New Men’s Volleyball assistant coach Paul Sanderson talks about his life in volleyball

Proud Aussie and former Brandon University alum speaks on his history as a player, and things to come for the Gaels

Paul Sanderson, pictured.
Provided by Paul Sanderson

When Paul Sanderson was a high school student in Australia, he had a choice: continue playing basketball as a member of the provincial team or pursue volleyball at the national level.

Over a decade later, after playing 150 games with Team Australia, professional stints in Belgium, Romania, Tunisia, and Indonesia, as well as an undergraduate tenure at Brandon University in Manitoba—where he set and still holds the Canada West conference records for points and aces—it’s safe to say he made the right choice.

Hopefully, as the new assistant coach for Men’s Volleyball, that choice will continue to pay dividends.

Hot off his recent hiring as a full-time member of the Men’s Volleyball squad, Sanderson sat down with The Journal to discuss his inimitable career as a globe-trotting ace-machine, as well as what he plans to bring to the table for the Golden Gaels.

Prior to diving into his hopes for Queen’s, however, he provided a bit more context as to why he initially made that choice of volleyball over basketball.

“I think it’s a great team sport,” he said.

“I grew up as an only child, so […] being a part of a group, a team sport, and just building great friends, that’s what it was all about.”

Shortly after deciding to make the switch, Sanderson became a fixture for the Australian junior national team. Not long after that, found himself in Canada, competing for Brandon University as their Outside hitter.

There, he went on to not only set the aforementioned scoring records, but also lead Brandon to its first two national medals—a bronze and silver. If that weren’t enough, at one time during his tenure at Brandon, Sanderson was also the nation’s leading scorer, the only person in history to have averaged six points a set in U Sports Volleyball.

Following his time as a Canadian varsity athlete, Sanderson went back to play with the Australian National team, with whom he won the World league Group 2 in 2014, placed second in the Asian Championship in 2019, and ranked the World League’s top server and finished fourth in total points in 2015.

Since he left Canada, Sanderson has also played professionally, leading each of his teams to national championships in Belgium, Indonesia, Tunisia, and Romania—the latter of which was in 2019, shortly before he decided to pursue coaching full-time.

When asked about how he performed at such a high level for so long—considering he started playing at age 12, 22 years ago—Sanderson stated it came down to hard work, determination, and slight a chip on his shoulder.

“I was told, when I was 15, 16 years old, that I wasn’t tall enough and couldn’t make the team,” he said. “I was kind of overlooked because I was a shorter player.”

“I was [also] pretty driven. I think all my peers would say I was probably the hardest worker in the room for most of my career.”

As a coach, Sanderson wants to replicate that same sort of attitude within the Gaels.

“I want to instill that fire into the players. I think, whether you call it a chip on your shoulder or a bit of extra energy, I think it’s that hidden spark […] that makes a difference between a great team and a championship team,” he explained.

“That’s kind of the Australian way of doing things too. No matter who we’re playing on the other side of the net […] we always have trust in ourselves, because we’re putting in the hard work.”

Although Sanderson is relatively new to a coaching position, he’s quickly taken to ensuring that his coaching philosophy—whatever it evolves into in the future—is centred on equal opportunity and individual guidance.

“It’s just about providing everyone with an equal chance and trying to get the most out of each athlete […] I’m really intrigued on how to push players certain ways. If they don’t understand something one way, tell them a different way.”

“At the end of the day, you want to give everyone a chance to succeed.”

Although the Gaels are currently on a pause of competitive play due to provincial health and safety protocols, Sanderson is certain qualified to make sure the Gaels, as a team and as a collective of individual players, can learn what it takes to achieve great things. As is, he believes no other team in U Sports has a higher ceiling.

“The potential of this team is probably unlike any other team in U Sports,” Sanderson said.

“Combining those two things—the potential and the will to work—I think something really special can come with this team.”

The Men’s Volleyball team (4-0) is scheduled to resume competitive play in a head-to-head matchup against the Trent Excalibur on Jan. 28.

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