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IOC/Martin Vandory
Date
13 Aug 2018
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Olympism in Action Forum
Olympism in Action Forum

#UnitedBy the Olympic Values: Lode Goossens

It was thanks to his work as a physiotherapist and his activities as a swimming coach that Lode Goossens began his productive involvement with the Olympic Movement. 

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In the run-up to the Olympism in Action Forum in Buenos Aires (5-6 October 2018), we looked at groups and individuals who, inspired by the power of sport to contribute to a better world, have used their initiative to organise projects and programmes to effect change at all levels.

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When Belgium’s National Olympic Committee (NOC) announced that it was looking for a physio and a Young Ambassador (YA) with a strong sports background to accompany the team to the Youth Olympic Games in Innsbruck in 2012, Lode felt he was the man for both jobs. His NOC agreed.

Since dispatching those duties at the inaugural YOG, the 33-year-old has gone on to join the International Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Entourage Commission and the Academic Advisory Board for the IOC’s Athlete365 brand. He is also set to return to the YOG stage in Buenos Aires later this year, attending the Olympism in Action Forum as an Entourage Commission member, before staying on as a volunteer.

In the meantime, Lode, who hails from the town of Aalst, has also been able to do what he loves the most: make a difference. A former swimmer, he is now running a project through the Young Change-Makers+ (YCM+) programme, helping four-to-six year-olds improve their motor skills in the water.

“I want to get more people involved on a local level. I want them to get active, which is something I was trying to do for a long time before I got involved in the Olympics,” he explains. “While the number of young swimmers hasn’t really fallen in recent years, we have seen a significant decline in their broad motor skills. They’re not such good movers now, and we want to change that, which is why I came up with a motor skills development programme targeted at them.

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“We don’t teach them how to swim, but how to move in and out of the water, so they can acquire swimming skills and movement skills more quickly. The kids we’ve worked with already move much better now. We’ve been asked to extend the programme nationally and we’ve done workshops with other clubs, which are trying to do what we’ve been doing.”

When he is not helping children get to grips with the water, Lode devotes his energies to his work as a physio with a Ghent University spin-off dedicated to injury-prevention for athletes. As well as helping teams and federations set up injury-prevention strategies, he also assists them with the task of identifying talent, among other things.

It is in working with local youngsters, however, that the part-time swimming coach has been able to put his passion for the Olympic values into practice: “It’s very rewarding. I normally work with 14-18 year-olds, but it’s really nice to see the younger kids having fun. We used to try to teach kids to swim, all the technical stuff, but with this programme they can do anything in the water by the time they’re six and a half. 

I think it’s important to try to make a difference, and the Olympics makes a huge difference all over the world Lode Goossens

“You can throw them in and they can save themselves. We don’t care how they do it. It’s a big mind shift. It was tricky for the teachers to begin with but now they can see the added value. We’re having fun and so are the kids. There are no technical instructions. We just challenge them to get from one place to another. I really believe in this approach and not just for swimming. We do it with kids in playgrounds, where they have to roll and crawl. It looks like they’re just playing, but in actual fact they become really competent in terms of their movement.”

A firm believer in the power of sport to change young lives, Lode has a passionate commitment to the Olympic Movement: “I think it’s important to try to make a difference, and the Olympics makes a huge difference all over the world. I really like the fact that the Movement doesn’t just focus on major sports, that’s it’s trying to adapt its strategy and be more at the forefront of sustainability.

“And with the YCM programmes, it’s also trying to change grassroots projects, with a view to helping young people develop and to educating them about the Olympic values. On a personal level, it’s great for me to see the Olympic Movement take this extra focus on board.”

In taking a seat on the Academic Advisory Board, Lode has also gained an inside view on a raft of Olympic initiatives: “I’ve been to Lausanne a few times and I’ve spoken to a lot of interesting people and seen some very interesting projects. It’s cool to see what other Olympians are up to and what they do on a daily basis. I’ve also done about 20 courses, all of them very interesting, and I’ve picked up lots of good information on a lot of topics. I think it’s beneficial for me and for the Movement too.”

Lode’s experience at Innsbruck 2012 proved to be inspirational, thanks in part to a preparatory Young Ambassadors weekend, where he and around 30 other YAs bonded over the course of a four-day get-together: “We ended it a group and we’re still in touch with each other. I enjoyed being with all these young people. It opens you up to other cultures and people from different backgrounds, all of them interested in sports.

“You find so much common ground and you find out that so many people from so many different places are connected by sport, by their passion for encouraging people to be active. It really expanded my network. I knew people locally, but it’s great to know people from Brazil, for example, who have the same ideas as me.”

Lode’s belief in Olympism and its ideals is evident, and he has nurtured it since his childhood days, when he would gather round the TV with the rest of his family to watch opening ceremonies and all the sporting action unfold: “We used to watch the Olympics all day every day, even when we were very young. The Olympics have been in my life for a long time, since Atlanta 1996. I always remember the swimming finals, the greats like Ian Thorpe and Michael Phelps and the Belgians who’ve done well. I’ve been swimming all my life so that’s what I watch.”

Though disappointed not to get tickets for London 2012, he does make an effort to visit stadiums and other facilities whenever he is in a former Olympic host city. “It’s cool to see the legacy,” he explains. “I’ve done it in Barcelona, and when I went to Beijing in 2009 I made a point of swimming in the Water Cube. It was humbling to be swimming in what was probably the same water as the athletes. You feel respect for the people who made it to the Olympics and the sacrifice they made just to get there and compete.”

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