Volleyball Canada


Coach Profile: Shannon Winzer

“I’m not interested in why we can’t do something, only how we are going to make it happen!”

After playing and coaching overseas, Shannon Winzer came home to Canada, bringing a wealth of experience and knowledge with her.

Winzer is currently the NextGen Coach and Senior Team Assistant for the women’s program. Originally from British Columbia, she played for the University of British Columbia before playing professionally in Europe and then heading to Australia to play in the Women’s Australian Volleyball League and captaining the Melbourne University Blues. She played on the Australian national team for two years from 2008 to 2009.

She then made the transition into coaching in Australia, coaching the Australian women’s national team and the Volleyball Australia Centre of Excellence. In her time there, she also served as the assistant national team coach and the women’s U23 coach, on top of coaching at Melbourne University and various elite teams and clubs. In 2016-17, she was honoured as Volleyball Australia’s National Coach of the Year.

Volleyball Canada recently had a chance to talk with Winzer 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?

Shannon Winzer: I knew I’d coach at some level and was coaching a bit of club while I still playing but I hadn’t seriously considered doing it full time as a profession. It was a close friend of mine who at the time was the manager of the Australian women’s national team and he pushed me into the deep end of coaching in the Australian National League (AVL) straight out of playing. I look back now and realize I coached purely based on my own experiences as an athlete and had zero self-awareness but was able to have early success as a coach taking the Melbourne University Blues from the bottom of the league in the AVL to winning 4 straight national titles. My career grew from there, and once I moved up to work at the Australian Institute of Sport I learned more of what it meant to work in high performance.

VC: Who supported you in the journey?  Do you have any mentors?

SW: I have always worked with mentors and they have been a huge part of my coaching journey. As I’ve grown as a coach the role of my mentors has definitely evolved. In Australia, I worked closely with Russ Borgeaud, the former Australian men’s National Team Coach and Dan Ilott the former Australian men’s Centre of Excellence Coach and National Team Assistant, as well as Sue Jenkins who had been involved with women’s volleyball in Australia for a long time and worked specifically in coach Development at the Australian Institute of Sport. All three were invested in my development, they provided feedback and challenged my thinking constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone… but most important they were my sounding board and supported me through mistakes and helped me learn from them. They were the first people I sat down with to weigh up the opportunity of coaching with Team Canada.

In Canada, I obviously work with Tom Black (note: Black recently stepped down as head coach) closely and consider him a mentor. He is a phenomenal technical coach and having him around to pick his brain and ask questions will only make me better. I’ve also been fortunate enough to have the Coaching Association of Canada link me up with Allison McNeill as a mentor. Allison was the Canadian Women’s Basketball Coach from 2002-2012 and built a program to qualify the team for London 2012. She has been a fountain of knowledge and insight as we look to forge a similar path for women’s volleyball in Canada!

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

SW: Having three little kids and coaching international volleyball! I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t the biggest hurdle. At the start it was really tough, our youngest was one when I accepted the role as Head Coach of Australia. Early on I desperately wanted to be seen as an equal amongst my peers, someone who didn’t need special support or consideration. As a result, I think I sacrificed too much in my family life. The support just wasn’t in place for me to balance it all and it wouldn’t have been sustainable. To get through it I had to voice my needs and when that didn’t work I had to take action to develop my own support system by building a village around my family. I also had to learn acceptance. My ‘coaching life’ looks different to many and our family life probably operates different to a lot of other working households, but it is our normal.

VC: Going to coach in Australia and then taking the position with the Canadian Women’s team, was that a difficult decision and transition?

SW: It was all hard. I had two years left on my contract with the Australian National Team and the progress we had made over the previous three years was exciting, but I felt I needed a new challenge to continue to grow as a coach and the goal of helping qualify a team to the Olympics could become a reality with Team Canada.  It was the right move for me professionally and it was an opportunity I am so grateful my family agreed to jump on board with. But moving my husband and three kids across the world to chase dreams has been a hard transition for everyone for all the reasons we expected and then all the ones we had no idea to expect.

VC: Coaching in Australia with the National Team, Melbourne University, etc. how did that help prepare you for the role you’re in now?

SW: My time in Australia really taught me about culture and the importance of getting that right above anything else, then building something others wanted to be part of… not just athletes but coaches, IST and the larger community. I also learned to be solutions focused. I’m not interested in why we can’t do something, only how we are going to make it happen!

VC: What are your thoughts on where the Canadian women’s national team now, and what’s next for the team?

SW: I’m excited about the Women’s National Team and women’s volleyball as a whole in Canada. In 2021 we will see our Women’s National Team compete in VNL for the first time, which is huge as we will get to test ourselves week in and week out against the best teams in the World. We are also working with more athletes than ever before at the senior level with the establishment of the NextGen program (Senior B team) and are able to provide international exposure for our targeted athletes earlier in their careers. We have a long way to go, but we have our sights set firmly on 2024 Olympic qualification.

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?

SW: Is it boring to say I don’t have time for other interests? I’ll work on that!

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

SW: That’s such a big question! I think the thing I’m proudest of isn’t the wins or personal accolades… it is having a positive impact on an athlete’s development and connecting with them in a way that allows for a high level of trust and honesty. I am also proud to play even a small part in showing other women, particularly the ones coming through as athletes, that you don’t have to choose between having a family or high-performance sport, it’s not one of the other. I want to be part of changing the coaching paradigm.

VC: What is your ultimate goal in coaching?

SW: To coach Canada at an Olympic Games and see our athletes stand on the podium while hearing our national anthem play.

VC: Do you have any advice for new coaches?

SW: Get in the gym with other coaches - watch, listen and ask questions. Challenge your own current way of thinking and doing things because you have never “arrived” as a coach, we have to always be learning and growing, stay open to that. Also, find a mentor relevant to where you are coaching and where you aspire to coach.

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

SW: I wish someone had sat me down early on and told me that it’s okay to not have all the answers right now. That I would find the freedom to coach true to myself as soon as I accepted that. And that surrounding myself with good people who have good intentions would be an important part of my coaching journey.


Interview by Josh Bell/ Photo: NORCECA