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Coach Profile: Carolyn O’Dwyer

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While her playing career may have ended, Carolyn O’Dwyer never left the court.

The Calgary, Alberta native had an impressive run as a player, dating back to her time at the club level with Dinos Volleyball. With Dinos, she helped them to three national championships from 2010-2012. In that time, she also played with the Alberta beach volleyball provincial team and the Canadian Junior National team.

After her club experience, she started her university career at Mount Royal University where she won Canada West “Rookie of the Year” and led the squad to a fourth-place finish. In 2013, she ended her provincial team experience with a gold medal victory at the Canada Games.

Upon graduation in 2015, O’Dwyer wasted no time in staying close to the court, becoming an assistant coach with SAIT Women’s Volleyball and the head coach for Dinos at the 16U, 17U, and 18U levels. In 2017, she took another step forward, as the head coach for the Team Alberta U17 women and assistant at the University of Alberta, where she remains today.

Volleyball Canada recently had a chance to talk with O’Dwyer about her coaching career and some thoughts on coaching in the sport.

Volleyball Canada: You had a very successful playing career with Mount Royal, the Dinos, Team Alberta, and so on. Do you have a favourite moment from your playing career?

Carolyn O’Dwyer: I had a lot of great moments as an athlete, but I think competing in and winning gold in the 2013 Canada Games was a pretty special experience. It was the first time Alberta had won gold in volleyball at the Canada Games and I got the opportunity to compete with some of my closest friends. We had come back together that summer after playing at various universities that year, which made the experience really cool.

VC: How did you transition into coaching?  Was it something that you always thought about?

CO: My playing career was unexpectedly ended due to a career-ending injury and at that time I was not ready to step away from the sport. I figured that the best way for me to stay in the sport was to try coaching. I came to realize that my passion for volleyball continued beyond being an athlete and I could make an impact from the bench. I was really fortunate at the time that my coach at Mount Royal University (MRU) Sandra Lamb allowed me to work with the team in a coaching role and provided me opportunities to develop as a coach.

VC: Who supported you in the journey? 

CO: I have been fortunate to have a really large group of supporters throughout my journey. I had amazing coaches as an athlete through club, team Alberta and MRU, that have had an impact on my coaching style and philosophy. Now working with the U of A Pandas, Laurie Eisler is an amazing mentor for me as a coach. Being able to work with such a strong female leader and completing my master’s in coaching at the same time has been an invaluable experience.

VC: Your father, Art, has a very strong coaching resume. How important has he been to your coaching journey?

CO: My dad was one of my first volleyball coaches and I was also able to watch him coach at various levels growing up. He has shaped so much of who I am as a person and as a coach that it is hard to rate the level of importance. Getting to witness how much he cares about his athletes, his passion and competitive fire for volleyball, and how he is constantly learning and trying to improve his coaching, inspires me in all my coaching endeavours.

VC: How has your playing career helped you in your coaching career?

CO: One of the biggest things that has helped me from my playing career into coaching is an understanding of the athlete perspective. Having gone through a lot of the same trials and tribulations as the athletes I am coaching, I feel I am able to relate to what they are experiencing. Having to work with and compete with a variety of different personalities as an athlete has also provided me with valuable experience in how to work with others towards a common goal.

VC: What has been the biggest hurdle for you in your coaching career and how did you get through it?

CO: The biggest hurdle for me so far has been finding balance between coaching commitments and the rest of my life. Family events and time with friends have sometimes had to take a back seat to coaching commitments. I think this will be a career-long challenge and I will continue to develop different strategies to balance the two. If any coaches know the perfect formula, I am all ears.

VC: Do you have any particular interests outside of volleyball and coaching and if so, how do you find the balance between that interest and volleyball? 

CO: I have recently developed a keen interest in golf. My performance is a work in progress but I really enjoy the sport and I seem to run into a lot of other coaches on the course!

VC: What are you most proud of in your coaching career?

CO: I really enjoy following the lives of the athletes I have coached as they move forward. I am proud of their successes and the small role I may have played in helping them get there.

My goal to continue to develop and learn with the ultimate goal being to coach at the highest level possible.

VC: Do you have any advice for new coaches?

CO: Try to get as many opportunities as you can to coach, that is really where you are going to learn and develop. Working with different coaches and athletes will expand your perspective and you can learn something from every experience. Always be open to new ideas and growing as a coach and person.

VC: What do you wish you had – advice, support, education, etc. - when you started?

CO: I feel like this is still the beginning of my career and I am constantly making mistakes and learning so I am not sure if I know yet what I wish I had. I was very fortunate to have strong mentors now and when I first started but I don’t think that is the case for all young coaches. I think this is a crucial piece to coaching success.

 

Interview by Josh Bell. Photo by: Robert Antoniuk.