Athlete Rep Spotlight: Nina Tajbakhsh, Ringette

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

Nina Tajbakhsh

Sport: Ringette
Position: Forward
National team tenure: 2022-present
Hometown: North Vancouver, B.C.

How did you first hear about and get involved within your sport?

I’ve been in the National Ringette League (NRL) for about 10 years now, and right as I entered there were a lot of positions where different committees and different sort of ad-hoc committees were looking for athlete representation and I’ve always kind of had an interest in it. I’ve always wanted to help advocate for the athlete’s voice and make sure it’s heard and at the centre of what we’re doing in sport, especially in ringette, where it’s kind of a smaller sport. So I just kind of started getting involved on committees here and there. I served as the NRL rep for the West for a number of years and then just kind of kept getting involved in different committees that would pop up for different initiatives that Ringette Canada was taking. And then the Board position came up as the Athlete Director and a previous national team captain had sent it to me just kind of saying, ‘Hey, maybe look into this.’ I’ve kind of looked up to her for a while. So I was like, ‘Well, she’s saying I should do it, so maybe I should!’

Nina Tajbakhsh
Nina Tajbakhsh

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

I think there are lot of people involved in sport, especially at these higher levels, but keeping it athlete-centered is sort of the reason we’re all here. We don’t have sport without athletes. I think especially now, it’s really important to have that athlete focus as sort of the forefront and making sure that athletes are feeling like they can train, they can develop, they can compete, but it’s also a safe space for them to be in to do those things and to continue developing the sport, and to continue to bring new athletes in. I think the athlete-centered approach is what’s going to keep sport moving forward. I think it’s important that the athletes feel that they’re important in that sense and feel that the athlete-centered approach is actually being met – just to kind of encourage them to return and encourage new athletes to come up into those positions.

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

I think it’s been a really cool experience. I’ve tried a lot to sort of branch out to different groups of athletes. There are always the ones that, like myself, who really like to get involved in these things and really want to see those changes push forward. But there are also groups of athletes who maybe aren’t as comfortable bringing their voice forward, and I think that’s where the athlete reps and representation comes in, to make sure their voices are heard as well, even if they’re not as forthcoming with it. So I think for me, I’ve just really had to sort of find out what the areas are that the athletes in our sport want to see improved or things that can be changed or aren’t meeting our expectations at certain times and then bringing that forward to the people who can help make the change. That’s just sort of added that next level of why I love sport so much and why I love being involved in the logistics of ringette outside as the Athlete Rep. Again, being a smaller sport, there are a lot of barriers that we face and we feel that a lot as athletes, especially at the High Performance level. So being able to kind of be a sort of resource for change in those things and trying to help move things forward has been really important.

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

Prior to 2018, the National Ringette League used to use the draft for new players coming into the league or players who were in the league to kind of determine where they would play. And there was myself and one other athlete who were sort of on that committee as the Athlete Reps for this, and we pushed really hard to get the draft removed. We’re ringette, we don’t get paid to play, we pay to play. And so it was really important for us to allow that choice for athletes to play where they wanted to play and where they felt they would be happiest, perform best, and wanted to be. So I think definitely one of the highlights is removing the draft for ringette was huge for the athletes. 

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

A lot of it is kind of that communication piece and being able to take in all different kinds of input. So what one athlete needs might not be what another one needs, but being able to collectively take everything that you’re being told and being able to sort of articulate that in a way that it’s going to meet the needs of multiple people with different intentions and different outlooks of what they want to see coming. So I think that listening piece, being able to take it all in and just using that to make change instead of what we’ve seen a lot in sport where all this information comes in but what happens with it is sort of where we lose track. So I think being able to actually collect the information and push that towards change has been a big thing that I’ve learned.

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

I think everybody should. This is the place where if you want to see change, you need to get involved to be a part of it and kind of encourage other people to do the same. It’s kind of rare to find places like this where the athlete voice and the athlete input is important and it’s the whole purpose and you kind of have that support to make those decisions. You can learn so much about how to sort of take those things and take them into your sport at all levels and try to help make those changes and continue to develop. So I think it’s a no brainer. Everybody should.