Coaches close up

John Browne
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Four MUN mentors reveal what inspires, concerns them

Memorial University Sea-Hawks men's basketball coach Peter Benoite paces courtside in this file photo.

They’ve been inspired and motivated by different people and situations in their lives, but the varsity coaches at Memorial University have more in common than you might think.

Sea-Hawks mentors Doug Partridge of women’s basketball, Peter Benoite of men’s basketball, Bill Thistle of women’s volleyball and Luke Harris of men’s volleyball were asked a number of questions by The Telegram relating to their personal views on coaching, and what motivates them, among other things.

What follows should give you some insight into their personalities, philosophies and, hopefully, just what makes them tick.

Each of the MUN coaches have their own style and way of doing things. Each of them have also had different results when it comes to the win-loss column, but all of them are well respected in the local sports community and they were very forthcoming in their answers.

So what made these people want to be a coach in the first place?

For Benoite, a former Sea-Hawks star from Little Barachoix, who has played semi-pro in Germany and with the Halifax Rainmen of the American Basketball Association several years ago, it was a feeling that he could “help build something special” at Memorial that led him to seek out the school’s full-time coaching position.

“I have always enjoyed the game and enjoy being around it. It’s been much harder than I anticipated and the road seems a bit longer, but I think we can build strong individuals and leaders people in the community can be proud of,” said Benoite, who has been with the team five years.

Partridge’s first urge to coach came while watching television.

“I was watching Don Shula and the Miami Dolphins play when I was eight-years-old,” said the Nova Scotia native, now in his 20th season at the helm of the Lady Hawks, with seven Atlantic University Sport Conference championships to his credit.

“I though he was just great and that coaching was the coolest job in the world.

“My life,” said Partridge, who is also a full-time MUN coach, “has been a testament to something someone once said to me: figure out what you want to do and get good enough at it that someone has to pay you to do it.”

Thistle, from St. John’s, who also coached the women’s volleyball team from 1978 to 1983, said, “seeing my players grow as athletes but also as young adults” is something that inspires him in his part-time job.

“Coaching,” he said, “is very rewarding to have a positive impact.”

Born and raised in Bonavista, Harris played at Discovery Collegiate under coach Mike Murrin and said he’s always loved sports and played as many as he possibly could growing up.

“By the time I was in university, I had too many broken bones, knee injuries, surgeries to be an elite athlete anymore,” he said. “I still liked competition involved in sport and the team aspect of volleyball, so I applied for a technical director position with the Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association and Russ Jackson, who was the newly-appointed executive director at the time, thought I would be a good fit.

“That was in 2003,” said Harris, who has represented the province every year since then in some level of competition.

 Harris was the assistant coach for Memorial’s women’s volleyball team before stepping into the assistant coach position with the men’s program in 2006-2007. He’s also held the position of assistant coach of Canada’s national junior team.    

No one questions the motives of these four people, and learning what they stand for puts the jobs they do in perspective.

For example, in asking how they motivate their players, which would seem to be cut and dried, their answers were somewhat surprising.

”That’s something I’m still learning, I think,” said Benoite. “It’s important to challenge them to be the best they can. I think believing in your players is also important.

“I think, more than ever, this is becoming an important concept in coaching as more of a person’s growth and development is centered around what other people think of them. For example, the Facebook era had how many ‘likes’ you have. It can be argued whether or not this is a good or bad thing, but I think it’s a reality that coaches have to adjust to.

“It’s about trying to give the players an internal motivation to succeed and to put the effort in. They need to find what’s important for themselves in giving the effort and it’s our responsibility to help them find that intrinsic motivation.”

Partridge feels coaches should not be in the motivation business.

“Coaches are not cheerleaders. Players bring the motivation, the desire, the fire to achieve.

“You can help fire them up by being prepared, knowledgeable and competent,” Partridge said.

“Make the athletes feel like they have an ace in the hole with them, someone who can pull out something useful at a key time, but, as I tell my athletes all the time, that only matters if the players are playing hard enough and with enough passion and discipline that they can execute that little something extra.”

Harris goes as far to say he finds motivation to be an Achilles Heel.

“We are often motivated to do well at matches, but we are not often motivated to prepare for those matches.

“I try to reward those who put in the effort in workouts and practice. It’s a great motivating factor for some, but others need a different kind of push that I have not yet quite figured out.”

“Our athletes are very motivated, and it’s up to our coaching staff to give them the opportunity for success,” said Thistle. “Anything I do to increase their motivation comes from showing them just how good they can be and believing in them. They do the rest.”

So what do you these men say is their strengths and weaknesses as a coach?

“Hard to say what my strengths are,” said Benoite, “as we havent had to many positive results. So, what I think are my strengths may not be actually helping.

“One of the things I do need to do,” Benoite added, “is look at the glass as half full. Sometimes I tend to focus on the negative a bit too much, and obviously the players can sense that and that can affect the mood and morale of the team.

“I also need to realize more that players don’t always see the game the way I see it. But I guess I was the same way when I was younger.

“I think just realizing that more and being more conscious of how I need to teach team what I’m seeing would be more beneficial,” said Benoite.

So, how has coaching affected their lives?

“It’s made it more rewarding and enjoyable,” said Partridge. “I’m, by nature, a shy person and not very outgoing. Sport has created an opportunity to get to know people, make an impact on them and, hopefully, help them in some way.”

Partridge said that through coaching he’s been able to create some, “lasting relationships and friends that I probably never would have had. It’s been a marvellous way of life.”

Thistle said coaching has been a big part of his life, before adding, “and my family has had to make sacrifices so that I can continue along this path.

“If you haven’t coached at the elite level,” said Thistle, “it’s hard to understand how close you get to the athletes.

“We really become a family or sorts and there are so many positives in seeing them grow,” he added.

“Well, to say coaching is a big part of my life would be an understatement,” said Benoite.

“These days, coaching is my life. It’s an enormous time commitment, one that you just don’t turn off when you head home for the night.

“Sometimes it gets tough when the losses add up,” admitted Benoite whose teams have struggled in AUS play since he took over five years ago. “But I think if you stay true to your beliefs and what you stand for, then good things will happen and once the foundation is solid, the house will begin taking shape.”

Harris says coaching has impacted his life, “in an infinite number of ways, almost all positive.”

As a part-time coach, Harris says he simply hasn’t been able to put in as much time with the players as he’d like.

Though he’s coached in the sport since 2003, and with the Sea-Hawks since 2007, Harris still considers himself “quite” inexperienced and adds, “I still have not quite fully figured out my coaching style … my philosophy on the game.”

Harris said he tries to learn things constantly and admits, “I have actually learned quite a bit from players giving me their opinions.”

He said when you are a coach, you are responsible for preparing and leading young athletes.

“I’ve realized that we are not just doing this for a volleyball match. Four or five years after they set foot in their first practice, they are gone.

“They move on to the rest of their life and I would be doing them an injustice if I didn’t help them prepare for life. It’s definitely a reality check when you understand the magnitude of your position and how you can influence these people,” said Harris.

Harris said players often come back to him when their university careers are over and tell him things they should have done better or they wish they would have listened more.

“The one thing that hits me the hardest,” said Harris, “is when they say they would do anything to play one more year and they can’t. It’s over for them.”

Organizations: Sea-Hawks, American Basketball Association, Miami Dolphins Newfoundland and Labrador Volleyball Association

Geographic location: Germany, Nova Scotia, Bonavista Canada

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