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Coach Profile: Tessa May

Volleyball Canada’s “Coach Profiles” are proudly powered by Mizuno, a supporter of our National Teams and coaching programs.

From the court to the sideline, Tessa May wasted no time away from the game.

May spent four years with the Simon Fraser University, leading the team to four straight winning seasons. She was named to the GNAC All-Conference First Team in 2016, 2017, and 2018 after being named as an honorable mention in 2015 as a freshman. She also earned a nod to the All-American team in 2018 in the NCAA Division II.

May transitioned easily to the coaching side of the game after her post-secondary career ended. At the club level, May coached both beach and indoor for the BCO Volleyball club. She worked with numerous youth camps and clinics and has spent time with Volleyball Canada’s Regional Excellence Program. She’s currently an assistant coach with both Simon Fraser University and Capilano University.

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

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

Tessa May: Coaching was always something I had done here and there throughout high school and my first few years at university. I didn’t think it would turn into a full-time thing and also didn’t expect it to be something I am this passionate about, but I always loved helping people learn and play the sport I love so much. Once I was finished with my playing career, I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to help out with SFU and CapU and coaching at the higher levels was what really got me hooked onto fulltime coaching.

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

TM: I was fortunate enough to have many supporters and mentors throughout the past few years. Of course, my family was always very supportive of me taking on coaching as we have always been a very sport involved family, and my older sister Devon has always helped support and mentor me though my volleyball journey. On the coaching side, Gina Schmidt and Rob Gowe have been two people who have really helped to push me to be the coach I am today, as well as teach me countless new techniques and strategies throughout the many different practices and games. They both gave me the opportunity to coach alongside them (Gina at SFU and Rob at Capu) which helped me to grow as a coach and understand more about how teach advanced skills and run a good practice.

VC: On your playing career, you had quite the resume with three GNAC All-Conference First Team honours, and being named to the All-American team. How do you think your playing career has prepared you for coaching?

TM: I think playing many years at a high level has given me a countless amount of experience that you cannot get from doing anything else. I think that being in difficult spots on the court and learning how to work out of them has helped teach me different mindset tricks and how to stay calm and focused. These are all skills I bring along with me every time I coach. I also do think that playing for a university team teaches you a certain type of leadership skills which have been very important for coaching. I find having played for many years helps me communicate with the players in a more understanding way.

VC: How did it feel coaching with SFU, the school you played at?

TM: Coaching for SFU has been an amazing experience. As I mentioned previously, Gina is an amazing mentor and I have been lucky enough to learn under her for the past few years. Coaching the team has also been a great experience. Of course, it was a bit weird coaching the players that I had previously played with, however the team never let me feel out of place. The players are always so receptive and thankful for feedback that it made the transition much easier. I have felt myself being more comfortable in the coaching role with in the past few years with SFU and I am excited to see what this season has in store for us.

VC: You’re now with Capilano University as an assistant coach, joining in 2019-20. How difficult has it been to start off with Capilano given the COVID pandemic and the season being cancelled?

TM: Of course, the COVID pandemic has been extremely difficult for everyone and especially difficult for sports teams. Luckily in the 2019-20 season, we had a great year. My first-year coaching with Capilano was exciting and fun, getting to meet a whole new team and learn how a totally different league works (PacWest vs. GNAC). It was fun playing different teams I knew nothing about and getting to know each player individually, how they like to be coached, and what works for them. It is always exciting meeting a new group of athletes for the first time and can be a fun challenge to figure out what works best for each athlete. Luckily that season was just able to finish weeks before Canada shut down. We had a great year and had a very memorable win during playoffs. This will be one I remember for a very long time!

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

TM: I would have to say, the COVID pandemic was probably the bigget hurdle I faced during my coaching career so far. I was lucky enough to continue coaching almost all the way through the pandemic aside from the initial lockdown last spring. There were a few tough elements for me throughout the pandemic, as I am sure any coach could relate. It became difficult throughout the year to come up with new and engaging drills and games which stayed within the current guidelines and still kept the athletes excited and learning new things. However, this taught me to really get creative and learn how to make things up on the fly. Although the pandemic was extremely long and hard for all coaches and players, I think I came out a better coach on the other side and this allowed me to learn countless new drills and activities which in turn has given me even more tools to use for the future.

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?

TM: This is a hard one, mostly my days consist of three to five different practices, so I don’t have much time for other stuff. However, outside of volleyball, I am quite interested in athletic training. I was the team trainer with SFU as well as being an assistant coach. Meaning I was able to do all of the taping, injury assessments, and prevention stuff. This was always super fun and exciting and a nice switch from coaching! I am also quite interested in sports psychology or psychology in general and am considering going back to school in the near future to learn more in this field.

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

TM: Another tough one! I think it’s hard to pick because there have been so many big moments in my career already that will be hard to forget. Of course, the big wins for both university teams are undeniably amazing. There is no better feeling than winning a big game over a rival opponent (coaching or playing!). However, one thing that makes me feel very fulfilled is when I am coaching club volleyball, I typically coach the 18U age group. Every year I am pleasantly surprised with the incredible groups of younger women that I am lucky enough to coach. It is incredible watching them grow up, get into universities, and follow their dreams. This year I was lucky enough to help one of my 18U athletes find a university to continue her volleyball career at, and that feeling is irreplaceable.

VC: What is your ultimate goal in coaching?

TM: I think my goal while coaching often changes. Coaching and running my own university program would be a dream, one I have wanted for many years. But each year my ultimate goal is to just pass on as much knowledge as I can to my athletes, whether that’s on or off the court. I think it is so important for younger athletes to have someone to look up to, whether that’s a role model, mentor, or even friend. I was lucky enough to have so many strong women to look up to, including my sister, coaches, or teammates. If I can be that person and help even just one athlete all year, then I know I am doing my job.

VC: Do you have any advice for new coaches? Perhaps something you wish you had – advice, support, education, etc. - when you started?

TM: I think the biggest advice I could give is just to remember why you started coaching. For me, I started because I love the game and wanted to be involved with it in whatever capacity I could. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up with everything else going on and forget why you are here. I try to take a step back at least once in the day, give myself a few minutes just to watch. Reflect on how far the athletes have come, watch the game and remember why I’m here. I think doing that helps me to remember, it’s not always going to be pretty but the process is what is beautiful. Being able to help younger athletes grow into university caliber players, or watching your team have an amazing few points against a great opponent, those are the times that really matter. Not forgetting that is what has really helped me to grow as a coach and making this job all the more beautiful and rewarding!