Sep the 04 Indoor Men Senior
Coach Profile: Dan Lewis
“Make your journey about the athletes, not about yourself.”
From National Team player to National Team coach, Dan Lewis has spent his life on the court.
The assistant coach of the men’s national team was a long-time member of the team he now coaches, highlighted by bronze medals at the 2001 and 2011 NORCECA Championship and 2015 Pan American Games. He also played for the Canadian beach national team in 1999 at the Pan American Games, finishing seventh.
He started his lengthy career at the University of Manitoba, winning a 1996 CIAU (now U SPORTS) Championship while being named the Championship MVP and Rookie of the Year. On top of his 15-year national team career, he played professionally in France, Poland, and Slovenia. He helped his teams to two Polish Cups, two Polish Championships, four Slovenian Cups, and five Slovenian Championships.
After playing with Team Canada to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics, Lewis was not part of the Olympic roster. Instead, he shifted to a spot with the coaching staff. He is currently the men's NEP head coach and the men’s senior team assistant coach.
Volleyball Canada recently spoke with Lewis about his career and some general thoughts on coaching in the sport.
Volleyball Canada: How did you make that transition into coaching? Was it something that you always thought about?
Dan Lewis: During my professional career I had opportunities to coach younger athletes. I always felt engaged and motivated to give back to the volleyball community. Near the end of my career, I had switched from left-side to libero; this required a great deal of communication, organization and support for my teammates. I had developed a good skill set for this role and when I was ready to retire from playing, there was an opportunity to work as an assistant in the National Program. I knew while I was playing that I would coach volleyball in some capacity, I just wasn’t 100% certain it would be as a professional.
VC: Who supported you in the journey? Do you have any mentors?
DL: Learning volleyball is a long process. Later in my professional career, I had many great coaches who were willing to share their philosophies, principles, and theory with me. University coaches also provided places and opportunities to train and share knowledge learned from the international game. As I finished playing and started out as a coach I was able to work under some great leaders such as Glenn Hoag, Larry McKay and Stephane Antiga. I was also able to enroll in a more recently created coaching pathway from Volleyball Canada that employed a professional coach educator, and I worked closely with him in the first three years of my development.
VC: What has been the biggest hurdle for you in your coaching career and how did you get through it?
DL: The biggest hurdle for me was likely the economic feasibility of transferring from player to coach at a later age in life. This has been part of the reasoning behind Volleyball Canada working to develop another pathway for coaches. Without this new avenue, it would have been difficult to financially be able to spend the time and effort needed for the transition.
VC: Do you think your lengthy playing career helped you prepare for being a coach? If yes, how so?
DL: Of course, over a long career there is a large amount of tacit knowledge banked and built up, both technically and tactically. For this to transfer effectively in my coaching, it’s been a matter of reflecting upon it all, organizing it, and delivering that knowledge in an efficient manner. Many crucial interpersonal skills develop after playing for such a long period which also prepared me for the necessary communication needed when coaching.
VC: On your playing career, do you have a most memorable moment?
DL: This question is very broad – it’s very difficult to isolate one memorable moment because my career spanned from club volleyball at age 15 to Olympic qualification at 40 years old. So I can’t pick one, however, I’ll never forget playing in Shediac Bay, New Brunswick on the Labatt Blue beach volleyball tour in 1998, when during a TV pause a random man from the crowd sang Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers a cappella.
VC: How does coaching differ from playing for you?
DL: Mostly in the amount of planning that you need to do. Planning and implementing a well thought out program for training and competing requires much more time off the court than you would ever spend as a player. I remember a really good quote from a rookie international coach during the World Cup who said, “if this was the reality for coaching volleyball no one would do it.” The international competitive demand on a coach is extreme.
VC: What are you most proud of in your coaching career so far?
DL: I am excited about my ability to individualize the needs of athletes within the dynamic of team training and competition. Adapting to the needs of each group of athletes is crucial and has the largest impact on development and performance. I am also encouraged by the feedback we have gotten from the current NEP (National Excellence) programs.
VC: What is your ultimate goal in coaching?
DL: Ultimately, I want to lead or assist the National Team to a medal at the Olympics, while at the same time being a good father and husband.
VC: You’ve seen the men’s national team rise up to become a regular Olympic threat. As a player and now coach, what have you noticed in the rise of the team?
DL: I’ve seen that it takes an incredibly long time to get better internationally in the men’s game. It took four years before we had a big upset win in 2010 at World Championships versus Serbia. Each year after that we kept at it and had about one big upset win every year - Brazil, Russia, USA - they all went down finally in important events.
VC: How did this rise happen?
DL: Volleyball Canada raised funds to get us back into World League (the predecessor to Volleyball Nations League), Glenn Hoag took the lead in 2006 and restarted the Full-Time Training Centre that helped bridge a widening skill gap that had been created between us as a nation and the top-level internationally. As the national team got better, it created better opportunities for our players professionally which accelerated the rise of the team.
VC: Do you have any advice for new coaches?
DL: Make your journey about the athletes, not about yourself. I have heard one of my mentors say that before and I truly agree that that is the best way to have success in the long run. I would say many coaches are going to teach in different ways, and it’s important to help athletes understand the principles that straddle individual differences in technique.
I’d also stress that it’s important to put in the time with video review of both your practices and games.
VC: What do you wish you had – advice, support, education, etc. - when you started?
DL: As a coach, I had great mentorship early in my transition, however, I needed more mentorship as a young player. I needed to know that you don’t need all the answers, that I should have observed and reflected more, as well as listen and shut my trap a little more often.
Educationally, I wish I had more exposure as a young athlete to international competition and demands and learned more about strength and conditioning. I believe this would have helped me become better balanced physically and prevented many injuries I endured.
Interview by Josh Bell. Photo: FIVB