Athlete Rep Spotlight: Shae La Roche – Water Polo

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.

Shae La Roche

Name: Shae La Roche
Sport: Water Polo
Position / Event: Right Handed Attacker
National team tenure: 2014 – Present
Hometown: Winnipeg, Man.

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

I was about 14 and at my school, my teacher that year, her husband was the head coach of our club so she knew I was involved in any sport I could be at the school. And so she said to my mom that it would be a cool sport for me to try. At first I sounded a little strange, like a sport. It was, you know, it’s a bit obscure. It’s not the most common sport you hear. But yeah, I tried it and I instantly fell in love with it. And from there it kind of just became my maybe my main sport and continued on to went on scholarship to the states for university. And now I’ve played pro and I’ve stayed with the national team. So since that age it kind of just became my life.

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

I think an athlete-centred experience is super important. We’re the ones in the sport playing it. So just from our perspective, we can just see things different from like our coaches or directors or parents, anyone. We really can just see things that maybe they’ll miss. And it’s not ill-intentioned or anything, but it’s just that, you know, we have that unique sense of what we need and where we are. And I think adding that together with the help of everyone else I just named, combining all those perspective can just really get us to the best we can in our sport. In my sport, for example, we’re pretty strong with having an athletes’ council and our federation, we’ve worked with them for years and they really respect our point of view. I know that’s not the case in every sport. So I think that I’m coming from a sport that has set a pretty high standard and I just hope for that with every other sport. We have this with our national teams. I think that it’s important for that to be at every level too, and that takes athletes wanting to stay involved in their sport. At every level, be it recreational or competitive moving forward, starting at the grassroots and taking the steps forward that we need to build our national teams. I think it can be a little too late sometimes when it’s only national team, obviously speaking from the perspective of my sport, but it’s just getting into that conversation at every point we can and that’s how it’s going to help build forward and develop our sport.

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

I first started getting involved with our Athletes Council. I was a lot newer to the national team at that point, so I thought that it just sounded, you know, interesting. I’m someone who likes to speak my mind and I think I can be quite good at kind of representing the different points of view within our team as well. That was definitely a different story. You know, ten years ago when I was newer to the team. And I think now, now that I’m more veteran of it, I kind of know the different levels of not only competing but just being involved with our federation. I think that it’s just really given me a platform to bring any issues forward. And conversely, because I’ve built those relationships and like been there kind of using my voice, it’s made it so that our federation respects what we say too. And so at this point, they’ll come to us as well with, “Hey, we’re looking for your input on this”. And I think just by keeping not only me, but it’s the past athletes that have kind of started this movement like we’ve had great athletes involved who have been like, “okay, our voice needs to be heard on both the men’s and the women’s side”. It’s just kind of years of us kind of putting our foot in the door and then now they’re reciprocating that. So we’ve had athletes involved in different decision-making processes along the way, be it having someone on the board for hiring different levels of coaches or whatnot, especially with like the youth and junior teams and everything, and just having our point of view when there are bigger things happening in our federation. So yeah, there’s been a lot of instances where our director or CEO or coaches have been surprised at our point of view, which has been just really positive to make them think that from our perspective, you know, it’s just they’re not in our shoes. So even no matter how hard they try, they can’t always understand our perspective. So yeah, I think it’s been really positive for us to just be able to bring issues forward and issues positive things to. It could be sometimes we’re like, You know what? You guys made this change and we really appreciate it. Like this design that needs to stay.

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

I think I wouldn’t say it’s one big specific memory, but it’s every time that I have one of my teammates or someone involved. You know, it’s been juniors, it’s been parents even coming up to me and thanking me or just acknowledging like what you do is important and it impacts people. And sometimes it’s just small conversations you have with the Federation or just like showing that you support those athletes and feeling that especially from an older person on the senior team like just feeling that I could help them and better my sport in some way. Yeah, I think it’s all those little moments that come together that make me really like thankful for the position I do have and want even more to just kind of keep breathing our sport and giving back.

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

I think I’ve learned to just bring forth my point of view or the point of view from our team as well. You know, sometimes there’s athletes who will come to me with like, “Hey, I think this should happen or this is an issue”. And even if it wasn’t something that I didn’t feel, but if it’s something that the team has felt that obviously needs to come forward and I’ve just learned like there’s no harm in doing so, I think we can be a little bit hesitant at times to kind of speak your mind. In the past with different coaches, especially, you know, growing up we had a lot more like kind of old school coaches, like, it’s my way, this is what we’re doing. End of story. And we’ve evolved a lot beyond that. And again, we’re a sport this lucky to have worked really hard like our coaching staff is very responsive to us and yeah, they’re really adaptable, which is positive for us because that gives us the space to and like the confidence to be able to move forward. And it doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to everything we have to say. You know, we’re like, it’s not for us to kind of say that everything, but I’ve just learned that if it’s something that we really feel like matters to us, bring it forward. Like you can’t expect it to change if we don’t try to change it.

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

I think it’s just if we want to see change and we want to see the sport develop positively, in the way we envision it, we have to get involved. You know, like I kind of touched on before, we can’t expect something to move the way you want it to. If you kind of don’t stand up and get involved a bit and we have the chance to shape sport into what we want it to be. And I think that being involved in this life and you know, I’m very aware of how amazing of a lifestyle we have getting to play the sport we love, getting to, to travel, to represent your country. And it’s like we can make it an even more positive experience for everyone else coming up, too. Like, I think we’re moving forward and we’re developing and and changing and why not just make it better for everyone else, you know? So I just see such a positive light moving forward. And I just want us to bring that to everyone.