Family First: Michelle and Katherine Plouffe
Michelle and Katherine have been with me since my earliest days as an aspiring sport physiotherapist. I was fortunate enough to meet them while working with Canada Basketball’s National Elite Development Program and I have loved watching them (as well as all the other superstars from the program) grow and excel since their time as junior national team hopefuls. Both have gone on to earn university degrees while playing for D1 NCAA schools, they have represented Canada in the Olympic and Pan Am Games and are currently playing professionally in Europe. What has always struck me about Michelle and Katherine is their unrelenting support for each other in their careers, dedication to their faith and work to grow the game for girls in their own community. Though not all of us are Olympic athletes, we can all take away some lessons from this dynamic duo!
I am so happy Michelle and Katherine agreed to be my guinea pigs for a Q and A session a few weeks ago! Though they were interviewed separately, you may notice that their twinning nature shines through in many of their answers.
When do you feel the strongest (physically or mentally)?
Michelle: I feel I am my strongest mentally when I am confident in my preparation and have a free and thankful spirit to enjoy what I’m set out to do.
Katherine: I feel the strongest [going into a game] when I can say confidently that I am prepared – physically and mentally. I trust that I have done what I needed to do to be ready for the game/moment.
Describe a defining moment in your life and/or career. How did you grow after that?
Katherine: One of the defining moments in my career was when I was cut from the Canadian Senior National Team in 2012 and my sister made the team. My insecurities and areas needing growth really came to light when I had to face rejection (ie. being cut) and my sense of identity in basketball. I had constantly struggled with the "am I good enough" question and this was no exception. My identity was wrapped up in how I performed as an athlete, and this caused LOADS of problems mentally and spiritually as my focus and energy was spent trying to make sure I was living up to expectations and appearing to be doing well on the court. The change that came out of this moment has been a spiritual growth and acceptance of my true identity as a daughter of God, gifted with abilities - in whatever I do, not just basketball. I have experienced much more joy and gratitude living under this true identity, even during tough times.
Michelle: One specific moment in my basketball career was when I was playing with the Canadian National Team in 2012 – my first year on the Senior team. We had qualified for the Olympics about 2 weeks earlier and had just lost our first Olympic game. Although I learned innumerable things on the court that summer, this particular lesson came in the locker room. Coming from a background of being incredibly critical of myself after every game and a stressful college environment, I expected to witness some kind of anger, bitterness, tears from my teammates in the locker room but, what I saw was the complete opposite. Were they upset?- no doubt, but they went about their normal post game routine – ice, shower, change, etc. whilst still being able to talk to each other respectfully and calmly. My reaction after that: "Wow… I don’t need to beat myself up after every game?! Revolutionary!". It seems like a simple concept, but for young elite level athletes who are dedicated to their sport, it can consume them. For me, every loss [in university] was a punch in the gut for who I was as a player and person – I took them hard. But after experiencing losses in a locker room of a group of mature ladies, I realized that I was not helping anyone out by having those reactions – myself or my team. All I needed to do was keep working my butt off in practice and games – that’s how I show them I care. If I did my best and gave it my all, then I have nothing to cry about. And vice versa, if I know that my teammates give their all for the team, why would I want them to be that upset after a game lost? There’s no one on the team that is TRYING to lose, to miss shots, to make mistakes, those things just happen, it’s part of the game.
What do you admire about each other?
Michelle: What I admire so much in Katherine, is her consistency and her work ethic. Kath and I have had different twists and turns in our careers and it has been so cool to watch her grow in hers. From being an underrated college player, undrafted, and small contracts her first couple professional seasons, to being the MVP of the league last year and starting on a Euroleague team this season. What! Incredible. She has not wavered. She has stuck with it and continued to work at her craft and improve herself both on the court and off. She has stayed true to who she is, and given everything to every team she has played on.
Katherine: I admire Michelle’s work ethic to improve her game and her competitiveness. She is committed to her craft and loves to be challenged to get better. I also love her creativity - on and off the court.
Who has/have been your greatest role model(s) and what is one thing you have learnt from them?
Katherine: My older sister, Andrea, has been my greatest role model and mentor in my life. At a young age, I looked up to her and wanted to go where she went. She exemplified a great basketball career for me and the opportunities that were possible. Today, she continues to be a great example in communicating with, leading, and loving people.
Michelle: My older sister, Andrea, has been my greatest role model, in basketball and in life. Being around her, I’ve learned a few things but, I will tell you what I’ve valued most - I admire her integrity. The word integrity literally means to be whole or undivided. When I look at Andrea, and her life and the decisions she makes, there is no doubt in my mind what she is about. I want to live a life like that – when you look at my life and what I am doing, whether you agree with me or not, you will know what I am about.
I know you are working to get girls involved in basketball and sport. What do you see in this next generation that excites you the most?
Michelle: What I see first of all, are more girls involved in basketball and sport. That itself, is exciting because I know how sport can impact the life of a young girl. I know that sport can develop confidence and other intangible qualities in girls that are so necessary in life. I know that most kids don’t sign up for basketball or another sports team because they think it will change their life, but my hope is that it does, for the better. My hope is that basketball can be a pathway to developing leaders; not just to lead basketball teams, but to lead in schools, communities, churches, families, wherever there is an opportunity. I see a generation that I think wants to make an impact on the world around them and I think that sports teams are an opportunity to do just that. The difference we can make in a teammate’s life, or the relationships we build while on these teams, or the impact a team has on a community, all can influence change.
Katherine: It is exciting, and a privilege, to be in a position to influence and impact the next generation. In a society that is constantly being bombarded with ‘ideals’ of fake perfection and materialism, I see that there are girls who want to defy those standards and stand for something greater - willing to step out and be the first to do something; to be trailblazers. That is what I want to encourage and empower girls to do and keep doing!