As a student in Sheridan’s Police Foundation program, Kevin Wattier is looking forward to a community-focused career. But the Brampton native isn’t waiting for graduation, he’s getting a head start by volunteering as a swim coach with his local Special Olympics organization. And more recently he’s become the inaugural Social Media Coordinator for all of Special Olympics Brampton teams, a volunteer role that further develops the communication skills on which he relies to be a successful leader poolside and in the classroom.
As one of four swim coaches, Wattier is responsible for a lane of five athletes with whom he works weekly on improving fitness and correcting strokes. Athletes are between 12 and 50 years of age, have varying swimming abilities and intellectual exceptionalities. To accommodate a range of athletes’ needs and to overcome challenges with communication, Wattier has developed individualized strategies to ensure everyone has an enjoyable and safe experience in the water and is improving in their sport. “It’s a stay fit and have fun environment,” he says.
“It’s a stay fit and have fun environment” – Kevin Wattier
Developing effective communication strategies has taken time and practice and has not only benefited him in his coaching duties but are central to his studies. “My professors emphasize that communication is the number one skill needed in law enforcement,” he explains. “You need to be prepared to interact with diverse communities, resolve conflicts, and negotiate with people in distress.” With some beneficial experience under his belt, Wattier’s peers look to him for techniques for positively interacting with members of the public with special needs.
An interest in this line of work stemmed from Wattier’s role as a counsellor at Camp Cairn in Baysville. He was assigned to a group of campers with intellectual disabilities and although initially apprehensive about his qualifications, he quickly grew confident in the role. “I experienced a great connection with one of the first campers I had and was soon helping other counsellors experiencing challenges,” he explains. After two summers with the camp came to a close and he started studying at Sheridan, Wattier realized he wanted to find another way to get involved with what he describes as “a kind, tight-knit community.” As an experienced swim instructor, the Special Olympics Brampton team was a natural fit.
To cultivate a bigger picture understanding of its mandate, Wattier makes time to attend monthly Special Olympics Brampton Council meetings. He explains: “I initially thought the focus was on training and competing but it’s equally about removing barriers to sport so that people with special needs don’t feel isolated in their communities.” His involvement on the Council led to the development of his newest role when he brought forward the proposal to get Brampton’s teams on social media. Council members have recognized the positive impact of his efforts and approved the purchase of a camera so he can take photos at events. “Athletes love to see themselves on the sites and parents are thankful to have memorable moments recorded,” he says.
“I initially thought the focus was on training and competing but it’s equally about removing barriers to sport so that people with special needs don’t feel isolated in their communities” – Kevin Wattier
Some of those memorable moments include monthly swim meets that include Special Olympics teams from across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). Wattier helps with behind-the-scenes organization, timing heats, and helping athletes get lined up at the starting block. “The atmosphere is very positive,” he says. “Everyone supports one another and athletes are really focused on improving their personal bests.” In May 2016 Wattier recruited 15 of his peers from Sheridan to volunteer as timers at the end-of-year meet. The opportunity seems to have made a positive impression – he received multiple emails afterward to thank him for the experience and to find out about upcoming events.
When his time at Sheridan comes to a close, Wattier hopes to become a police officer, but sees his work and volunteerism continuing to align in the future. For one, police departments across the GTA regularly fundraise in support of the Special Olympics with events like the annual Polar Plunge in Lake Ontario and the Law Enforcement Torch Run. By continuing on as a coach and a social media champion he hopes to make a long-lasting community impact, showcase the great work of the Special Olympics, and inspire people with special needs and their families to get involved.
Pictured at top of page: Kevin Wattier (left) with swim team athlete John
Written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.