“Coaching is the most rewarding career for me, and I hope that more females can find their way to do the same.”
Coaching Team Canada Women’s Volleyball Sitting Team, Nicole Ban has become a leader not just nationally, but internationally.
After playing volleyball at MacEwan University and professionally for Oslo Volley in Norway, injuries forced Ban to retire. But she has a passion for volleyball and wanted to be involved in the game. She got back into U SPORTS as an assistant coach in 2011 with MacEwan University where, other than a two-year stint with the University of Alberta in the same role, she remains today.
Then, in 2014, she was named coach of the Canadian Women’s Sitting Team, her first major head coach role. She still holds that position and has become a leader in the volleyball community. She led the team to a 2016 Paralympic berth – the first appearance of a Canadian sitting volleyball team in the event. The team has qualified for the 2020 (now 2021) Tokyo Paralympics as well.
Ban has also coached in the 2015 Parapan Am Games, has been a regular coach of Team Alberta in various events, and has been involved with the Team Canada Youth National Program in Whistler, BC. In 2016, she earned her Masters in Coaching from the University of Alberta.
Volleyball Canada recently spoke with Ban about her coaching career and some general thoughts on coaching in the sport.
Volleyball Canada: How did you transition into coaching? Was it something that you always thought about?
Nicole Ban: I transitioned into coaching after I was done playing volleyball in Europe, it is not something I had always thought about but something that coaches I had suggested when I was playing. I had coached some club and camps when I was younger but really got in to coaching when I was assistant coaching at MacEwan University, I really enjoyed the game from the other side, so I decided to go back to school to do my Master of Coaching at University of Alberta.
VC: More specifically, what got you into coaching sitting volleyball?
NB: I started coaching sitting volleyball when Ian Halliday, the previous Sitting High Performance Director and Interim Women’s Sitting Head Coach at the time, reached out to have me join as an assistant coach. I was in my first year of my Masters and I was very open to any opportunities that involved learning and expanding my knowledge of the game. I had a lot to learn about sitting but Ian and all of the athletes were great in teaching me the game. I sat down to learn to play at my first training camp with the team, this helped a lot as I realized how hard movement and skill execution was. This was in late 2014 and I transitioned to be the head coach before the Parapan Am Games in Toronto in July 2015.
VC: Who supported you in the journey? Do you have any mentors?
NB: A lot of people have supported my journey, my friends and family have been great as I have taken more of a non-traditional route to a career but from a coaching perspective, I have had a lot of support through mentor coaches. I have coached with Ken Briggs at MacEwan University since it was a college and he has always supported me as a coach, has supported the sitting team and is very flexible when I miss MacEwan games to coach Team Canada. While at the University of Alberta, Laurie Eisler and Miya (Naoki Miyashita) were also amazing in giving me an opportunity to learn many technical and tactical aspects of coaching that I still use today. Having a strong female mentor in Laurie is something I am truly grateful for. She is confident, wise, and works harder than almost anyone I know. Lastly, Ian Halliday and Kerry MacDonald have taught me a lot about sitting volleyball, have really believed in me and supported me on my coaching journey. It’s nice to know that they have my back and encourage me to continue to grow as a coach.
VC: How different is it coaching sitting and standing volleyball? Or, how is it similar?
NB: There are a lot of similarities between the indoor game and sitting, but with that being said, there are also a lot of differences. I was just on a World ParaVolley Coaches Commission call last week and we discussed that having a strong understanding of the indoor game, really helps transition to sitting as you can then expand your knowledge of the differences in technique and tactics. The major technical difference is that in indoor you can have your hands up in a ready position, while in sitting you are on the ground so you need to use your hands for movement before performing the skill, therefore, every skill needs to be executed that much quicker. When forearm passing, the ground as well as the athlete’s leg, can get in the way of their platform, so we must adjust how the skill is performed. The rule differences are that you can block the serve, your butt needs to be behind the line when serving or back row attacking, and your butt needs to remain on the ground when attacking or blocking. As the women’s net is at 1.05m and the court is only 6m wide by 5m long, the game is very fast, and the ball is played much lower to the ground. There is also no time differential as there is no jumping, because of this, we employ different tactics to create seams and serve into areas that the opponents would have more difficulty moving to (based on their bodies and seams in the block).
Coaching sitting volleyball has expanded my overall approach to coaching as no two athletes’ bodies are exactly the same and therefore, every skill and movement needs to be adapted to best fit each athletes’ strengths rather than being taught from a prescribed method to teaching the skill. Overall, we are trying to push the boundaries and apply new technique and tactics while growing the game of sitting volleyball.
VC: What has been the biggest hurdle for you in your coaching career and how did you get through it?
NB: One of my biggest hurdles in my coaching career was convincing others (and myself) that the path I took, truly can be a career. It hasn’t always been easy, but I am truly thankful for Volleyball Canada for the opportunities and turning coaching and managing the Para programs into a full-time career. As mentioned, I have always had support to get to where I am today and that has been key in my success so far.
VC: The sitting volleyball team has an all-female staff and has been recognized for that in international tournaments. Can you talk about this and what you think of the development of female coaches in Volleyball Canada and Canada?
NB: We have an all-female bench staff within the Women’s Sitting Volleyball program, and this is something I am very proud of but with that being said, Kerry MacDonald is the program’s HPD and he has been nothing but supportive of all of us. We are unique in that we are women-led, and we appreciate having allies across all of Volleyball Canada that allow our nation to stand out in this way. I think that the development of female coaches overall in Canada has started but there is always room for improvement. Young female athletes rarely aspire to be a coach as they are focused on competing, but I am hoping that by seeing other strong females coaching women’s teams, this can begin to change. Coaching is the most rewarding career for me, and I hope that more females can find their way to do the same.
VC: I read that in some tournaments, you might be the one of the only female coaches there. How do you embrace that position as a role model and leader in the sport?
NB: I hope that other para-athletes as well as young athletes within Canada, of both genders, can see our female staff as role models and change some stereotypes that exist around women coaches. From my knowledge, we are the only all-female bench staff but there are other programs with female staff, and I love seeing that. China actually has a female head coach. It’s great, and I hope to see more female coaches in future years.
While at competitions, our staff and athletes carry ourselves with confidence in knowing that we are an improving team and are earning the respect of our opponents. I think people are beginning to notice this as they see that we have created a culture that allows for growth and for our athletes to embrace the pressure of the game, no matter the scenario. As staff, we aren’t thinking about being the best “female staff in the game,” we are focused on winning games and being the best possible coaches, period. Yes, we are proud to be female and want to be role models, but I hope that the passion toward the game and the support of our athletes is portrayed in what we do and is encouraging for athletes and observers to see.
VC: How does coaching differ from playing?
NB: For me, coaching is very different from playing but the drive and intensity toward the game continues. I am a very passionate person and when coaching I have had to – and am still learning to – keep my emotions in check. When playing, I was able to put everything I had into the game and live in the moment, I wore my emotions on my sleeve and used them to drive my performance. I am now more focused on utilizing the previous preparation of the opponent while trying to evaluate based on what is presented, using statistics and facts to inform decisions, rather than emotions as I did when I was a player. I also realize that there is a team relying on me to remain calm and support them through the scenarios that arise, it is a continual balancing act and something that I am still learning to do effectively.
VC: What are you most proud of in your coaching career?
NB: I am most proud of the athletes that I have the opportunity to coach and the relationships I have built while coaching. That might seem cliché as most often people would list a winning moment but Parasport and being involved with this program has really changed my outlook on not only coaching but on life. Until you are part of a program as unique as ours, and realize that sitting volleyball and sport in general, truly has the power to change someone’s life, it is hard to put in perspective. Every athlete on our team has had incredible challenges and hardships but they face every day, every practice and every match with the same confidence and preparedness that any able-bodied athlete would. As an observer, you see an athlete, ready to compete and to win, as a coach, I have learned that there is so much more behind each athlete and I am honoured to coach athletes who persevere on the daily but ask for no special treatment when they show up to the gym. And because we still can’t forget that moment in Halifax, I am very proud of our team’s performance qualifying for the Tokyo Paralympics. It was a defining moment of our program, displaying the immense growth we have had over the past five years and highlighting the hard work that every person has put in to getting to where we are today.
VC: Do you have any advice for new coaches?
NB: First of all, thanks to all new coaches, especially volleyball coaches. Growing our game in Canada is essential and we need passionate and educated coaches to do so. That leads into my advice for new coaches, regardless of how good of a player you were or weren’t, I think that learning about the game of volleyball and continuing to be open-minded to scientifically informed best practices is key. There may be a way that you have always done something but listening and learning from others is needed. My other piece of advice is to listen and build relationships with your athletes. They are the driving force of the team and will buy in to a system when they feel appreciated and included, a positive team culture can go a long way.
VC: What do you wish you had – advice, support, education, etc. – when you started?
NB: I think I have been pretty lucky to have had a lot of opportunities when I started coaching – I had supportive mentor coaches, completed my Masters and was given the chance to coach the Women’s Sitting Team at a major competition just months into my time with the team. I guess, I could have wanted more experience head coaching as that would be one area I was lacking, but I am very appreciative of my journey to get to where I am today. I learn a lot throughout every international match I coach and look forward to every opportunity as it pushes me to reflect, learn and grow.
Source: Volleyball Canada / Josh Bell – https://volleyball.ca/en/news/coach-profile-nicole-ban