Canadian coaches sticking with Para sport

Canadian Paralympic Committee

November 23, 2023

‘’This is what sport is meant to be’’

Nathalie Séguin

Photo: Coach Nathalie Séguin rallies the troops in men’s goalball

SANTIAGO – Drew Ferguson, head coach of Canada’s CP Football team at the 2023 Parapan American Games, played 13 seasons as a soccer pro then coached a few more before he got frustrated with the sport.

“The modern football player falls on the ground and rolls around for about 20 minutes, you try to help them up and they go ‘doot, doot’ and then get up on their own again.”

In 2004, he went to a soccer camp for people with a disability and it was love at first kick.

“This opportunity came by. I didn’t know much about it,” said Ferguson, now in his 18th season with the CP (cerebral palsy) Football national team, also known sometimes as Para soccer or 7-a-side football. “I fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get over their positive attitudes on life and their willingness to learn.”

Several Canadian teams here at the Games have very experienced coaches at the helm and they definitely never saw their positions as a springboard for future coaching opportunities.

‘’I got a lot of pride in these players, for what they do. They are amazing people,” added Ferguson, now 66.

Andrzej Sadej was head coach of Canada’s national judo team in the 1990s which featured Nicolas Gill, who won two Olympic medals. In 2014, he hesitantly took over the Paralympic program. The decision changed his life.

“When I was asked to step into the coaching realm of the Para sport, I thought that I was too old,” said Sadej, 65. “But I had the Olympic level experience and when I started it just sucked me in. This is a completely different world, great people who appreciate what they get. They really deserve as much attention as anybody else and they don’t usually get it.”

Sadej feels his involvement in Para sport is a potential ideal career send-off.

“For me it was an eye opener and real life-changing experience honestly. I immensely enjoy it and I’m immensely grateful for the opportunity to do it near the end of my sporting career.”

Nathalie Séguin has been the head coach of the men’s goalball team since 2016 and also leads the Para track and field program at Université Laval in Quebec City.

‘’There’s always a great challenge in Para sport,” she said. ‘’It’s never the same, everybody has a different situation and it’s just really interesting. You never get bored, and you always want to help the next athlete that comes along.”

Patrick Côté has been head coach of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team for the past seven years and part of the program since 2011.

‘’What drives me the most is just to see our athletes reach their full potential,” said Côté. ‘’And that’s not just in wheelchair rugby but in everyday life. It is so motivating to see (people with a disability) get out and circulate, become more autonomous, then attain levels of sporting performance they thought they would never achieve. It just gives them a life story that is super motivating.

‘’To lead an entire team like this is simply a great privilege.”

Samuel Charron, regarded as one of the best CP football players in the world, says Para coaches like Drew Ferguson are unique.

‘’He played a big part in making me the man I am today,’’ said Charron. ‘’I started at a very young age and I had to mature fast. He took a chance on me when I was very young and that gave me a lot of confidence. He’s the kind of guy you want to play for until your body gives out.’’

Unlike Ferguson, Sadej, Côté and Séguin, Dejan Papic is new to Para sport. He coached able-bodied table tennis for 40 years before emerging as Canada’s Para table tennis coach this year. The experience left him stunned.

‘’I found out this year that maybe this is what sport is meant to be,” said Papic. ‘’Many people in Canada will not know but table tennis is a lot about the money in the pro leagues.

“Para sport is more towards trying to help people, to develop, to find meaning. I have found it very rewarding working with these athletes.”

Can Crew Newsletter

Receive the latest news, athlete stories, and behind-the-scenes access directly to your inbox.

"*" indicates required fields