For The Love of the Game and Community: Konner Belleau Leads On and Off the Field
“Sports helped me do a lot and it always encouraged me to make more friends and get more involved in my community,” explains Konner Belleau. He is a Gardner First Nation member from Sioux Sainte Marie, Ontario and he works with youth to help them explore sports and gain confidence. The local sports community isn’t very big, and he’s working to change that.
He’s been working to inspire them, and they’ve been inspiring him right back. Belleau started helping out in grade nine or ten but this year his own mindset has shifted. The more he trained them, the happier they got and they felt like brothers to him. It made him want to give back even more.
In his mostly Indigenous school, there are many opportunities to grow as a leader. Belleau got involved at the urging of his teachers and once he got started, it was like a snowball effect. “You can easily tell there weren't enough students helping out so I'd really want to make a difference in that area,” he reflects, looking back on how his teachers’ encouragement helped him step into leadership.
When he went back for grade 13, he switched schools so he could play football because his school didn’t have enough players for a team. At the same time, he started working on university credits so he could take his education to the next level to support a career in criminology at some point.
He wants to help protect his community and help even more, maybe in law enforcement. Ever since he was little, he has wanted to be a police officer like his grandfather. A lot of his family works in the field and he’s been dreaming of giving back locally that way.
His teachers also inspired him academically, encouraging him to try harder when he struggled in school. One of his friends was in the same boat as him, struggling with school and motivation. “He stepped up as well. Now we lean on each other. It's very important to me that he's there with me,” he smiles.
His hardworking friend, roommate and teammate in university who modelled strong study skills made Belleau work harder. They always planned to go to the same school and room together, and while they weren’t initially paired in residence, they advocated to share a room. “That really changed the school environment for both of us. It was very helpful,” he remembers.
He wants to encourage Indigenous youth, sharing, “The most important thing is applying yourself all the time in everything you do. Nobody is always motivated all the time to do everything they want to do. You really just had to push through and surround yourself with good friends and hopefully your family helps you a lot.” Belleau’s mom helped him by pushing him to do his schoolwork on time.
Listening to teachers is something else he hopes youth do. “The advice they give you is more important than most kids realize,” he reflects. “You can't take what they're saying to heart, they're just trying to help you the best they can and give you advice. You just have to try to accept it. Do your best with what they're telling you,” he advises. He wishes he could tell his younger self, “Take the advice people give me more seriously… it really changes a lot for you.”
To manage his mental health through hard times, Belleau goes to the gym, spends time with and does yoga with his friends. “It really just calms you down, and lets you focus on one thing. I think it helped me a lot to not be as stressed out,” he shares about his yoga experience. Being connected to others is also important to him. “Make sure you're talking to people, if you close yourself off from people, it just makes things way harder,” he continues.
Knowing how much the kids he trains look up to him inspires Belleau to set a good example for them. The kids push hard in their training because they want to be as good as he is at football. Seeing that makes him want to be the best he can be for them.
He’s paying forward the inspiration he got from his current roommate, who helped him grow as an athlete in high school. In grades 9 and ten he wasn’t a strong player in his high school league, but going back for grade 13 and spending every day in the gym with his friend, working hard every day, he was able to prove himself and get to the next level in his sport.
Belleau played hard for two games and then broke his collarbone. Fortunately, he had enough footage of himself playing to get into Bishop’s University in Quebec on a football scholarship. A therapy program he participated in helped him recover from his injury.
Moving up to the next level beyond university is a challenging prospect but he hopes he will get the opportunity to even just try a CFL camp and see what it’s like. He’s heard how much of a jump it is from the university level and how competitive it is to get into. “Everybody there at the university level is working just as you, you have to be a natural talent,” he elaborates.
“Work as hard as you can and follow your dreams,” Konner Belleau concludes, passing on the wisdom he’s gained along the way. Sports have helped him do a lot, encouraged him to make more friends and get more involved in his community. Through his mentorship of young athletes, he’s hoping these young kids will have a similarly inspiring experience. He’s come back from a broken bone and academic challenges with an even stronger spirit and that’s meant big wins on the field for his team, and off the field for local athletics.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.