A to Z with Brock’s new AD
Finding a silver lining about COVID-19 is akin to locating the proverbial needle in a 1,000 haystacks.
The pandemic did, however, play a part in helping Brock University land Melissa Krist as its new director of Brock Sports. On June 1, the Watertown resident will take over the role of overseeing the St. Catharines university’s athletics department and its 900 student/athletes. Prior to coming to Brock, Krist spend the past 11 years serving as the University of Toronto’s manager of intercollegiate sport within the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education.
“I’ve been working at the university in sport and recreation for a long time — over 20 years — and what COVID actually did for me was give me an opportunity to think about what my life is going to look like in the next decade,” Krist said. “It was an opportunity to take account of where I currently am and what more and what else I can do.
“Upon reflection, I felt there was a lot more that I could do and recognizing that what I was doing at the University of Toronto was certainly rewarding and I loved it, but being in sport and rec there are only so many opportunities available within the province.”
When the U of T grad saw the posting for the Brock position, she threw her hat in the ring.
“I thought, you know what, let’s see what happens. I love Niagara, I love the region and I thought let’s try it out. It was a self-reflection that I thought I could do more,” she said.
“I hope that I have another decade of working and I can give my next organization a good 10 years of my life.”
She was attracted to Brock by a number of factors.
“Brock has a great reputation across the province and even across the country for its sports community and its community engagement,” she said. “From that, I know that athletics is fully supported and walking into an institution brand new, I knew that it was something that I wouldn’t have to fight for because everyone is so supportive of sport, not just within the community but also within the university.
“It is a blessing to be able to do something every day that you love and also have others love what you do every day. Not a lot of people can say that in the work that they do.”
The mother of three describes her management style as transparent and potentially over-communicative, if you can be over-communicative.
“From a leadership style, I’m also a compassionate leader, recognizing that everybody is in a different situation and trying to move people to their skillset and maximizing those skills to do the job that needs to be done is important,” she said. “Old school leadership in terms of dictatorship doesn’t have a place any more. It has to be collaborative and it (leadership) has to be one that listens.”
Krist’s style has been influenced by two women who mentored her during a 25-year career at the University of Toronto: Liz Hoffman, the school’s former director of athletics and high performance; and, Beth Ali, its current executive director of co-curricular athletics and physical activity. She will incorporate elements of each mentor in the way she does her job.
“In the last five to seven years especially, it is resiliency. Resiliency is the key piece to this and understanding how to be flexible because university sports change so much. That whole dynamic is what Beth has brought to the program.”
Krist describes Hoffman as a relationship builder.
“She was one of the first female athletic directors in Canada and she built relationships, she knew how to facilitate really tough conversations and was really looked upon as a leader serving as CIS (USPORTS) president,” she said. “Because she was a leader, all those elements are important in creating a collaborative approach and ensuring that sport is not just prominent in your own institution but also across the country.”
Like her mentors, Krist is all about developing more than just athletes.
“People see the importance of developing humans for our future generation because what we are ultimately doing is much different than our American counterparts. We are here to produce good humans for the future and that’s what is important for our society.”
Krist took some time to relax at her family’s Georgian Bay cottage after her last day of work in Toronto on May 20 and is looking forward to taking over at Brock. Her first steps have been dictated by the pandemic.
“We are in a COVID world right now and it is really important that our student-athletes and coaches get the best support that they can coming back on to campus,” she said. “With the new provincial announcement, we are hoping we will be back on campus as early as mid-June with at least small-group training. We recognize that there has been an 18-month hiatus and our coaches and our student-athletes will need to get back into that groove. Supporting them could be through academics, through mental health, obviously through training and skills training, and supporting them is going to be my first few months.”
It is uncharted territory for all.
“We don’t know what the post-COVID unintentional pieces are going to end up being and we have to recognize that there will be a fallout from that. That is not just for our university but across the country. Every institution is going to be looking at how sport is going to be managed the next few months going back into competition. Health and safety is going to be a priority.”
Mental health will obviously front and centre in all discussions.
“University sport is so unique and one of the things Brock University is leading edge in is the mental health support in terms of our student-athletes and that is going to be something that is continuously vetted and it is going to need to be imbedded and continued on,” she said. “It is something that will probably be No. 1 in ensuring our student-athletes, who are students first, are supported.”
Krist will then move on to other important issues.
“Once we get over the hump of COVID and get back into the groove of where we are, there is an independent sport review that was happening prior to when I was hired.”
That report is expected by the end of August.
“That will inform us on some of our next steps in terms of the transition pieces that will happen. I hope to be fully engaged with that and certainly reconnecting with our alumni, with our community and, of course, the Canada Games will be a big part. All of that will be happening in the next six months to a year.”
The beauty of an independent review for Krist is that she is new and it won’t be critiquing anything she has done.
“You don’t take it personally, for sure, but it helps to inform and the work had to be done any ways,” she said. “It will save me time because it is something that I would have had to have done. It would obviously have been a priority for me in the first 18 months and it is really shortening that time to have that information ahead of time. It is a great benefit for me.”
Krist doesn’t want to surmise what challenges lay ahead.
“I am going to be bright eyed when I walk in and I am going to listen and I am going to hear a lot of the pieces about what is going to come forward, but I think that Brock is in a great place,” she said. “There may be some tweaking, maybe some new things that will come through and I hope that I will be able to provide our student-athletes with the best experience and that’s what we want. We want to ensure we are transparent and they have the experience they are looking for in the future so when they come back, their kids will be Brock Badgers and they will be Brock Badgers for life.”
Her own student-athlete experience as a varsity basketball player at Durham College while pursuing a sport administration diploma will help in her new role. It gives her insight into being an athlete as well as what goes through the minds of fans and the roommates who watched her from the stands.
“They were part of it as well and, in order to create that experience, you need all of it, not just your individual performances. You need the entire community. It takes a village and I think that Brock is an amazing village.”
Like the athletic directors that preceded her, Krist will be a constant in the stands, rooting for the Badgers.
“I cheer on from the bleachers separate from where anyone can hear me. I love coming to games and I am hoping I am able to do it next year. I’m not sure what our process of hosting will be in regards to fans in the stands.”
She is currently serving on Ontario University Athletics and USPORTS committees and she sees the value in continuing on in those roles.
“It is an opportunity to hear how other institutions are tackling sport in their places. It gives you perspective when you are making a decision to understand how another institution works and compassion for some of the things they may be dealing with.”
In her spare time, she likes to read and garden with her recently retired husband, Jack. The pair are previous Trillium Award winners for their gardening exploits in Waterdown.
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