Do you have what it takes?
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
This year has been quite the year of change for the Douglas College Royals. As is normal with collegiate programs, the athlete turnover rate was fairly standard. However, what was odd was the amount of coaching turnover the program saw this year. Women’s basketball coach Courtney Gerwing, men’s basketball coach Denis Beausoleil, women’s volleyball coach Kyra Iannone, and long-time men’s volleyball coach Brad Hudson all left the Royals to pursue other career opportunities.
It was certainly a busy summer for Brian McLennon, the head of the college’s athletics program. In charge of hiring replacements for the now vacant positions, McLennon was faced with the pressure of finding people that could not only fit in with an established Royals culture, but could also establish a strong foundation for years to come. To do that, he needed to know exactly what he was looking for in the candidates for the coaching positions.
Although experienced in the field of sport and management, McLennon admits that “there is no exact science to hiring a new coach” due to the massive number of factors to consider. However, Brian highlighted a few certain qualifications that are must-haves or heavily preferred. Without a seed of doubt, a post-secondary education is a must have for McLennon, which makes a lot of sense given that Douglas College is a post-secondary institution. Another obvious must-have for McLennon is experience. However, the type of experience may vary from person to person. For the Royals, he is searching for coaches with “experience not only at the secondary level but also at the club level with provincial sport organizations and within the high school sport system. They bring a broad perspective of coaching and working with athletes at different stages of development.” And while experience is a major factor, another key asset for a candidate to have is a strong presence in the local sporting community, as Douglas College is a small but tight-knit community.
Perhaps the most complicated qualification that McLennon is searching for is how well-versed a candidate’s knowledge of sport is. Specifically, Brian believes that “a coach with knowledge of the sport at various stages of the Canadian Sport for Life Long Term Athlete Development model, along with the NCCP certification is critical.” This specific qualification ensures that the Royals find the highest quality coaches for the job. Anything extra, such as professional development experience or national team experience, is a huge bonus.
However, the real job starts after the credentials check out. Evaluating a coaching candidate can easily be the hardest part of Brian’s job, but it helps that he has a good idea of what he’s looking for. “I look for competency, personality, and leadership skills. A high performance coach at the post-secondary level is not just about the barebones credentials. There are serious competencies such as organization, administrative, and strategic planning skills required to develop a championship program.” Along with competency skills, McLennon looks for a strong personality. “I look for individuals who are professional, authentic, and driven to create an environment to support the success of our student-athletes. Leadership traits are also a key. A coach who has strong leadership qualities inspires, motivates, develops, and values the college experience for the student athletes while preparing them for life after athletics.” In McLennon’s mind, all of that together creates the ideal coach for the Royals.
However, when it comes to picking a coach, while McLennon may make the final call, it’s the players that do the real judging. “A student-athlete will spend about 20 hours per week with their coaches. Having their input on potential candidates through focus group discussions, and question and answer sessions is imperative and a key to the hiring process.” All of this makes a great coaching candidate, but what is it like to be a Royals coach?
Given the required credentials and traits to be a Royals’ coach, it would seem that the job is quite difficult. However, women’s soccer coach Chris Laxton has a different opinion: “Coaching the Royals is not very difficult at all. We have a great group of amazing student-athletes who give up a lot of their time to make the program what it is. We also have a very supportive and forward-thinking athletic department who are there to support the student-athletes and coaches from every turn.”
Incidentally, the hardest part about coaching the Royals is more about the time commitment it takes. “This isn’t a full-time position for any of us [coaches], but it is a passion. Balancing time between coaching, family, and our regular job is the most challenging part of the position.” But for Laxton, the challenge is more than worth the reward of the job. “Seeing players progress and succeed is so rewarding. Last year, we had players who gave 3–5 years to the program, so to see their reaction was amazing. Beyond the field, seeing them grow as young adults is also rewarding.”
As with every job, there will always be something that catches the recipient of the job off guard. However, Laxton has yet to find that surprise yet. If anything, he believes his time with the Royals has reminded him of the human nature of sport through dealing with all sorts of people, all different in personality, strengths, and responsibilities, yet all striving to succeed. It’s his belief that sports are about people, and coaching is about developing relationships with and between people. “The student-athletes we have at Douglas are unique, and I’m constantly challenging myself to be the best coach I can be for each of them.” It’s clear to see that Laxton reflects all that McLennon looks for in a coach, and so much more. That is what it takes to coach for the Royals.