Growing up in Aurora, Brett Hagarty is very familiar with the local volleyball system. As a volleyball player, Hagarty spent eight years with Storm Volleyball Club and would assist in coaching at local Aurora camps and helping out with some of the younger teams. In 2011, she received the OVA’s prestigious Evelyn Holick Award before pursuing postsecondary with Queens Gaels where she earned numerous Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Awards including All-Rookie and Second Team All-Star. Following a brief hiatus, she returned to varsity volleyball in 2018 with the Ryerson Rams where she became an instant standout, ranking sixth for total digs in the program’s history and culminating with a National finals appearance.
Hagarty was then selected as a full-time training group coach for the Team Ontario Program. This was not her first experience with Team O or the beach however, as she competed for the indoor program from 2011-2013 and spent one year with the beach volleyball team in 2011. In 2020-21, she is slated as an Assistant Coach for Storm’s 11U girls Avalanche with her sister at the helm.
Hagarty with the Ryerson Rams. Photo: Ryerson Rams (Hung Le)
OVA: Having predominantly been involved with indoor volleyball, why the decision to take up coaching on the beach?
I played beach – I was on the Team Ontario team for one year in 2011 – and I just really appreciated the environment that Angie (Shen) and Eddie (Coleman) and the whole Team O coaching team created. I had always kept in contact with Angie and she planted the seed when I was in grade 12 and still training and the full-time centre that she thought I might be a good coach one day, so it was an organic relationship I had built with her. When I was free for one summer I sent her a message looking to get into coaching. It was just so natural and we’d already had a connection built and I knew I loved the environment and was something I wanted to be a part of.
How was it then to shift from the proverbial student to the teacher?
In my first summer it felt like I was half athlete, half coach just because I was still pretty young and maybe two years older than some of the athletes I was coaching. I definitely had impostor syndrome especially when in the second summer I was a head coach. I didn’t know if I could do it or if the kids would respond but I used my age, which I thought was my weakness, as an advantage because I could relate to the athletes that much more and establish an immediate relationship because of it. That was probably my biggest hurdle starting out; just getting over my own thoughts and doubts.
OVA: Do you see yourself always involved in the two disciplines (indoor and beach) or will beach volleyball become the main priority?
My sister and I are coaching an 11U Storm team this year. I love indoor and is something that will have a special place in my heart and hopefully Katie and I will be able to coach this team for a couple years. Coaching indoor club is always something that I’m interested in.
OVA: Was sports an integral part of your upbringing? Did you come from a sports-heavy family?
For sure. My dad went to Queens University and played varsity football and basketball and my mom attended York University to get her Fine Arts degree in dance so it’s fair to say that I come from athletically talented parents. My brother was more into the adventure sports growing up like white water kayaking and snowboarding while my eldest sister, Beth played basketball at York. Katie and I played volleyball at Queens, and then Ryerson for me, later.
I pretty much did anything my sisters did growing up. Beth played basketball, I played basketball. Katie started playing volleyball in 2003 – it was just a weekly clinic that Bruce (Stafford) put on – so I went because it was probably easier for my parents with the carpool if I was there and partly because I wanted to be like my sisters. I’ve stuck with the sport ever since.
OVA: Who are your biggest supporters? Have you grown sort of a following along your volleyball journey?
Absolutely. One of my best friends is a former teammate from Storm who is actually coaching this 11U team with my sister and I and I’ve maintained good relationships with teammates from my years at Queens and Ryerson. I’ve also managed to stay connected with some of my coaches as well. Obviously Angie has been a huge supporter not only when it comes to coaching but she’s pretty much always around to help out if I need anything (and I hope vice-versa for her). My coaches at Ryerson – Dustin Reid, Christine Lamey and Adam Simac – I hope to keep my relationship with them alive as they’ve greatly supported me.
OVA: How much from your mentors/supporters did you learn and how much of that advice has remained with you over the years?
I was also able to be taught by, in my opinion, one of the best coaches in Canada, Merv Mosher in high school. He was my rep coach for three years and that is really where I think I had some of my biggest learning as an athlete. It wasn’t advice necessarily, it was just the way he led the team. He was my first coach that didn’t yell or didn’t believe in punishment; just set the standard for quality and performance that he expected us to reach at practices and games. Around then is when I first began to question my own leadership style in regard to seeing what’s effective and what’s not. Technically and tactically he knows what he’s talking about so I definitely took a lot from him throughout high school and put it into my own leadership style and coaching.
Angie as well; she leads internally, and I think that’s such a great way to build a relationship with an athlete and have trust. When you have that you can create an environment where they will improve and it’s intense and competitive and learning is always at the forefront. I was fortunate enough to have those kind of coaches around me growing up to learn from.
Hagarty with two of her beach athletes
OVA: With you coaching both beach and indoor and having learned from coaches of both streams, is the input and coaching methods you pass on specific to those disciplines or are they not mutually exclusive for you? For example, is the coaching style that you learned from an indoor coach effective or applicable to the beach or vice-versa?
I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. Obviously when it comes to the technical aspects of each sport you would have to apply different things but from a leadership perspective, no. I think that no matter what sport you’re coaching, you have your coaching philosophy and that is what’s going to set the tone for your team.
OVA: What past learnings do you apply in your coaching repertoire?
Getting to know your athletes and really seeing them as people first by building that relationship so that they trust you. If you have that, you have that foundation where together, you can create the environment that is demanding of a high quality. Being able to question them and ask them to reflect on what they are bringing to a practice or a game or how they’re feeling about things I find has been critically important to that foundation as well. The process then becomes easier when you care about them as individuals first.
OVA: Do you have a set philosophy or is that constantly developing?
I would say that my philosophy is creating an environment that’s free of fear and criticism. It’s one that is fun, intense and competitive and learning will never not be at the forefront of our practices and games.
OVA: Was there any insight/advice that was given to you that you tried but simply didn’t work?
One of the main things that I heard circulated a lot, especially when I was growing up, was the common thought that you have to coach boys and girls differently. I’ve found that if I’m leading a practice for the guys or for the girls, I coach them the same and if I did it differently for one group, then it wouldn’t be authentic and I don’t think my coaching would be as effective, regardless of gender. I’ve seen it written in some coaching manuals that boys are there to compete and girls are there to socialize and I think that’s very true but it goes both ways. To approach coaching like that, particularly when athletes are young, I think it really shapes their experience with athletics and maybe not for the better.
OVA: What’s the most important piece of information an athlete can learn from a coach?
I feel like with my 18U athletes for Team Ontario or even my 11U club athletes who are just learning how to play, hopefully they will learn that in the environment we create is that they are always able to try something new and that learning and making mistakes is okay. On the flipside, there’s learning to produce quality. Now the quality for an 18U high performance athlete will look a bit different than for an 11U athlete but it can happen in both cases.
OVA: What’s the most important thing a coach from learn from a coach?
Because I’m still developing as a coach and figuring out what my style truly is, I love to pick up tidbits from coaches who are in their own groove. I’ve mentioned Merv before but he’s a very quiet coach who never yelled and was effective nonetheless, whereas I’m definitely not quiet but I was still able to learn a lot from him. I think just being able to be open enough and being inquisitive to learn where their style comes from, for example is imperative.
OVA: What are some memorable moments from your involvement with volleyball?
The most recent one – as a player – was two years ago when we (Ryerson) won the semifinals at Nationals. We ultimately lost the in finals in a tough five set match but it was so memorable for me because I never thought that I would play at that level again and to come back after taking three years off and be in the National finals was amazing.
Being part of the Team Ontario program is really cool because you get to see the athletes develop year after year. I’m seeing some of them go off to university at the NCAA level in beach volleyball and watching them achieve what they initially wanted to do when they first came out maybe in grade 9 or 10 has been rewarding.
OVA: Why do you keep coaching?
Selfishly, it’s just so fun. It’s probably one of the best jobs you could ever have; being on the beach outside every day in the summer with like-minded people playing and coaching the sport I love the most while getting to learn and grow. Also the relationships you’re able to form with the athletes and fellow coaches is amazing and now being able to coach with my sister and one of my best friends…it’s so fun! To be able to teach kids (the 11U’s) how to play volleyball is so rewarding because they improve so quickly and every practice we go out they are already so much better.
OVA: Advice for aspiring coaches?
National Coaches Week is being celebrated from September 19-27, 2020! Join us as we highlight coaches from Ontario who's commitments and devotion to the game has made great impacts on the programs and players they have been involved with and taught.
If you want to participate in National Coaches Week, the easiest way to get involved is by simply thanking your coach! You give a shoutout, share your support and share your stories on social media through the hashtags #ThanksCoach and #CoachesWeek.
For coaches, there are free and discounted NCCP courses that can be attended as well. Visit https://www.coachesontario.ca/events/coachesweek/ to find out how else you can get involved this National Coaches Week.