Brock Coach discusses U Sports’ Female Coaching Program

Photo by: Charlie Martin

This weekend, the women’s volleyball team once again advanced to the Quigley Cup, the U Sports national volleyball championship.

Winning in four sets over the York Lions, the Badgers continued what has been a dominant season, especially down the stretch. Many players are having career years, and a lot of the team’s success stems from the coaching of two-time OUA coach of the year, Steve Delaney and his coaching team.

A more recent addition to the staff is assistant coach Lauren Sokolowski.

Sokolowski has a long background in volleyball, from her own university days, to her professional career.

Sokolowski played with Toronto Metropolitan University from 2010-2014 as a libero.

After graduating, she continued her career in volleyball, both on the court and as a coach.

“My husband was overseas playing and coaching, and we moved back to St. Catharine’s because my family’s from here.” Said Sokolowski, “Steve (Delaney) just got my contact from Matt (Ragonga) the men’s coach, because my husband also coaches with Matt on the men’s team.”

Besides a long background in the sport, Sokolowski also represents part of an important, U Sports-wide initiative.

Now entering the third year of the  U Sports’ Female Apprentice Coach Program, “aims to increase the number of females in coaching positions across Canadian universities.”

Sokolowski is just one of many coaches in this program, and though applications for next year closed in mid-February, its numbers keep growing..

“This year there were 19 of us from across all the sports in U Sports. Male sports, Female sports, every sport.” Said Sokolowski, “There’s a really good representation of different sports, when it comes to athletes who have graduated from a U sports team in the past 10 years.”

Sokolowski didn’t graduate from Brock’s volleyball program, and though many of the other participants do stay with their undergrad schools, she does say, “It’s a mix of both”.

“For me, I actually think it’s been a benefit, I’m bringing a new perspective.”  she said about coming from TMU, “Steve knows the coach that I had when I played, and that was one thing that he said that you played for a coach I respect and I know really well.”

Sokolowski also, understandably, has picked up a lot from head coach Delaney.

“The number one thing that I’ve loved learning from Steve, how he encourages competition within the team. I’ve never seen a team compete so hard at practice as these girls do, and I think that speaks a lot to how he has coached that into them all.”

Besides her fresh set of eyes and getting to learn under Delaney, her placement in the Apprentice Program has also been a huge boon to her career.

“Especially in the mentorship program, you have an incredible support system, between the resources that are given to you, and the network of coaches.” Said Sokolowski

“Every other week we have an online meeting with all of the other coaches who are selected for it, and we have a mentor as well. We do leadership seminars or just chat about how things are going. It’s been a really cool networking opportunity to meet with all of these other amazing female coaches.”

Just as much as she is taking away from the program, Sokolowski also wants to be able to give back.

“Something that I took away from my experience playing was the relationships that I grew with my coaches and all the players I met along the way, and if I can just make them recognize how valuable this experience is, that’s something I can take out of it and be happy with. Be better players, but also be better people.”

Hopefully for Sokolowski, and for U Sports, these kinds of mutually-positive coaching experiences can foster even more young female coaches.

“The point of the program is to encourage more female coaches in high level sport, and this is a great first step. If you look around, the OUA and U sport there’s so many Male head coaches and it’s unfortunate that it takes a program like this to introduce more female coaches into it, but the fact that this program exists to encourage that, is a first step in the right direction, so I would encourage anyone who feels strongly about it, with a passion for coaching but maybe feels overshadowed, this is for them.”

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