Jennifer Abel walks to the end of the diving springboard. She sees younger divers gather below by the side of the pool. They watch her practice.
“That’s Jennifer Abel,” one of them says. “She’s an Olympian.”
Jennifer knows she isn’t just practicing her own dives today. She is also setting an example. She is being a leader.
She wants to show the kids how much work it is to become an Olympian.
“I practice each dive thousands of times,” says Jennifer. That way I am ready to do my best every time I stand on the board. I don’t always feel like getting up early. I don’t always feel like training. But I do get up early and train.”
Jennifer dives. She does a perfect triple summersault. She plunges into the pool. The water barely ripples.
In a way, it’s surprising that Jennifer is a leader. She’s barely 20 years old. She is a veteran of the Canadian team but she is still the youngest diver.
Jennifer qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing when she was just 16.
“I have always been confident,” she says. “I wanted to make the team in time for 2012. I made it four years earlier. I wasn’t really prepared for the pressure.”
The Olympic Games was a completely different world. Jennifer knew she was a good diver. But she faced pressure that she’d never faced before.
“It really hit me when I walked into the pool in Beijing,” says Jennifer. “That’s when I first knew that I was an Olympian. But I felt like I was just a kid! I felt nervous.”
Too much pressure or emphasis to win can hurt an athlete’s performance. The older athletes on the team knew Jennifer needed extra help. Her coach, Cesar Anderson, took her aside.
“He had a trick,” says Jennifer. “He asked me to focus on just one thing at a time. Sometimes he told me to think about the angle of my arm. Sometimes he asked me to think about how I point my feet when I enter the water. That helped calmed my nerves.”
Fellow diver Emilie Heymans was also a big help. She was at her third Olympic Games in Beijing. She was a role model for Jennifer.
Emilie and Jennifer now dive together in the 3-meter synchro event. They dive at the exact same time and score points as a team.
“Emilie is calm,” says Jennifer about her partner. “She is a real leader. She helps everyone around her become better.”
Jennifer also learned a valuable lesson. No one can be great by themselves. She got over her nerves, and finished 13th overall. That was a great result for such a young diver.
“Leadership isn’t always telling people what to do, but showing them how. I feel I can do that even better now.”
Jennifer gets out of the pool. She grabs a towel. A few of the young divers come over to say hello. Some ask Jennifer for advice. Jennifer smiles and listens to their questions.
“I love it when kids ask me for advice. I say they have to believe in themselves. They have to work hard and never give up. That’s true no matter what you want to be.”
Then Jennifer says she has to get back to work. She needs more practice to win a medal in London.
Connecting: Making a class web
In partners, discuss leadership. Guiding questions may include:
- Who do you think is a leader (you may know that person or not)?
- What does a leader do?
- What does a leader say?
- How does a leader treat others?
Students share their ideas and the teacher records these either on a board or on class web.
Processing: Identifying leadership in action
- Before reading the story together, choose four key qualities from the class brainstorm activity to complete the quadrant on the student activity sheet, located at the end of this section.
- Together, reread the story or for the advance readers, they can read it silently on their own then match the chosen qualities on the quadrant to examples from Jennifer’s story. Students may use words or pictures to show their understanding.
Transforming: Leading by example posters
- Jennifer is only 20 years old, but leads by example. Ask the class for stories of people in their lives who have led by example (e.g., parents, older siblings, coaches, teachers, etc.). Examples may include walking an older student who walked them to the bus stop or someone who did something without being asked. Ask” How can you show good leadership behaviours in your own school / class / hallway/ assemblies / library/ playground /big buddy activities?, etc.? “
- Make a poster alone or with a partner that shows you practicing good leadership in your school.