MIRANDA AYIM: LEADING WITH PURPOSE
By: Holly MacKenzie
As the world was grinding to a halt in mid-March, routines being disrupted, plans cancelled indefinitely and question marks all around, Miranda Ayim was adapting, plotting, and learning to lean into the uncertainty.
In Canada for the longest extended break in years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 32 year-old chose to embrace the many unknowns and continue charting her master plan following her sixth season playing professionally in France. “My body was thanking me for it,” Ayim said. "My family was quite happy that I was able to hang around for a bit. They’re not used to seeing me quite as much.”
Part of Ayim’s process during the pandemic quarantine period included speaking with young athletes on online panels and zoom calls. One that stands out was the "Empowering Women to Lead" panel, hosted by Canada Basketball, the City of Edmonton and Alberta Basketball, where she spoke about her journey and all that she’s learned along the way. Addressing young athletes who may be feeling uneasy and worried during this transitional time, Ayim spoke about the importance of acknowledging the weirdness of our current reality, while also retraining your thoughts to focus on the process and not the end result in a period where timelines have been stretched, and sometimes abandoned entirely.
“It was a really fun panel to be on,” Ayim said. “It’s been so incredible [speaking with these athletes]. I’ve been doing quite a few of these zoom calls, specifically with different teams or individual athletes or leadership groups as well as teams.”
A 15-year Team Canada veteran, there’s plenty of on court advice Ayim can give, but it’s her approach to finding success and fulfillment away from the gym that grips listeners who are looking for advice on how to best navigate an uncertain time. “It’s always funny to do those types of things,” Ayim said of taking these panels to online modes of communication. "Because you’re kind of looking at a couple boxes on Zoom. You can’t see the whole scene, you can’t see the audience, and you’re like, ‘Well, hope this jives with everybody,’ because you’re not really sure how to read the room.”
Ayim needn’t worry; her message and energy carry with ease across the distance and through the computer screen. In her time with the Canadian Senior Women’s National Team, Ayim has moved from rookie to vet, listening, learning and growing into a leadership role where she currently serves as a team captain.
“I wouldn’t have said that I am a natural born leader,” she said. "It’s a skill that I’ve really worked at over the years. Over my time with Canada Basketball, my role has changed, as any athlete has experienced. I’ve really, really enjoyed stepping into a leadership role, following the footsteps of all of the leaders that I’ve been able to play with before me and getting to support my teammates in that way. Being able to serve the team in that way has been really eye-opening and pretty meaningful as well.”
Lisa Thomaidis, head coach of the Senior Women’s National Team, doesn’t quite agree with Ayim’s humble characterization of her own leadership as a learned skill. “I think so much comes naturally to her,” Thomaidis said. "She just has such a calm demeanour. She’s so intelligent. She’s very thoughtful. She doesn’t just blurt out things, she’s very well thought out in her thought processes and the longer she’s been on our team, the bigger the role she’s played on the court has also translated to a larger leadership role. She’s about to be a three-time Olympian. She has so many experiences to draw upon. She just has so much to offer and just continues to grow, especially over the last five or six years.”
After the Senior Women’s National Team clinched a spot at the Tokyo Olympics in February where they went undefeated at a FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgium, Ayim couldn’t help but compare the feeling of punching a ticket to her third Olympics as compared to her first, for the London Olympics in 2012. That the team was expected to not only qualify this time around, but aspires to compete for a medal shows just how far Ayim and the program have come since 2012.
“It’s incredible,” Ayim said. “It’s cool to be in that position where you are expected to do something. You have more pressure, for sure, to perform but it’s also something to relish as well. It’s interesting to juxtapose the two or the three [different times qualifying].”
When thinking about her favourite moments with Team Canada, Ayim doesn’t hesitate in mentioning when the team qualified for the London Olympics.
“I actually cried tears of happiness after the game, and you can ask my teammates, I never cry,” she said. “Like, I never cry happy tears. I think that’s probably the only time that’s happened in my life. I haven’t had another experience like that in my career because we just really, really wanted it, we were a really tight group and we were just on the precipice so it wasn’t guaranteed. That was a really, really incredible experience.” An honorable mention goes to the times the team has gotten to play on home soil with friends and family present. Though this doesn’t happen as often as any of the women on the team would like, Ayim shouted out Edmonton, where the women’s training camp as well as qualifiers have been held, for being such a great home base.
Women’s Basketball is finally beginning to get some of the recognition and attention it’s long deserved. For Canada Basketball, it is the time and effort given by Ayim and her fellow veterans when people weren’t paying as much attention that has allowed the program to grow and flourish today.
While the increase in attention is welcomed, Ayim says nothing will compare to the pride she feels in representing Canada. “First of all, it’s always really incredible to be able to play for Canada in the first place,” Ayim said. “Because all of us play overseas, that’s kind of like our job and how we get paid, but playing for Canada is something so much greater than yourself. It brings with it so much more meaning. I feel like everybody who comes into the program and puts on the jersey totally buys into that and that’s what has made the program so successful.
“I’m talking about the people who came way before me and laid the foundation,” she continued. “I think about that quite frequently. Hats off to them who laid the foundation that weren’t even able to reap the rewards that now we are reaping, in terms of attention and more benefits and all of that.”
Though the recognition is long overdue, Ayim isn’t giving any of her time to worrying about delayed accolades.“I think sometimes, in change, we get really, really eager and want everything to happen overnight and that’s just kind of not the way the world works even though we would like it to be that way,” she said. “I think we’ve been faithful to the process and now it's coming, the stuff that we did in the dark is coming to light.” Most important to Ayim is that the core values of the program remain the same, regardless of what is or isn't happening on the outside.
“The thing that’s special about Canada Basketball is that the focus has always been on, and I hope it will continue to be on, the culture,’ Ayim said. “Regardless of whether it’s me or my teammate or whoever is putting in work, we’re all coming in with the same level of passion and grit and determination. I am really proud of the culture that we’ve built and people are seeing those characteristics and how they pay off.”
Though Thomaidis keeps up with her players year round, watching games when they are televised, and sending group texts as well as videos explaining new plays or schemes, she too, wishes the Senior Women’s National Team had the opportunity to compete and play more games in Canada. When speaking about Ayim’s leadership, she says one thing she would wish is for young athletes to get to see and hear more from Ayim here in Canada.
“I think [Miranda] leads by example,” Thomaidis said. “She exemplifies exactly what a Canadian National Team basketball player can look like and be like. You can be a super-competitive elite basketball player but you can also be an amazing human being that has interests outside basketball. They don't have to be mutually exclusive. She’s one of these people who tells her teammates, ‘Tell me what you want me to do and I'll do it to the best of my ability.’ She is just such a great leader for our young athletes.”
Though her role with Team Canada has evolved over her time with the program, Ayim’s presence is as important as ever. Whether in the game, on the bench or in the locker room, her steadying temperament and example of work ethic has helped guide the team in ways that a box score can’t display.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Thomaidis said. “The best ones do whatever they do to the best of their ability. They seek out excellence. Nothing less is acceptable. They take in every bit of information that our team provides from nutrition to physical prep to mental prep, they’re always seeking an edge and leaning more about what that entails. She’s a great example of that for sure.”
That dedication has only become more important. With hopes and dreams that extend beyond basketball once her playing career comes to a close, Ayim has turned into an early riser, waking up before 7 a.m. each morning to fit everything into her schedule. An avid reader and writer, chronicling her journey overseas playing in France on her blog, Ayim also received her Wellness Coach certification earlier this year while waiting to return to France.
Though she can see the end of her basketball career peeking over the horizon, she’s determined to make the absolute most of every bit of it until then.
“I’m glad that Lisa saw fit to keep me around for this long,” Ayim said. “I’m happy to be part of the program and happy to give everything that I have and come back every summer and keep working and finding new ways to add to the program.”
Having Ayim with the program for 180 games played and counting, is an honour for Thomaidis as Ayim represents so much of the culture the Senior Women’s team has built up over the past decade. “She’s such a humble warrior,” Thomaidis said. “She’s just such a fine example of what we have on our team and she’s an amazing human being. I can't say enough about her as an individual, but also she’s a very humble warrior. She’s as competitive as they come, but how she carries herself with such humility, it’s impressive.”
Ayim says she doesn’t have any coaching aspirations, but it’s obvious that working with younger athletes as well as helping people to identify their passions and accomplish their goals is a priority. In her role as team captain and veteran, she says one of the most rewarding things is seeing not just how far the program has come, but how her younger teammates are growing and improving their own games.
In France for her fifth season with Basket Landes, Ayim is thankful to have found a home away from home. She’s also looking forward to rejoining her fellow Team Canada teammates whenever they get the chance and the schedule returns to some semblance of normalcy. Until then, she’ll be filling her mornings with personal development and the rest of her day with Basket Landes.
“I’m a very introspective type of person,” she said. “I like to study, whether it be the game, whether it be the mental side of the game, books, I’m just a learner. A life-long learner and I really appreciate gleaning lessons in any way that I can. Sometimes it takes quite a few times for me to learn the lesson, but sometimes that’s the plan we need to take.”
This approach has led to Ayim’s voice echoing loudly regardless of whatever room she’s in, whether it’s in person or over a Zoom call. As for the impact of Ayim’s influence, Thomaidis can’t help but laugh when speaking about the 15-year Team Canada vet. She keeps us on our toes,” she said.