Queen’s coaches talk leadership, team-building, & role models

In interviews, varsity coaches share what it's like to be a leader

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At Queen’s, varsity coaches try to strike a balance between teamwork, collaboration, and relationship-building in order to create the best possible environment for their players.

Every coach has a different way of leading that’s tailored to their team and their sport. For men’s hockey Head Coach Brett Gibson, it’s all about setting the tone: “I try to lead by example every day,” Gibson told The Journal.

But Gibson recognizes that being an example isn’t enough—even if he’s willing to run through a wall for his players, he needs them to reciprocate that.

“I believe if players know you care about them as people first and foremost, they will be more willing to block a shot or take a hit to make a play.”

“I build relationships with my players from the first day we meet in the recruitment process […] I feel you need to get to know your players on a personal level first and make sure they know you care about them as individuals.”

“The by-product of that relationship is when you have to push them throughout the season, they know it’s never personal, you are just trying to get the best out of them.”

This approach has paid great dividends for Gibson—he’s been named the coach of different national teams, and he’s won two OUA Coach of the Year awards.

For women’s basketball Head Coach James Bambury, leadership is collaboration and understanding, on and off the court.

“Understanding that it is not a hierarchical relationship, it’s the fact that we are all on the same team. We try to empower our players to be able to make decisions, to be able to understand why we do things,” Bambury said in an interview with The Journal.

Bambury’s collaborative style adds an additional level of trust to the athlete-coach relationship.

“There is certainly trust that is developed between two people if you are actually asking people for their own opinions, you’re asking them for feedback and thoughts on what is actually happening on the floor.”

Bambury credits his leadership style to all the leaders in his life.

“My ongoing joke is that I learned a lot from every coach and leader I ever had. I learned just as much from the bad ones as I did from the good ones.”

Bambury’s style builds on his idea of “messy learning.”

“That is what really grips young people at this moment; it’s not so hard and fast. You can manipulate it, you can twist it, you can do what you want with it. It was always those lessons that got messy that were the best ones.”

For women’s hockey Head Coach Matt Holmberg, another two-time OUA Coach of the Year, leadership comes from being honest and authentic with his athletes.

“I try to, first and foremost, be myself. I think that by being honest and authentic, that’s the best way to lead,” said Holmberg.

“I try to research and look at other strong leaders that I see in other walks of life and try to pull points that I think I could use to supplement my own style, but I think ultimately I don’t try to be someone that I am not.”

Holmberg’s synthesized approach is partially constituted of different strategies employed by other coaches at Queen’s, like Gibson and Bambury.

“I think I am probably a bit more of a leader by example. Some even call it a ‘servant leadership style.’ I don’t consider myself a dictator, or it’s my way or the highway. I like to gather opinions and thoughts from coaches and players.”

Women’s volleyball Head Coach Ryan Ratushniak thinks leadership is all about the athletes, and like Holmberg, he considers dialogue paramount.

“I would say I’m a leader that’s more like a player’s coach, always taking into consideration what the players are thinking, how they might be feeling. That’s something that’s really important to me,” he said.

“So I have a really open leadership style where I have a lot of dialogue back and forth with athletes. A lot of teaching, a lot of guiding and open dialogue.”

Gabe DeGroot, men’s volleyball head coach, recognizes the challenges that are presented by coaching university-aged athletes.

“It’s about just understanding the entire student-athlete and everything that goes into that, from the academic side of things to the social life and then also the volleyball piece.”

“The big thing is from a leadership perspective is, how do you incorporate and kind of manage all of those aspects within a team environment? I would say that I am a caring leader in that I make sure that all of those pieces of every athlete are respected.”

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