Life coaching through sport

Fabrice Vil

Fabrice Vil is the founder and director of Pour 3 Points, a non-profit organization that turns sports coaches into life coaches for kids in underprivileged Montreal neighbourhoods.

When you were young, what did you want to do in life?

When I was young, I dreamt of playing for the NBA. I was, what, eight or nine years old the first time I played basketball? I loved it! I started to play on a team when I was eleven. Space Jam the movie came out at the time, and I was just in love with the NBA. And that’s pretty much it. It was my only dream, career-wise, really. Yup, playing for the NBA. That was my dream.

Tell me a bit about how you got here.

My family is from Haiti. My parents arrived at the end of the ’70s. I was born here, and I grew up in the northeast of Montreal, in Anjou. So I was familiar with inequality issues. Many of my friends didn’t necessarily have the same opportunities I did. I went to a private elementary school, the Académie Michel-Provost on des Pins. For high school, I went to Collège Brébeuf. I’m mentioning it because it showed me how pervasive inequality was.

When I was a young basketball player, my coaches really helped me grow––not just as an athlete, but as a person. So when I became a coach myself, I was able to see the difference you could make in a child’s life. I saw the impact that sports and coaching have on kids’ lives. And I also saw how certain coaches lacked the proper tools to provide guidance for the kids.

I started coaching at the age of 16. I went to CEGEP, then to university, to study law. I really enjoyed the humanities, and literature. And law brings them both together. But coaching was obviously my one true passion. Even during that time, I still invested a lot of time in it. I started my law practice in 2007. At the courthouse, I would often run into childhood friends who had been charged with some crime or another. They had no high school diploma, but they had something else in common: a love for sports.

So in 2010, I decided to get involved. And with a few friends, I founded Pour 3 Points. We started our work with a group of kids in Montreal’s Saint-Michel area, and little by little, it became a real passion.

A basketball coach-cum-life coach — do you consider this social innovation?

The notion of a sports coach as a bit of a life coach is nothing new. We didn’t come up with that; it has always been around. There are three ways I’ve seen that we’ve innovated in our organization.

The first is the systematic or systemic character of it. Whether a coach is good or not should be no coincidence. It should be a formal process. Which leads me to the second innovation: a training process that is truly dedicated to coaching. We offer a two-year leadership development program. That’s something new. The traditional training process is generally very short, which means that coaches don’t learn enough. So offering a more intensive coaching training process is another way we’ve managed to innovate. Finally, the third innovation was creating a community of coaches to counter the isolation some may find themselves in. I’m trying to find an example of added value when it comes to a sense of belonging. When you look at Montreal’s entrepreneurship culture, for example, you think of people networking to advance the entrepreneur movement. You can also look at Silicon Valley, a geographic area that became a space for entrepreneurs in tech to gather. It’s part of what we do as well. We create the same kind of system for coaches––on a much smaller scale, of course, and in a different context.

I think that true innovation is a significant change, a significant and positive change compared to the norm.

The idea of a coach as a life coach is nothing new; what is new is the systematization of it. I often make the following comparison, which may come off as a bit strange: it’s kind of like your grandma’s amazing recipe. You tell yourself, “Wow, this meal is really great. How come it’s not on every menu in every restaurant?” Good coaching is out there. What we want to do is make sure everyone, everywhere has access to it.

What does social innovation look like to you?

I think that true innovation is a significant change, a significant and positive change compared to the norm. That’s my definition. I think it’s important to talk about significant change, because we’re not talking about some slight or incremental change. And positive change, too, because it leads to a progress in society. It’s not creativity for creativity’s sake.

What does it take to do what you do?

To apply innovation effectively, you must first be convinced of its importance. I don’t know of any good social innovators who are not 100% persuaded of the essential nature of their work. The other thing that I find essential is skill. Passion alone is not enough. You have to know your subject one way or another.

I’ve been a coach since I was 16, and I’ve had coaches, both good and not so good, ever since I was a little boy. So I developed an excellent grasp of my subject, and I’ve supplemented that knowledge with research, guidance from others, and information I’ve gathered over the years.

Leadership is multifaceted; it definitely requires certain skills. I tend to believe that there are two things at play: the ability to attract and mobilize resources––human, financial, technical and media resources; and the ability to prioritize the movement over yourself. We often talk about personal skills, but it’s crazy to see how useless these are if they aren’t put to the use of the movement that you want to give rise to.

What’s the hardest part of your work?

The hardest thing is that there’s always a new problem to deal with. There’s always something you didn’t see coming. Every time, there’s a new obstacle to overcome. It’s no easy feat. But that’s the beauty of it, too.

Take social innovation and imagine it as an object. Can you describe that metaphor to me?

What comes to mind for some reason is a snowball. It’s a snowball that is rolling and growing, that doesn’t go in one direction, that would probably hit a tree at some point, explode and make multiple snowballs that would keep on going and rolling by themselves.

What about social innovation as a person? What motivates them, how do they get around town, and when they’re at a party, what do they act like? 

Social innovation as a person, huh? This person is complex. This person doesn’t have a gender per se. And this person can belong in any and all situations. Meaning that you would see this person chilling with homeless people in the morning, and exchange and have fun with these guys, and go for breakfast with one of them. And then they would put on a suit and go to some speaking engagement event and discuss things with a totally different group. This person would go home and read a lot about everything. This person works a lot doing tons of different things that are sometimes related, sometimes are not. They’re totally eclectic. That’s social innovation.

When you innovate you don’t know, you may have assumptions of where you’re going but you actually don’t know.

What is the role of experimentalism in changing systems?  

Experimenting relates to the very notion that you just don’t know. When you innovate you don’t know, you may have assumptions of where you’re going but you actually don’t know. And to be certain and to know, you need to test, you need to experiment, which leads to successes, which leads to failures, which leads to iterating and adjusting.

How do you think experiments add up? How do they actually lead to transformative change?

I believe there is a link with the individuals that lead the experiments. Some individuals, or a group of individuals, will believe that one topic is so important that it needs to be sustained, that the idea needs to grow. And that’s where change happens. When I think of the civil rights movement, there’s not one single individual. Malcom X and Martin Luther King were totally different and they both led to improvements in terms of racial relations in the US. So it starts with little incidents, little organizations, little ideas and tests, and experimentations, but when you have enough people who believe that these things are sufficiently important, they can lead change and it will be multiple people, not one person at the same time.