Mackenzie Thomas is in a new role at this week’s Atlantic Indigenous Games in Halifax, N.S.
The 18-year-old from Lennox Island First Nation has made the transition from athlete to coach with the P.E.I. badminton team.
“It’s a different aspect,” said Thomas. “I’m so used to being told, ‘You better be at practice and you better make it here,’ and now I’m like, ‘OK guys, you have to make practice and work on your skills and that.’”
Thomas still picks up the racquet at practices and says coaching is a great way for her to remain involved in a sport she loves.
“If I was still young enough, I would still be playing,” she added.
Keely Dyment, one of 10 athletes playing under Thomas, admits it’s nice to have a familiar face coaching.
“It’s not so awkward and you know they want the best for you,” said the 16-year-old Dyment, who is competing in singles, doubles and mixed this week.
Thomas said she hopes her coaching can benefit from her playing experience.
“You can definitely tell when they don’t want to be talked to,” said Thomas. “From being an athlete and going to a coach, I know what works and what doesn’t.
“l can definitely tell when they can do it or they can’t do it and when to push harder.”
Dyment, who is also from Lennox Island, says Thomas has earned the respect of her players.
“She’s keeping everybody in their place, making sure everybody shows up and is always positive,” added Dyment.
As an athlete, Thomas understands what it’s like to compete at elite competitions. She said it was very special to be part of Team P.E.I.’s badminton team at the 2014 and 2017 North American Indigenous Games and noted how special it was to also participate in the cultural component.
“It means everything,” said Thomas. “You are not only there for the sport you love, but you are also there for the cultural aspect and learning more about your culture.
“Honestly, I think it’s more a cultural thing than a sports thing. I guess you get to learn and love two things at once.”