’s soccer team beat Queen’s in the first round of the playoffs,” he laughed.
“The other thing that didn’t draw me to RMC originally because I didn’t know about it, but something I love about RMC that makes me enjoy coming in to work everyday, are the cadets. The cadets are so bright, so motivated, they’re just so sharp compared to a regular student body, it’s night and day,” he said. “I wish more people on our campus could go to a civilian university for a period of time and see the difference between our students and those at a civvie u. We’re fortunate to work with some of the top young people in our country every day.”