While most coaches don’t receive their fair share of praise, make no mistake — the best athletes don’t achieve greatness all on their own. The masterminds behind those gold medals and national titles are lurking on the sidelines, whistles in hand, words of encouragement and high-fives at the ready.
Often what coaches impart to their athletes has much to do with integrity, hard work, and good sportsmanship: they are the source of game strategy, fuelling, and cross-training plans. They prescribe the workouts and tally the score. They ask if you’ve eaten your vegetables, and they teach the lessons that help us grow.
“I think what constitutes a great coach is an all-around approach to the team and game,” says fourth-year Blues hockey goalie Nicole Kesteris.
“[He/she should have] a great mind, great people skills, and the ability to interact and manage a team. A great coach needs to be able to manage resources, issues, and resolve or negotiate things that may [be distracting] the team. A great coach [also] has the ability to teach a team, whether it be how to do certain things better, or learn a new skill. I believe a great coach needs to have a level of openness, but at the same time creates an atmosphere where [everyone knows] that they are the boss. A great coach has a high level of communication, objectives, goals, roles for the team, and expresses how [those roles] add value to the team and its success,” she added.
Read on to find out what some of U of T’s top athletes have learned from their coaches.
Nicole Kesteris: first female hockey goalie in the Collegiate Interuniversity Sports (CIS) to be credited with a goal, on coach Vicky Sunohara:
“[Sunohara] reminds us sometimes that it’s not a right to wear our “T” and play hockey on this team,” says Kesteris.
“It’s a privilege and honour to represent the University of Toronto and play a sport that we all share a passion for. Every time that we put on our jerseys and wear that ’T’, we are playing for the university, for the girl we sit beside in the dressing room, for our team, for our coaches, and for our families who give us their endless support in everything we do. And at the end of the day, whether we win or lose, we know that we represented and competed as a team for every one of those mentioned with respect, class, unlimited effort, leaving nothing left and no regret.”
Alan Chung: 2012 OUA men’s water polo championship MVP, on coach Vlad Tasevski:
“I remember I had a terrible game at this one tournament where I made several mistakes in a row. I was beating myself up a little bit, but my coach said: ‘You can’t change the mistake [you’ve made], so let’s just focus on the play and don’t make those mistakes again.’ These simple words have influenced me [to focus] on the future and what I can do next.”
Colleen Hennessy: 2013 OUA Women’s 1500-metre bronze medalist runner, on coaches Ross Ristuccia and Terry Radchenko:
“You can run with anyone,” Hennessy reminds herself. “The jump from high school to university is a big jump because you go from competing against your age group to competing against all ages at the university level. This was a big adjustment [for me] and I got swallowed up by the competition. Over the years, I’ve realized that I can run with anyone. I just have to be confident and go for it from the gun.”
Zack Chetrat: sixth-place swimmer at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Trials, on coaches Byron MacDonald, Linda Kiefer, and Ben Titley:
“[They] help me focus on the skills that we’ve been working on to get better at swimming. Training is constant practice for race day. When we’re in competition, my coaches reiterate whatever specific skill we had been working on in training. It’s a similar dialogue, but in competition, there’s always the added confidence that we’ve worked to perfect these skills, [and therefore], they should come naturally.”
Chetrat advises aspiring athletes “to completely trust their coach.”
“Coaches have been doing this for a lot longer than we have. [They] can really pull on their experiences in training other people when it comes to helping you improve as an athlete. Trusting your coach takes the stress of designing a workout plan for the entire year off of the athlete, and allows them to focus on
training and competing.”