A lot more to the job

Whether full-time or part-time, passion drives Queen’s coaches

Men’s rugby head coach Gary Gilks spends up to six hours a day coaching, on top of working and raising two boys.
Men’s rugby head coach Gary Gilks spends up to six hours a day coaching, on top of working and raising two boys.
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Last year, Brett Gibson led the Gaels to a 17-6-5 regular season finish. So far this year, the men are 8-10-1.
Last year, Brett Gibson led the Gaels to a 17-6-5 regular season finish. So far this year, the men are 8-10-1.

Gary Gilks understands the balancing act his players go through.

Just as varsity athletes juggle sports with academic obligations, their coaches are watching tape, formulating game plans, recruiting high talent and — in some cases — working other jobs.

Gilks is a subcontracted carpenter for a local interior design company, in addition to his duties as head coach of the men’s rugby team.

“Being part-time, you totally burn out,” Gilks said. “The on-field stuff is what I enjoy, obviously, because that’s coaching, but because we’re at an elite level, there’s a lot of prep that goes into it.”

As part of the high-performance sports model Queen’s Athletics adopted in 2010, Athletics committed to providing 13 varsity teams with “top-level leadership”.

Six teams currently play under full-time coaches, while seven have part-time bench bosses. Rowing will see a full-time coach installed before next season; part-time coach John Armitage is set to step down in April.

Gilks, for his part, arrives a half-hour early to men’s rugby practices and stays a half-hour late. With practices running as long as two hours and additional time spent preparing drills, he devotes as many as five or six hours a day to coaching.

One thing Gilks doesn’t have to worry about as much as other varsity coaching staffs is recruiting, thanks to the men’s rugby club system.

Instead of fielding just a single team, men’s rugby has as many as six reserve squads at their disposal.

“[Former head coach] Peter [Huigenbos] and I never really did any recruiting,” Gilks said. “We’re both family guys and for us to travel on top of what we already do… we don’t want to do it.

“I’m away from my family all the time — my kids hate it.”

For Gilks, being part-time means he’s constantly juggling his personal, coaching and professional lives — and this, at times, prevents him from focusing on any one particular thing.

“If I was full-time, managing my time and getting things done would be a lot easier, and I think I’d be able to focus on the things I think would really help us as a team,” he said.

Despite this, men’s rugby has remained one of this university’s most successful programs in recent years. Gilks led the Gaels to their third straight OUA championship this season, in his first year as head coach.

Gilks said the time and effort put in by part-time coaches is often not recognized or understood.

“People just assume we make a ton of money at our other job anyway, and you’re just so happy to be out here [coaching], when that’s not the case at all,” he said. “It’s a lot of sacrifice — but that’s what we do.”

Brett Gibson is in a similar situation. The men’s hockey head coach must balance coaching duties with parenting two young children and his job as an administrator at a long-term care centre in Gananoque.

On weekdays, he works mornings before driving to Kingston for practice. He spends four hours or more with the team every weeknight during the season.

Gibson said support from his family allows him to manage his hectic schedule.

“My wife is my rock in my family, without her I would not be able to do what I love to do and that is to Coach Hockey,” Gibson told the Journal via email.

Gibson noted that time management and multi-tasking are critical, as “there’s no down time.”

Unlike Gilks and Gibson, working for the Gaels is a full-time gig for men’s volleyball head coach Brenda Willis.

Her desk in the ARC is covered in game plans — slim collections of annotated attack schemes, solutions to various rotations and notes on upcoming opponents.

Her computer is clogged with edited game footage. Each week, Willis doctors the film from two previous matches, turning what was a two-hour game into 30 minutes of material for her players to pore over.

“I probably spend two and a half days a week just on that stuff,” Willis said. “There’s quite a bit of detail involved, at this level, in trying to be competitive.”

For many years, Willis balanced coaching with teaching in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies and performing administrative work for Athletics and Recreation. Since Queen’s adopted its high-performance sports model in 2010, she’s been able to focus on coaching full-time.

The competitive sports model means Athletics now has two full-time strength and conditioning coaches, as well as a pair of employees who assist varsity team coaches with recruiting.

At this time, most of the OUA’s men’s volleyball programs are managed by full-time coaches — a switch that has only taken place over the last decade.

Before that, CIS-bound OUA teams were the proverbial David to the better-staffed western Canadian schools’ Goliath.

“Men’s volleyball has certainly seen an evolution across the league,” Willis said.

Coaching full-time does have its downsides, Willis said, but these are far outweighed by the positives.

“During the season it’s very tough to have much of a personal life,” she said. “[But] you’re dealing with people who want to be there.

"It’s a pretty exciting thing, I think, when you can turn your hobby into your career,” she added. “You’re one of the lucky ones.”

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