Mike McDonald - Founder/Executive Director of Saskatchewan Blue Cross Recess Guardians

Mike McDonald

Founder/Executive Director of Saskatchewan Blue Cross Recess Guardians

I was born/grew up in: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada

I now live in: Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Canada

I completed my training/education at: Bachelor of Kinesiology from the University of Saskatchewan

What you do at work?

When a person thinks of starting their own organization or business, a lot of times they only focus on the one part of it that got them interested in the idea. However, there are a lot of different things that need to come together for a successful company. One lesson I have learned along the way is that you need to really build up the organization and all of its areas before you can expand. A lot of people want to get as big as possible right off the bat, but this can be a real recipe for disaster. It is important to take your time and make sure that things are all worked out before you can expand. It is a lot better to grow slowly than grow at a fast pace and have things go out of control. Success is based on a customer’s experience and you want that experience to be very positive across the board.

It is incredibly important to surround yourself with a good team of people. I am very lucky to have a great Associate Director, as well as a strong board of directors and advisors behind me. One lesson that I have learned is that you want to surround yourself with people who have a lot of different backgrounds and strengths. I am definitely not good at everything and I love have people on board who excel at those things. It is also crucial to have people around you who aren’t scared to give their honest opinion. I would take someone who will challenge me over someone who will agree with everything I say 100% of the time. Sometimes it isn’t easy to admit you are wrong, but it is worth it in the long run.

In order to have a successful organization, you need to have a passion for what you are doing. By having a Bachelor of Kinesiology degree from the University of Saskatchewan, I know the power that physical activity can have on a person’s mind. This allows me to truly believe in the work we are doing. By having this passion, you are able to not only sell your product or service better, but you can deliver it and have people feed off of your energy.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does what you do affect people’s lives?

Not only are we helping youth be more physically active on the playground, but we are helping them gain valuable skills that will last them a lifetime. Playing at recess is a lot more than just games and fun. It is about developing social, fair play and other skills that will translate into their future. Also, by a student gaining confidence in one aspect of their life, we know that it will translate to other areas, such as the classroom. Confidence is so important to success and we are helping youth develop it one game at a time.

What motivates you in your career?

There are a lot of parts of my job that get me excited. First and foremost is the impact that we are having on the youth we work with. The fact that we can see how excited they get by teaching a new game and working together is amazing. We are not doing anything over complicated or difficult. Our biggest strength is that we have a very simple program that opens the eyes of both the teachers and students to the fact that they can lead games. And that there doesn’t always have to be an adult in charge. Awards and certificates are great, but the real reason I do what I do is that I want to show that EVERY youth has the power to lead. I cannot wait until a few years down the road and we hear of all the amazing things our youth are doing in their communities once they grow up to be adults.

The idea of building partnerships and finding sponsorships is also incredibly rewarding. Saskatchewan Blue Cross has been our Title funder for 7 years in Saskatchewan. They have been at the forefront of having us bring play back to the playground for up to 150,000 youth. Finding sponsors is hard and it is almost a game to find which company’s goals align with the work you are doing. It is much easier for a company to say no, so when you get a yes it really is a special moment. I have probably had 100 rejections to 1 acceptance. But it is that 1 yes that truly keeps me going!

I would also say that the idea of creating a new organization and doing something that hasn’t been done before is also something that drives me and our organization. We are always looking for new ways to improve and better ourselves. It is a great feeling to know that we have the power to shape recess time for hundreds of thousands of youth and to make them have more memorable experiences on the playground.

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I am definitely not doing what I thought I would be doing when I graduated grade 12. I honestly thought I would be a stock broker or lawyer. I imagined myself wearing a suit every day and working a normal 9-5 shift. It wasn’t until my parents made me take a year off after high school to work, travel and figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I ended up working at a school in Saskatoon, and that is where I came up with the plan for Saskatchewan Blue Cross Recess Guardians.

Persistence and drive has allowed me to get to where I am today. There are days where you will question what you are doing. There are times where things will get very hard and you will wonder if it is worth it. However, the days where you get to see a child smiling and laughing while leading a grade 1 class in a game makes it totally worth it.

I have had some incredibly strong mentors over the years and I have really learned to not be scared to ask questions and admit if you feel lost. Some people see it as a weakness, but I see it as a strength. Knowing what you know, and what you don’t know, allows you to grow and seek the help you may need.

Lastly, having strong sponsors who believe in you and are willing to take a chance for you. As I mentioned earlier, Saskatchewan Blue Cross took a chance on us when we were in only 25 schools in Saskatchewan and have stood by us while we have expanded to over 225 across the province. Finding sponsorship is hard, but it is more difficult to just get that first sponsor on board. So a big thanks goes out to all of our sponsors throughout the years.

What activities do you enjoy outside of work?

I am an avid runner that has allowed me to become a run ambassador for Under Armour and Muscle MLK Canada. Besides that, I am a director on numerous boards and always am looking for the next adventure.

What advice would you give to a young person interested in a similar career?

Don’t take no for an answer. Trust me, if I gave up every time I heard no I would be in a completely different field and wouldn’t have impacted over 150,000 youth. No just means you haven’t given them a reason to say yes yet.

Let’s Talk Science recognizes and thanks Mike McDonald for his contribution to Canada 2067.

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