Motivation, training are keys to top-tier athletic talent, York researcher says

A new book, co-authored by a York University researcher, suggests that a child’s general love of sports and motivation to play them may be the surest sign of potential talent and future success, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 19.

"Our research shows that there are two approaches (to achieving true talent)," says Joe Baker, a professor in kinesiology & health science at York [Faculty of Health]. "You can take the early specialization approach or you can take the diversification approach, which is play a lot of sports and gradually focus on one," says Baker

Playing many sports, Baker says, is a sign of general athletic prowess and a source of useful skills for the one a youngster will eventually choose.  More important, however, it shows a love of sports that is an almost certain sign a child will be motivated to work hard at the one he or she is eventually called to.

And motivation – more than any natural physical ability – is the indispensible component of talent, says Baker, whose book, Talent Identification and Development in Sport, is out this week.

"Motivation is the currency of skills acquisition," Baker says. "If I was looking for one thing to put my finger on and say this person is talented versus that person, motivation is where I would start."

Coaches and development officials should abandon the traditional notion that talent is specific and innate – a bright and glaringly obvious gift – and look for other factors. "We can’t dismiss the notion of (natural) talent," Baker says. "But the idea that we can point to someone and say, ‘That person has got it,’ well, it’s a lot more convoluted and nuanced than that."

The tale of a goddess, politics and fruit flies

Cheuk Kwan accompanied a guest to York University this week, hoping to show the visiting Hong Kong legislator a gold-painted statue commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 19.

To Kwan’s dismay and embarrassment, the four-metre high Goddess of Democracy icon – normally standing in the lobby of the campus student centre – had vanished.

Its sudden disappearance had some wondering: Could the statue’s removal possibly be the result of some sinister political pressure from the Chinese government? Or was it carted off simply because, as University administrators contend, the figure was attracting fruit flies?

And now, it appears the statue was tossed out with the trash.

"The goddess replica is an iconic symbol of China’s democratic movement. We’re upset that they just threw it into a scrap pit," said Kwan, chair of the Toronto Association for Democracy in China, the donor of the statue created by York fine arts students.

Kwan had later learned the statue was removed just prior to the Monday visit of Cheuk Yan Lee, an outspoken critic of the Chinese government.  "The first thing that came to our minds was whether this was a political manoeuvre under pressure from Chinese officials."

The original statue in China was built by Beijing Fine Arts Academy students at the height of the democratic movement in Tiananmen Square, which was later crushed by army tanks on June 4, 1989. Since then, replicas have appeared at university campuses around the world.

York University’s papier-mâché replica had been on display at the student centre since 1992.

In a letter to Kwan, [an] administrator said the statue was in a state of disrepair and the board of the [independently-run York University] Student Centre decided to remove it and replace it with a permanent plaque. "The materials used in its construction have exceeded their life expectancy … the maltreatment by the general population on campus has taken its toll on the general esthetics of the statue," wrote Scott Jarvis, the centre’s executive director.

"The holes in the exterior cladding allowed for debris to be put inside the cavity leading to health and safety concerns," he wrote in the letter.

Kwan said the Chinese community feels a memorial plaque will not have the same meaning as the goddess and has offered to donate a bronze replica to be placed in the same spot as the old statue.

Global fears cloud Canada’s outlook

As chaos continues to engulf stock markets around the world and fears of a recession grow, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney will do their best Friday to calm investors’ frazzled nerves, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 19, in a story about their appearance before the Commons finance committee.

Some doubt whether Flaherty’s and Carney’s words will have any effect on jittery stock markets anyway. "Unless they’ve got an announcement about some sort of secret deal that the Americans and Europeans have to solve everything, there’s almost nothing they can say that will have any effect," said Fred Lazar, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Economists and experts from across the political spectrum differ sharply on what Flaherty and Carney should say and do about the growing economic concerns. Some are calling for Flaherty to renew stimulus spending immediately, while others say spending billions of dollars when a recession isn’t certain would be premature at best and dangerous at worst.

Spending now could make Canada’s relatively small deficit of $40.5 billion mushroom when it’s not clear the economy really needs the extra boost, Lazar argued. "The last thing the government wants to do is to get into the same fiscal problems as the US or Europe. This could all blow over in six months," Lazar said.

Doing nothing at all would be just as perilous, he cautioned. "I think they should make a plan now, then wait three to four months and see how things are. If they wait four months and then say, ‘Gee, it’s bad, now let’s come up with a plan,’ that would be a mistake," Lazar said. He suggested Flaherty’s contingency plans should include renewed infrastructure spending or dropping the harmonized sales tax by 1 percentage point.

Council alcohol policy not needed: expert

Common sense shouldn’t have to be legislated, according one political expert, wrote Aug. 17.

Robert MacDermid, a political science professor at York University [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies], doesn’t believe an alcohol policy should have to be spelled out for municipal politicians to know what is acceptable while on town business. “In a workplace, 99 per cent of people understand not to come to work drunk, even if it’s not written,” he said. “Do we really need the rules spelled out for the one per cent who don’t?"

Many York Region municipalities have rules surrounding alcohol consumption for town employees, but elected officials aren’t subject to those policies. Instead, politicians in Newmarket, Aurora, Markham, Richmond Hill, Vaughan and other municipalities follow a code of conduct.

The codes of conduct do not cover alcohol consumption.

Codes of conduct are generally loose and not specific, MacDermid said. “But if you start adding specifics that are deemed common sense, the list could be endless…. Essentially, there is no boss in municipal politics,” MacDermid said. “It is up to the individual to decide to resign or stay.”

Dispute resolution program attracts lawyers, union heads and school principals

After a decades-long career in performing arts, Mercedes Watson [BFA Spec. Hons. ’89] trained to become a conflict mediator, wrote the Toronto Star Aug. 18. But first, she had to look within. "You can’t be a mediator without knowing yourself," says the former professional dancer and ACTRA union executive. "As soon as we interact with someone, we make assumptions that they share (our) same views," she explains. "That’s how conflict happens. It’s that simple, and that’s why it happens all the time."

Watson, who is originally from Jamaica but grew up in Unionville, took a certificate course in dispute resolution at York University. Geared to managers, union heads and insurance professionals, the one-year program teaches the fundamentals of conflict resolution and offers practical experience in mediation.

Students take formal classes in conflict-resolution theory and participate in small workshops where they practice mediation techniques through role-playing. The 132-hour session is offered twice a year, or as an intensive one-month summer program. The coursework is at a university level, so York recommends entrants have at least an undergraduate degree.

Some students go on to open their own private mediation practices, charging from $100 to $400 per hour for their services, says Marina De Bona, program & logistics manager in York’s Department of Continuing Education, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies.

Cindy Holovac took York’s advanced certificate course in dispute resolution before opening her own family mediation practice in Toronto. A former parole officer and manager with the Ministry of the Attorney General, she has now returned to York as a coach for current students in the program.

The program can also set students up to become accredited family mediators, a career that could see a jump in demand if Ontario continues its push toward mediation for divorce cases. Attorney General Chris Bentley has promised to expand a pilot program that forces all separating couples to take a mandatory information session on how to avoid going to court, such as family mediation. "I think it’s going to encourage people to look at other options, which is good," says Holovac Leithead.

"Both of York’s programs provide students with a solid theoretical and practical grounding regarding conflict resolution," she says. "These skills, especially in today’s society where there’s a lot of conflict, these are a lot of skills that can be used on a daily basis."

York trainer enjoys martial arts

Muay Thai isn’t the only martial art being practised at gyms… but it is one of the most popular, wrote Maclean’s in its Sept. 5 issue. Nevertheless, those training as fighters aren’t always the macho types one might expect. And such fighters usually aren’t jumping into the ring solely to hit somebody.

Natalie Yip, a 27-year-old fitness trainer at York University, began fighting competitively in 2003; she viewed it simply as the next step in her development as a martial artist. "It was just kind of the next challenge," says Yip.

Postsecondary education pays off financially

In a journal called Labour Economics, York University economist Xueda Song [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies] and UBC economist Craig Riddell recently published a paper indicating that people with more education have a higher probability of finding a new job after becoming unemployed, wrote BC’s Their research drew this conclusion after looking at Americans 12 months after losing a job and Canadians six months after losing a job. The effect was particularly pronounced for those who added one to four years of education beyond Grade 12.

How Sweet it is

Local country band Sweet Diezel has won a coveted performance spot at the upcoming Country Music Television Music Festival near Barrie, wrote the St. Catharines Standard Aug. 19.

Last month, they added Jeff Brown to the mix. He’s a jazz student at York University, plays guitar and sings backup vocals.

York grad to speak at chamber meeting

When Angus Watt [BA ’75] speaks, people listen, wrote Alberta’s Stony Plain Reporter Aug. 19, in a preview of his speech to the local chamber of commerce in September.

Watt is CEO and partner of Angus Watt Advisory Group and managing director, individual investor services, of National Bank Financial.

The topic of discussion for this speaking engagement is titled "Shaping Alberta’s Future".

Watt graduated from York University in 1974 with a degree in political science, and immediately entered the investment industry.

On air

  • Joe Baker, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, Faculty of Health, and editor of a new book on athletes and stardom, spoke about the case of a seven-year-old being signed to a professional soccer contract, on CBC Radio Aug. 18.
  • Kenneth McRoberts, principal of York’s Glendon College, spoke about TFO’s fundraising efforts to aid the people of Somalia, on Radio Canada (Sudbury) Aug. 18.
  • Jennifer Kuk, professor in York’s School of Kinesiology & Health Science, spoke about her research on obesity and health, on CTV News Aug. 18.