50 Years

Coach’s Corner: Fall 2016

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By: Linda Stapleton

It’s probably a good thing to have coaching experience before writing an article for “Coach’s Corner”. Does my single victory with the Seneca Sting Women’s Soccer team count, as I stepped in as coach following the ejection of both my coaches?

As we celebrate the OCAAs 50th season this year, I prefer to offer reflections gleaned over my 39 years of involvement in one of Canada’s leading sport conferences and the people that make it so.

What has changed most significantly since the early days of the OCAA?

As an organization of college sport leaders that gathered around kitchen tables, the success of the OCAA began and continues with the exceptional leadership we have received from athletic directors, executive directors and college staff that volunteer as convenors and committee members. Over the span of 50 years, the passion demonstrated annually by college staff to support their athletes and coaches is unparalleled.

Technology has changed the way we work. It is a major element that has significantly and positively impacted so many aspects of the game. In my rookie administrative year, the main tools for communication were the telephone and the typewriter (which for me required an ample supply of carbon papers to duplicate copies and a pail of white out to correct all of those typos). As personal computers entered the scene, athletic departments and the OCAA office harnessed that power and that of the emerging software to communicate more effectively and instantaneously, to capture league results and expand the very data rich aspect of player statistics.  More data supported coaches in player development and game preparation. It also allowed the OCAA to recognize their athletes based upon solid objective criteria and award them accordingly. Partnering with companies like Krossover provides a home for broadcasted games giving coaches and athletes unprecedented access to every team’s game film across the province. It has also revolutionized scouting.  Instead of every coach travelling across the province with cameras to obtain video of their opponents for game prep, coaches can scout from their living rooms. Athletes today can receive individualized video isolating their performances and execution of skill within two days rather than the old standard of two weeks.

Many member schools are also doing a tremendous job of webcasting their home games and we have seen several schools raising that bar each year: Humber’s first webcast of the OCAA Cross Country Championships; Seneca’s first of simultaneously webcasting multiple badminton courts at the OCAA Badminton Championships.

Digital photography, video clips from cell phones combined with social media have provided a powerful mechanism to promote games and provide immediate results. It can also capture images of negative behaviors which reflect on that individual, the team, the school and the association. As our provincial laws, college policies and sport organization rules have become more defined with respect to harassment, discrimination, bullying, sexual assault, drinking etc, social media can capture images of student athletes, or fans that may be used as evidence in determining if laws or college policies have been broken. Today’s social media certainly puts people and their behaviors on instant display, both good and bad, but from my perspective, I see much more evidence of celebratory images of powerful and skilled student athletes, constantly achieving new heights.

There have also been most welcomed advances in team uniforms.  Buh-bye unbreathable, pungent triple polyester knit and short shorts. These have been replaced by technological fabrics with a high wicking content that allow for cooling body temperatures which promotes high performance.

Has college support for athletics changed? Judging by the growth of seven members colleges to twenty-nine colleges and universities, I’d say no. OCAA athletic directors and their college administration are to be applauded for their continued support of sport programs despite the obvious fiscal challenges especially felt by our smaller member institutions.  From our humble beginnings, colleges who used high school gymnasiums as their home, have now built their own sport venues. Fifty years later we are seeing a re-commitment to replace and improve those original facilities. Niagara, Fleming, Mohawk, St. Clair and Conestoga have led the way in the resurgence of brand new facilities, while Georgian, Centennial, Sault and Humber have added or renovated existing facilities. Redeemer and Algonquin set the bar by adding artificial turf fields to their operations followed by  Fleming, Centennial and Seneca.

Beyond facilities, OCAA members have seriously committed to supporting the health of the athlete. The old dismissive, “You just got your bell rung” is no longer a part of  our sport environment. Certified athletic therapists, required at OCAA competitions, implement province wide concussion protocol, the first to do so across Canada.

What’s changed in 50 years for student athletes? Certainly today’s student athletes are much more informed about their post-secondary educational and sport options. Initially created for a local community, community colleges were focused on career ready education. One year certificates and two and three year diplomas meant student athletes were local and stayed one to two years. Diplomas, Degree programs and laddering now promotes pathways from colleges to universities and vice versa, so today’s OCAA student athlete can come directly from high school, from university or as a mature student. Special partnerships between colleges and universities have created collaborative and / or integrated Degrees. This extended academic life of a student became the impetus behind the OCAA’s successful lobbying for five year athletic eligibility.

With so many academic choices student athletes must also consider which school will be the best athletic fit for them. Recruitment is definitely a new animal and perhaps one that needs to be tamed. The practice of offering athletic scholarships is definitely one that has evolved to a regulated practice. “Shopping around” is definitely the new norm for recruits in a very competitive post-secondary community. To manage this growing practice, the OCAA has developed rules and parameters for coaches within the Code of Ethics. And testing an NCAA style practice, the OCAA has offered recruits the option of signing a Letter of Intent to verify their agreement with an athletic department and to prevent recruits from falsely declaring their intent.

Student athletes now have more sport choices than they did in 1967. While we have lost some of the inaugural sports like tennis and table tennis, new sports like softball, baseball, rugby, cross country have been added. In fact many colleges in the OCAA offer 17 varsity teams.

Student athletes must still manage school, part time work, sport, family and friends. In most cases, both exhibition and competitive formats have expanded. This together with the expectations to stay fit for try outs and have practice sessions over the summer add to the demands of today’s athletes.

1967 or 2017, the OCAA and its’ athletic staff continue to provide outstanding sport experiences and services to support the success of our student athletes. By pushing each other we create a healthy, competitive organization where student athletes from all members can grow and learn and compete with the best in Canada.

Happy 50th Anniversary, OCAA!

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