Olympian (and team “mom”) Ellie Black on respect, support, and dreaming big
Whether wobbling onto a skating rink for the first time, taking part in a summer soccer tournament, or standing atop a world championship podium, respect is a key tenet of sportsmanship — no matter your age or skill level.
Competing fairly and honourably, and having respect for oneself, teammates, and coaches are essential components of good sportsmanship. These qualities not only contribute to a positive and healthy sporting environment but also reflect broader values that can be applied in all aspects of life.
Respect, along with excellence and friendship, form the trio of values at the heart of the Olympic Movement, whose goal is “to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”
Instilling an environment of respect in youth sports starts early — shaking hands after a game, consoling a competitor, and high-fiving the coach while celebrating a personal best. Ways to help encourage the value of respect in up-and-coming athletes is through strong and supportive leaders, whether they be coaches, teachers, or teammates.
One athlete lauded for her acts of kindness and respect is artistic gymnast Ellie Black, who’s flying high these days as she anchors Canada’s women’s gymnastics team and continues to elevate the country’s presence in the sport.
From teammate to leader
When Black made her Olympic debut at London 2012, she was 16 and had been considered by many a longshot to make the team. She ended up being one of the top performers on the Canadian squad.
This past November, Black led the Canadian team to a historic bronze medal and earned an individual silver medal on beam at the 2022 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships in Liverpool, England. It was her seventh time as a world championship team member.
Black is now Canada’s most decorated female artistic gymnast and, at the age of 27, she’s not only the veteran of the Canadian team, but the unofficial “mom” to a younger group of talented world-class athletes. With over a decade of experience in international competitions, she’s earned the respect of her teammates, fellow competitors, and former athletes, who all praise her leadership, compassion, and support.
Jeremy Bartholomeusz has known Black for almost a decade and counts her experience, leadership, and the priority she places on the needs of those around her as some of the qualities that position her in the team’s mom role.
“Ellie has learned a lot from her athletic journey and uses that to relate with others and help them be successful,” he says. “When you remove the ‘athlete’, you’re left with a bubbly, kind-hearted person who goes out of her way to care for and include others.”
Bartholomeusz says that care might include packing and sharing snacks, giving one-on-one talks, and being “someone you can trust for an ear to listen, and for advice and guidance.”
“Ellie is so kind and patient with the younger kids who clearly idolize her. She answers every question with a smile, never breaks eye contact, never forgets a name, and never rushes a conversation. She is one of the finest ambassadors for a sport, and a province, that I have ever seen,” said Bruce Rainnie, the president and CEO of the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame in this November 2022 CBC article.
Black, who grew up in Halifax, was encouraged and supported by her family throughout her gymnastics journey. “Since the very beginning, they have made it possible for me to pursue this sport and follow my dreams. They are my champions and top advocates, and I wouldn’t be where I am without them,” she says.
It’s that level of close support that she’s now sharing with the team, where she sees herself as a leader, captain, and friend to the younger members. “I like to think of our team as an extended family. I try to help out in any way possible and be a pillar of support for my teammates.”
Ahead of Tokyo 2020, one of those teammates, Brooklyn Moors, vouched for Black’s positive impact. “She’s obviously our leader and, like, mom of the group. She has been through everything and can help us with anything we need, even if it is just a little pep talk.”
Black recognizes that every athlete has unique talents and abilities and celebrates their differences. “I want to inspire them to truly be themselves, embrace what makes them unique, and continue breaking barriers; to believe that it is possible to achieve what they set their mind to.”
Training beside her for almost 10 years, Bartholomeusz has witnessed Black’s passion and love for sport. “It’s been amazing to see someone so passionate about what they do and grateful for the opportunity to use their platform to inspire those around them to chase their dreams like her.”
Bartholomeusz says despite some of the hardships Black has faced in her career, she doesn’t shy away from sharing lessons learned. “[Black] represents this necessary shift in sport culture: recognizing there is strength in vulnerability. When you look at her style of gymnastics, it is powerful and expressive; two traits not often seen in tandem in gymnastics. Ellie demonstrates that sport evolves over time and change like this only comes about when people like her dare to push the envelope and challenge the status quo.”
Black (humbly) counts being caring, positive, passionate, self-aware, and authentic as strengths that contribute to her being a role model. “I hope I inspire them as a leader to be good teammates and become leaders in the sport themselves,” she says.
Some of the advice Black tells her teammates (and is indispensable for athletes of all levels) is to have confidence and not compare themselves to others. Learning how to handle obstacles and adversities is another valuable lesson.
“There will usually be something that goes wrong or is not an ideal situation, so it’s important to be able to have confidence in your ability to overcome and persevere.”
Black also shares the importance of being a good teammate, building each other up, and asking for help when needed. “Together, we can all push each other to be stronger and support one another.”
“I often forget about how accomplished and recognized Ellie is within the gymnastics and sport community because she is such a relatable and personable friend,” says Bartholomeusz. “She places great value on the ‘team’ – whether it be her teammates, coaches, support staff, or community – and always emphasizes how none of her achievements would be possible with these individuals.”
Black stresses respect, noting that without it, success is hard to achieve. “Respect builds trust, strength, and inclusivity,” she says.
Sharing advice for children and young athletes, Black encourages them to focus on their own goals and plans, and what they need to do to perform their best. “It’s important to stay in the present and look at what is within your control. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in managing pressures. Give yourself positive reinforcement and be kind to yourself. Sport is meant to be fun and come from a place of passion.”
Asked what advice she would give her younger self, Black would share these words:
● Don’t compare your path or timeline to anyone else’s.
● You are strong and your body type helps you perform incredible gymnastics.
● Enjoy the process — you can overcome whatever is put in your path.
● Enjoy every opportunity. There is a learning lesson from every experience.
Looking ahead, the three-time Olympian has her sights set on being part of the Team Canada at Paris 2024. The bronze medal at the worlds secured Canada the full Olympic team quota of five athletes for women’s artistic gymnastics. While her goal is to compete in and challenge for a medal in the all-around, beam, and vault finals, Black’s hopes for the team are front and centre.
“Help my team qualify for the finals and work towards reaching the podium together. And as always, inspire those watching to go for their goals and dreams!”
This article was produced by Active for Life, a Canadian not-for-profit social initiative created to help parents give their children the right start in life through the development of physical literacy. The Canadian Olympic Committee has been a supporter of Active for Life since 2012. You can find more articles featuring Team Canada athletes on the Active for Life website, including Patrick Chan, Mélodie Daoust, Carol Huynh, Mark Nichols, Mirela Rahneva, and Neville Wright in which they share their tips for parents about the participation of children in sport.