When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, professional volleyball player Jessie Niles, like millions of others around the world, lost the routine and familiarity that had previously guided her everyday life. Now training from home, she recognised the huge shift in people no longer travelling to and from their workplace, and grew increasingly concerned by the lack of physical activity facing society.
Eager to solve the challenge of making remote working healthier for our bodies and more productive, Niles applied to become part of the International Olympic Committee (IOC)’s Young Leaders programme – an initiative that provides budding social entrepreneurs with mentorship, learning opportunities and seed-funding to launch projects that leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities.
Through her work with the IOC Young Leaders programme, Niles developed her “Ready in Five” project, bringing elite athletes into online meetings to lead participants through a five-minute movement routine that injects energy, wellness and a sense of connection into their day.
Bringing Ready in Five to life
Ready in Five is an idea, Niles explains, that came from the online catchups that she and her dad would have during the pandemic. The support she then received from the IOC Young Leaders Programme after she was selected for the 2021-2024 cohort helped to bring her project to fruition.
“My dad and I would hop online once a day, and we’d always fit in five minutes of movement together while catching up,” explains Niles. “I would take my dad through a routine I’d come up with, which kept us connected and gave us a sense of activity after sitting down for a while.”
“After a couple of weeks, my dad said, ‘Hey, this could be a really cool opportunity to get other people moving.’ We were all working or studying online from home, and we both saw it as a great way to stay socially connected and become more productive in our new routines.”
As Niles and her dad were brainstorming this new idea, she was also completing stage one of the IOC Young Leaders application process, a four-week Learning Sprint that offers support for designing sports-based social projects aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Olympic values. Everything then started to come together, and Niles moved forward with her project embodying the SDGs – in particular SDG 3, Good Health and Well-Being.
“It’s been awesome to have the support of the IOC Young Leaders Programme throughout this journey,” says Niles. “While I’ve been working full time and managing and building my project in parallel, it’s been nice not to have been alone. I’ve been able to tap into the knowledge of experts and peers on the programme, and it’s allowed Ready in Five to come to life.”
Ready in Five now has a website through which schools and businesses can book high-performances athletes to join online meetings and deliver five minutes of movement to the participants, with Canadian Olympians Sara Villiani (bobsleigh), Jennifer Casson (rowing) and Micha Powell (athletics) just some of the athletes who have already been booked via the platform.
Book Ready in Five if you want your online meetings to be more dynamic and energetic!
Staying connected to sport
After retiring from volleyball in 2021, Niles wanted to remain connected to the world of sport. To support her career transition, she enrolled for a master’s course in Management Analytics, and now works for a Canadian technology company that specialises in fan data management and technology for sports and entertainment companies. This job, along with her participation in the IOC Young Leaders Programme, has enabled her to stay connected to sport while navigating what can be a difficult transition for many athletes.
“In the post-athlete world, you’re not only going through an identity shift; you’re also going from being active for three to six hours a day to sitting at a computer for extended periods,” explains Niles. “You’re forced to re-establish your social routines, too, as you come to terms with going your separate ways from teammates who you were once really close to.
“As much as you prepare, when you’re in the moment of going through your transition and navigating that process, it’s not easy. I had spent the past 13 years saying, ‘I’m a volleyball player; I’m a professional athlete,’ then I found myself unsure of how to describe myself. It’s taken time to readjust.”
Planting seeds of inspiration
Niles recognises the synergy between Ready in Five and the Olympic Movement’s new Let’s Move campaign, launching on Olympic Day 2023 with the aim of encouraging people to become more physically active by igniting a global wave of daily exercise.
“The IOC really has the power to inspire, and this goes well beyond a sporting context. I see Olympic Day as a celebration of the influence that the IOC and the Olympic Games have,” says Niles.
“There’s such a strong and rich history to the Games – most of us can look back and remember an Olympic event we’ve seen – and Olympic Day is a unique opportunity to plant a seed of inspiration, which is similar to what we’re doing with Ready in Five.
“Something I really aspire to do is to spread Ready in Five’s inspiration beyond Canada and use the technology that we have at our fingertips,” she adds. “I want to use Olympians’ voices to inspire people, regardless of their current level of involvement in sport, to get moving in ways that feel good and that maybe they haven’t experienced before.”
Discover more about the Let’s Move campaign and how you and your community can get involved.
IOC Young Leaders Programme is contributing to Olympism 365 days a year
Launched in 2016, the IOC Young Leaders Programme empowers young people to leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities, and therefore contributes to the Olympism365 strategy aimed at strengthening the role of sport as an important enabler of the UN SDGs in direct response to the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020+5.
So far, with the support of the IOC, these inspiring young people have delivered over 140 sport-led projects in communities across the globe, promoting education and livelihoods, equality and inclusion, health, peace building and sustainability, directly benefitting more than 30,000 people. Learn more about the IOC Young Leaders Programme and the Olympism365 strategy.
Worldwide Olympic Partner Panasonic’s continued support
The IOC Young Leaders Programme has been supported by Worldwide Olympic and Paralympic Partner Panasonic since 2017, and this will continue through to 2024. Panasonic, as the programme’s founding partner, is committed to supporting the IOC Young Leaders through different initiatives, for example providing its creative and technological expertise, along with its network of influencers and ambassadors, to inspire the Young Leaders and equip them with the skills and tools they need to enhance their projects.
Find out more about Panasonic’s support for the programme.
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