Athlete Rep Spotlight: Johnny Purcell – Skateboard

It’s Our Turn, AthletesCAN’s new marketing campaign focuses on the stories of athlete leaders across the 68 sports eligible for AthletesCAN membership. The campaign highlights a pivotal moment for a new era in sport governance, underlining the athlete representatives’ respective journeys into the athlete advocacy movement both in their careers and within their National Sport Organizations (NSOs).

Each week, AthletesCAN profiles a key athlete leader among its membership, highlighting how athlete representation has played a significant role in their career and within their National Sport Organization.

Johnny Purcell

Name: Johnny Purcell
Sport: Skateboard
Position / Event: Street
National team tenure: 2021 – Present
Hometown: Lunenburg, NS

How did you first hear about and get involved in athlete advocacy?

I had been on the team for about a year and a half and the previous athlete rep had reached out at the end of her term and she was transitioning out of being the athlete rep. It had been a couple of years since she was in sport herself and she kind of reached out and proposed the position to everyone in the group and at first it didn’t initially resonate with me. And then I kind of spoke to her a little bit more about it and the position kind of interested me. Sometimes it takes the person pulling you into it.

Why is it important for the Canadian Sport System to prioritize an athlete-centred experience?

I think it’s important to prioritize being athlete-centered because that’s that’s what this whole thing is. You know, that’s what that’s what everything comes back to is these individuals. And even if skateboarding specifically is an individual sport, but even if your sport is a team sport like hockey, like that team is made up of a collection of individuals who are all pushing the sport on Canada’s behalf and without these athletes, none of these organizations or sports are going to like to move the needle within the country at all. So I think having any conversations without the athletes, at least in some part being involved, would be doing a huge disservice to both the athletes and the growth of those sports in general.

Johnny Purcell

How have you used your athlete voice on behalf of your peers and how has it impacted your sport journey?

I’m still pretty new to the athlete role. I started in early September. I did attend one qualifying event as an athlete rep and as a result of that, when I came back, I prepared a little bit of a survey to kind of just ask the team like, how was their experience at the event and what were some good things and what were some challenges that they might have faced in hopes that we could get feedback to give to the coaches and the directors of Canada Skateboard to hopefully help the athletes more in the future? I realized quickly how I phrased the questions to my team members was actually really important because you can get any answer you want depending on how you phrase the question. Really taking the time to think of those survey questions in a meaningful way to give people the freedom to say what they felt was the last thing I’ve, I’ve done as an athlete rep I think to help the team.

What is your favourite memory being an Athlete Rep / being involved in athlete advocacy? 

I’m new to the athlete advocacy position I’ve now and I’ve also just been added to the board of directors for Canada Skateboard, which is pretty cool. So I’m kind of like both. And I think in large part that’s because a lot of these boards now want to have at least one athlete or athlete representative on the board. So that’s kind of combining, combining those two roles.

But favorite memory so far, I think one of our young female athletes, Faye, had just won the Pan American Games. She got gold and it was, you know, six weeks after I started an athlete rep. And I just kind of felt like a sense, an extra sense of happiness for her. And I think in large part that’s due to like the fact of being an athlete rep and just an extra sense of excitement. I would have been happy for her regardless,but just seeing others on the team do well and perform. It’s given me an extra boost in morale for them.

What have you learned about being a leader in your sport?

In large part just because you’re the athlete rep, it doesn’t specifically mean that you’ve got the captain, you’ve got the “C” on your jersey. It’s not it’s not quite the same as something like that. But I think just if you’re in that position, the most important thing that stood out to me is just to be as honest as you can with the team and with yourself and just trying to, whether it be at events or in the like training for these events and preparation like just showing up, so to speak, and just like being there and like doing the things that you say you’re going to do, trying to lead by example in that sense. It doesn’t mean you’re necessarily the best on the team, and I’m certainly not. 

I’m just trying to do the things that you think you should be doing in hopes others see that and kind of get motivated to do the same thing and like knowing using discretion to like when I say being honest like I’m now on the board of directors as well as being the athlete rep. You’re wearing like two different hats. And one of those hats requires a lot of discretion. Understanding what to say, when to say what and when to hold your tongue, for the sake of your athletes and for the sake of the organization.

Why should your peers join AthletesCAN and/or get more involved in the leadership of their National Sport Organization?

I think as far as athletes joining AthletesCAN it’s pretty self-explanatory. As an athlete, you’re not only training and preparing for these events and things to do well in your sport, but a lot of your time and energy is going into resource allocation and planning for yourself. You’re not totally focused on a career, you’re invested in your sport. Planning how you’re going to get to these competitions and live, quite frankly, is a large part of your time as well. So AthletesCAN can at least hopefully guide you in the directions and strategies. Whether it be their list of where to go for resources based on your geographical location, which is helpful or yeah, the other support systems that they have. Just the stuff outside of training for your sport that comes with being an athlete.

As far as any athletes that are thinking about getting into being an athlete representative or any type of leadership role for their team, I think, you know, it might feel weird or uncomfortable or, you might have the sensation, that I’m not doing anything. But in which case I think just know that one, someone’s got to do it. And why not you? And two, it’s just a good way to prepare your it’s a good way to train yourself. It’s a good way to practice showing up for other people on other people’s behalf. You know your issues are going to be relevant there as well.