From Sport To Leadership - Keegan Brantner
This is part 4 of a series featuring local women leaders sharing their experience with sport, and how the skills learned through sport and active recreation impact their professional roles and life.
Keegan Branter, U of L Pronghorns, LSC Staff
by Keegan Brantner
Sport and being a participant within sport has always been a large and influential part of my life and shaped how I identify myself. From childhood, sport was always part of my life. I began as a spectator watching my older brother Peyton play hockey. Soon after, it was my turn to finally participate in sport myself. I showed great interest in hockey and I wanted to play just like my brother. My parents, always supportive and encouraging saw this enthusiasm and desire to play hockey. They saw no issues with my desire to play hockey as a girl. Although others made comments to them and even to me as a young child. As a four-year-old I was questioned about my unconventional desire to play hockey and others even attempted to persuade my choice through statements like “don’t you want the pretty white skates?”. These unsought comments and perspectives continued throughout my time participating in hockey. This didn’t influence me as to me I was playing hockey and was unconcerned by the gender stereotypes. I was a girl on a boy dominated team but I was no lesser of a player due to my gender. Looking back at my experience I am adamant many of teammates felt the same about my skills and having me as a teammate. I fit in and I became “one of the boys”. I was often the captain of these teams and felt respected by most players.
My early years in hockey were the developmental years that shaped my success in future sports and concurrently my leadership skills. A consistent coaching staff that held my standard of play to the same as my male teammates challenged me to never be complacent. I would never be treated any differently and I was expected to compete the same as they were. Ryan Rombough, a passionate and knowledgeable hockey coach always believed in me and knew how to push me to work harder. Rich Nagai, a kind spirited and joyful coach awarded me praise for my work ethic but challenged my skill development. And lastly, the toughest, most critical and most influential coach, my dad. My dad alongside my mom believed I could do anything I set my mind to with determination, hard work, and a good attitude. My dad always held me to the highest of standards, pushed my comfort zones, challenged my work ethic, expected my best performances all while being the most encouraging and proudest dad. These three coaches, extremely influential all instilled in me that I could and I was just as good of a hockey player as the boys.
Throughout my youth and adolescence, my stature and build often resulted in me being referred to as “naturally athletic”, although my genetics did not always result in me being the best or most talented player on a team. I was cut from teams, I was a benchwarmer, I was an injured player and I have not dressed for games. Those moments were hard but they were valuable. As an adult I can now reflect on these times in my athletic career to be the most influential in shaping me and my values as a leader, teammate and athlete. Like most, these influential times were not of great success and triumph but times where I faced adversity, challenges and a lot of self-reflection.
I love hockey and I loved playing hockey; to date I have spent the most time of my life playing hockey. This all came to an end when I was in grade 12 when my current team, the SEAC Tigers, folded. This was extremely upsetting but at this point I was playing high level rugby and that was my focus. The rugby season didn’t start until the spring and at the time there was limited options for winter training. As fate would have it the high school basketball coach was at the rugby year end BBQ and heard that I was not playing hockey the following year. He jokingly encouraged me to play. And so I decided I was going to try out for our high school’s senior varsity basketball team. This was honestly quite unrealistic, our school had a great basketball team placing second in provincials the year before with most of the team returning. I had not played basketball since grade 8 so to say my basketball skills and knowledge were poor would be an understatement. I went to a basketball camp at the University of Lethbridge to prepare for tryouts and I was flat out terrible. My dad came with me to every session which was comforting but still to this day my dad says it was one of the funniest things he has ever seen because I was SO bad. Every session I would try to convince my dad to let us to be late and for those who know me well know I hate being late but I wanted to miss the first 15 minutes of dribbling drills so badly I didn’t care. My dad never let me be late. Just because I wasn’t good at dribbling and I was embarrassed was not a good reason. I was the one who chose to play basketball and I had to be committed.
Thankfully the basketball coaches Kenney Wood, Brandon Bullock and Marty Johnson saw something in me at tryouts that they felt the team needed which was definitely not my basketball skills. They saw my determination, work ethic, and light hearted personality; these were aspects that I could bring to help the team in different ways than being a skilled player on the court. I showed up every day to practice ready to work hard, learn, have fun and laugh; I loved practice and I always told my dad “you should come watch me at practice I’m honestly not that bad”. Being the absolute worst player on the team was not always the easiest but my teammates were incredibly supportive and always celebrated my successes. I will never forget our first home game of the season, the stands are packed and I get put in the game. Boy was I nervous. And then I made my first basket. This resulted in the ENTIRE crowd and my teammates cheering and standing up. I was embarrassed but I was happy to feel the support.
Our team was skilled, extremely skilled and the warm welcome I felt from all of them forever changed me as a competitive athlete. I finally could understand that every player is an integral part to a team and my role for this team was different than it had ever been for any other sport. I may not have scored the most baskets but I could be a positive, cheerful and hardworking teammate that could lighten the mood by accidently starting a layup at half court or almost tackling someone in a game. We ended up winning high school zones, going to provincials and winning there too! Our coach put all of the grade 12s on the court for the end of the game and the feeling of the final buzzer going off, teammates and our men’s team shirtless with GO REBELS GO written across their chests rushing on to the court was undeniably indescribable.
I was fortunate to be part of such a special team but the time to relish in our victory was short as the end of the basketball season meant it was time for rugby. I cherish and loved my time playing hockey and basketball but rugby was my passion and where I was able to be most successful. The start of my rugby career was not filled with excitement but fear. I was in grade 9 and I was extremely nervous and scared, I did not want to play. Lucky for me my support system, my kind hearted and loving mom pushed me out of the car at my first practice; if my mom had let me succumb to my fears I may not be writing this story now. Rugby was everything I had ever loved in hockey and more. It became my thing. I decided to go to a Rugby Alberta tryout in grade 11 and I sat in the car with my mom nervous and scared just as I did before my first practice. My mom has always been full of comforting and wise words. She taught me a lesson that I have carried forward with me through sport; if I am scared and nervous so is everyone else, make people feel welcome and comfortable.
Every step of the selection process I was shocked and surprised to find out I had made it. Going into tryouts I didn’t know what to expect, I didn’t know how I would compare and with over 100 girls trying out I didn’t think I had a chance. I was a nobody from Taber. But I made it and my fearful mindset changed. Why not try? The potential of success from there on would outweigh my fear of failure. I later found out I had been identified at a tournament with my high school team by the head coach, Randi Hamre. Randi will forever be the most influential person for my rugby career. Randi is a strong and confident woman, and a respected coach in a male dominant field, she quickly became someone I looked up to. Randi always believed in me, she saw my potential and even helped guide my choice for what university I would attend.
I am so thankful for all the coaches I have had from initiation hockey to team Canada rugby. Each coach has had a lasting impact on my skills, my leadership and who I am. They have all unknowingly taught me valuable life lessons that I have carried with me as a student, athlete, leader, person and future coach.
I can attribute my leadership development to the opportunities and lessons I have learned through sport but largely through the love and support from my parents. My journey is not over though as I have an amazing opportunity to play my final two years as a Pronghorn at the University of Lethbridge with a talented and supportive coaching staff.
During these two years I will be pursuing my masters with Dr. Scott Rathwell focusing on athlete leadership. As I continue my education I hope I can help pave the way and be a voice for other little girls who don’t want the white skates to follow and pursue their athletic dreams.
The Lethbridge Sport Council extends a big THANK YOU to Keegan for sharing her experience with us. Please check out the stories of Kara Hagen, Paula Burns, and Maria Fitzpatrick as well.
Posted January 7, 2021