Nov. 27, 2014 – Alyssa Downing would give anything for another season or two of playing eligibility.
But the former King’s University women’s volleyball captain has settled for the next best thing: coaching her former team.
Downing is making the transition from player to coach this season thanks to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association’s Female Apprentice Coach Program.
“Being an apprentice coach has definitely been an amazing experience for me thus far,” said Downing. “I have gained a completely different perspective of the game.”
Head coach Grace Scott is pleased with Downing’s progress early on.
“It’s not always easy making the transition from player to coach but Alyssa has done an amazing job taking on this role,” said Scott, who is in her seventh season as the Eagles coach and tenth in the ACAC. “She is very teachable and is not afraid of a new challenge or taking on more responsibility.”
Downing is a natural leader according to her coach and one of her biggest strengths is her ability to set a goal and strategically find a way to achieve it. Downing also possesses impressive time management skills and is a tremendous role model for the student-athletes.
“She really helps them navigate through the stresses of being a student-athlete,” said Scott.
As a coach, Downing is learning how to be patient and a better communicator. She is also inspired by the knowledge the coaching staff has; Downing now sees and understands so much more of the game from the sidelines.
“I am finding it easier to pick out technical aspects of the activity that really will have an impact on the results of a drill in practice or in a game situation,” she said.
Downing has been actively involved in mentoring a number of King’s athletes. One player/coach relationship Scott has seen develop quite nicely is that of Downing and team captain Georgina Campos. The two were teammates for two years prior to Downing joining the coaching staff.
“There is a mutual respect and admiration for each other that is not always easy to find,” said Scott. “It serves as a tremendous example and encouragement to the rest of our team.”
Downing admits her relationship with Campos is a unique one, and it benefits the team as a whole. Because of that mutual respect, they’re able to give each other valuable feedback.
“She comes to me for advice and I go to her directly for information on the atmosphere of the team on and off the court,” said Downing. “We are constantly communicating and I appreciate her leadership.”
This season, 13 apprentices and mentors were selected by the CCAA. Downing and Scott are the only all-female pair.
Scott is the only female head coach Downing recalls ever having – in any sport. It’s Scott’s competitive drive that has fueled Downing’s passion for volleyball once again.
“In the past, I know that for a woman to be feminine, aggression and competitiveness were qualities that were often frowned upon,” said Downing. “I am so excited that it is becoming more acceptable for females to demonstrate athleticism and competitiveness. Women can create a competitive environment and thrive in it, and my experience at King’s definitely reflects this.”
It is Scott’s preference, whenever possible, to have both male and females on her coaching staff. This allows for a healthy balance to her leadership team, which is beneficial in helping meet the needs of the athletes.
“It is important that both genders see females in positions of leadership and coaching is just one area in which this can be accomplished,” she said.
Mentoring and developing young athletes is very much a part of Scott’s coaching philosophy. In fact, Downing is her third apprentice under the FACP.
“Each time I have been a mentor coach, it has always been a very rewarding and also humbling experience as I realize just how much I can learn from the person I am mentoring,” said Scott, who is also the Athletic Director at the University.
In her role as a mentor coach, Scott has been challenged to be more intentional in accomplishing team goals. She also focuses on making the best use of the gifts and abilities of her apprentice.
“Being a person of integrity is very important to me,” said Scott. “And as a mentor coach, I am giving my apprentice permission to question not only what I do, but why I do it.”
Meanwhile, King’s is off to a great start to the season. They currently sit atop the North Division in the ACAC with a 9-1 record.
The ACAC has earned a wildcard position for the 2015 CCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship and as a result, two teams from Alberta will be heading to Cégep Édouard-Montpetit in Longueuil, QC in March.
But the Eagles aren’t looking that far ahead. With a number of first-year players on the team, Scott and Downing are focused on teaching the basics and creating good habits at this stage. “Our goal is to compete at the highest level possible and to see significant improvement throughout the season,” said Scott.
In the meantime, Scott is thankful for the FACP. “The CCAA is offering young women opportunities to be involved in elite coaching and this is critical to the development of female coaches in Canada,” she said.
And Downing realizes how lucky she is.
“This is so exciting for me to really sit back and take in because I realize there are so many other people out there who do not get this great opportunity,” she said. “I feel blessed to get to learn from a coaching staff that has so much knowledge and experience behind them.”
As a student-athlete, Downing didn’t always appreciate how big the CCAA was. This time around as an apprentice, she isn’t taking the experience for granted.
“I feel as though I am a part of a great cause, promoting females coaching across Canada, and that is extremely important to me,” said Downing.
“I want to learn from Grace’s many years of coaching experience so that one day, I can lead a team the way she does in order to build into the volleyball program in Alberta.”
The CCAA is a national sport organization enriching the academic experiences of student-athletes through intercollegiate sport.