The power of play
By Greg Bach
The playing fields of our youth can produce life-changing moments at the most unexpected times.
For Kendal Netmaker, one of Canada’s leading entrepreneurs and motivational speakers, it happened on a soccer field during fifth grade.
It was there, while playing soccer at recess, that his best friend Johann asked him why he wasn’t playing on the after-school soccer team.
“He was the only one to ask me why I wasn’t playing soccer after school,” Netmaker says. “So I explained to him that my family lived on welfare, we didn’t have a vehicle, and we didn’t have the money to pay for the fees or the equipment.”
Netmaker grew up on a First Nation reservation in northern Canada. The child of a single mom of four, every day was a struggle living in a home where the running water would turn brown and healthy foods were scarce.
So, Johann went home that evening and told his parents about Kendal.
And his life soon changed forever.
“The very next day they started to help me out,” Netmaker says. “His parents would drive me to soccer practice and they paid all the fees. They empowered me and it was amazing.”
STEPPING INTO THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF YOUTH SPORTS
Two years later Johann’s family moved away, but they left a parting gift for Netmaker’s mom: a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria.
That remarkable gesture enabled Kendal and his siblings to participate in the wonderful world of youth sports.
“So, then my mom was driving us to play sports,” Netmaker says. “That’s how much one family changed our life.”
His love of sports grew strong through the years. He played volleyball in high school and again his life was bolstered through sports – this time by a caring coach.
“When I got into volleyball in the 10th grade I was a shy kid,” Netmaker says. “I was timid and had no confidence in myself, but a coach helped bring that out in me and transformed me into eventually the team captain. He saw leadership qualities in me that I could not see at the time and I transformed that into business, eventually by being my own boss and being an entrepreneur.”
GIVING BACK, INFLUENCING LIVES
Netmaker has never forgotten how powerful his experiences in sports were, which has helped spur him to do so much to impact others.
The generosity of his childhood friend’s family inspired him to give back when he launched his company, Neechie Gear, a lifestyle apparel brand that empowers youth through sports. A percentage of all Neechie Gear profits go toward funding sports programs for underprivileged youth.
The husband and father of two is also the author of Driven To Succeed, as well as an in-demand speaker who inspires and motivates his audiences, which include corporate leaders, high schools and colleges, among others. “The message is helping take people from where they are to where they want to be,” he says.
Netmaker has even given back by coaching volleyball. “I think everyone should try a sport,” he says. “You don’t have to be the best player. The rush of improving as an individual through any sport is tremendous, and it’s also fulfilling for the coach. I enjoyed it as much as they did, watching how the sport empowered them.”
And Netmaker has a powerful message that is oh-so vital for all young athletes to learn and for coaches to teach, too. “You don’t compare yourself to other people,” he says. “You compare yourself to what you feel you can accomplish. Whether it’s business, life or sports, you strive to be the best version of yourself as possible.”
Those aren’t just words – Kendal Netmaker’s life is terrific proof of that.
Four-time Olympian Katie Uhlaender on savoring the joys of competing, conquering pressure, staying focused, and more
Football coach Rob Mendez on teaching young athletes the all-important values of working hard, being resilient and chasing dreams
In recognition of Children’s Cardiomyopathy Awareness Month, check out Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Board President of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation