Kelly McGuire is the Head Coach of the Conestoga College Men’s Volleyball program, a coach for the Kitchener-Waterloo Predators as well as coach for Team Ontario indoor and beach programs. A coach since his high school years, Kelly has been on a constant journey to develop his methodology and serve as a family figure of sorts to his athletes through the environment he has fostered on the court and off.
OVA: Tell us a little about your coaching pathway
Volleyball wasn’t my first sporting love; that was tennis and I started teaching tennis lessons at the local club at the 12-13 age level. When I was in grade 12 our junior girls volleyball team didn’t have a coach, so they weren’t going to have a season and I stepped up and said I’d be happy to take on that role. I coached some grade 9 midget teams in the past but this was my first time working with a grade 10 team. They were looking for some leadership and were a great bunch and I enjoyed the experience Graduating high school, I took over a bunch of different programs. I was the tennis, badminton and volleyball coach and I did that for quite some time. About five to six years ago I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in coaching and being from Thunder Bay, the opportunities weren’t necessarily there in regards of getting certification and being in readily available high performance settings to learn and train from. So, I made the decision to go back to school. I went to and played for a couple years at Conestoga College and later transitioned to being the team’s Assistant Coach and this past year I took over the program as the Head Coach.
OVA: Did your family help shape your involvement in sports?
Yep. That’s 100 percent my father. He was big into sports…watching sports. I can remember watching basketball on television and my dad would explain to me what’s going on like ‘this is a pick and roll’ and the intricacies of the game. Growing up we lived on a small crescent where we had 10 to 12 kids who were within a four year age gap so everyday after school we were playing road hockey or out in the back field playing soccer or baseball.
I think the coach side of me came from dad. It’s funny, when I was in grade seven and on the basketball team I had the nickname ‘coach’ by the end of the season because I was always the guy on the sideline yelling ‘you’ve got to be here’ and ‘you’re supposed to be there’ just trying to help my teammates. I think I’ve always had that kind of mentality in me that suited naturally to be a coach.
I definitely wasn’t the best basketball player by any stretch of the imagination…and I think that goes for any of the sports I played. I had a better mind for the game than I did being able to athletically accomplish those things and that’s leant me more towards a leadership role. I was about 4’11” in grade 7 so I wasn’t intimidating but I was a nice refreshing energy coming from the bench.
OVA: Are you still involved in tennis or has that connection dissipated?
When I was a high school athlete, I had thought about the possibility of being a varsity athlete in tennis but it just wasn’t feasible for me. I eventually got more into volleyball through playing recreationally in adult leagues and moved my way up. I still play tennis quite a bit but I just enjoyed volleyball more and haven’t looked back.
When I was in Northwestern Ontario, there wasn’t much of a boys club when I was younger but I had played volleyball all four years in high school. Again, volleyball wasn’t my main sport at that time but I think when I had the chance to coach when I was in grade 12, I fell in love with the tactics and understanding the technical components and how to teach that. It most likely spurred why I got more into volleyball after high school was done.
OVA: How was the transition from an athlete to a young coach?
I would say I am a player’s coach, so the transition was a little bit easier and this has happened throughout my career; when I went to Conestoga, for instance, moving up from being a teammate of someone to then becoming their coach. You have to set a boundary line and understanding that we’re working together but at some points there’s going to be at some points where you say I’m the coach and you’re the athlete.
OVA: Any learning curves thrown at you?
I didn’t really have a huge adjustment in high school, part of that being the overall level of volleyball there is not that high. The big adjustments were coming down to Southern Ontario, first off as an athlete and jumping off into men’s volleyball. The speed of the game was a lot quicker.
OVA: You’ve coached high school, college, club and Team Ontario. Is there a difference when taking the helm of those teams?
I would say that the college and club teams, you’re with the athletes for a lot longer so you get to develop stronger relationships with them. The Team Ontario setting, often times, we get in the gym and half of these athletes we’ve only evaluated at tournaments but never the chance to work with them or bond so you’re quickly trying to form those relationships so that the communication and feedback you have with each other is meaningful and you have their trust. It makes for a different but interesting dynamic because of the time frame.
OVA: Who are some of your mentors?
One of them was Pam Danis. I think the world of her. She was on contract at our school to help develop some of our varsity programs and she had experience as a collegiate/university coach so I had met her through a Captain’s Council meeting. She was really helpful in getting me to understand the certifications that I needed and trying to network as much as possible and still, she’s someone I can call on from time to time if have a conflict or am looking for an opinion.
Another one would be my former Head Coach when I was an athlete at Conestoga – Wayne Harris. He has over 30 years of coaching experience and is also someone I can talk to so I value his insight.
OVA: How was it taking over the position from you mentor?
It was a planned thing. When I came down as an athlete, I had told Wayne that sooner rather than later I was looking to get on the coaching staff. I wasn’t aware at the time that he was thinking about only have three to four years left and a big thing for him was making sure that the program was left with someone he trusted and was going to continue the work that he had put into it. The program was relatively new and it was great to work with him and during this last year he gave me more and more responsibilities so the transition then wasn’t as difficult in the end.
OVA: Did a lot of their advice morph into your outlook?
One of the best pieces of advice that I keep getting from everyone I ask is you have to try and make the message your own. Wayne might believe in a certain thing and on how something should be done and if I believe that it should be done in another way, then I have to be able to justify why I think that’s the way and be able to have confidence in my methods. It’s really easy to start as a head coach and want to find somebody else who is really successful and try to do exactly what they’re doing, thinking you will get the same result as them…but it doesn’t work that way. You must find and take that information and sell it in your own way so that you can believe in the message and your athletes can see that. The trust will build a lot quicker.
OVA: What is your philosophy? What are you trying to accomplish as a coach?
It’s one sentence that I preach: They’re my guys – or if it’s girls, ‘they’re my girls’.
I really try to treat all of my athletes like they’re part of my family. I know at our college, we talk about the concept of a family all the time. I think that today’s athlete doesn’t want to be told what to do. They want to work with you on something and for that to happen there has to be a trust or respect factor in the equation; them believing you honestly want the best for them. Anything we try and do, whether it’s on court or off court, mental training, it’s always keeping the perspective that these athletes are family and how would you want to treat the members of your family.
We’re obviously trying to help athletes develop and succeed but then we’re also trying to develop people into leaders and mature human beings for the future. Especially in my role, I coach mostly older aged kids so we’re getting into that mind frame of what they’re going to pursue postsecondary and beyond so I have the responsibility to try and help mature them through those character forming years and when their volleyball career is over, there are things they can take away besides the sport.
OVA: En-route to that goal, is there anything you may have tried that fell flat?
There are tactical things that we tried that didn’t work. I think stats are critical when it comes to things like that. There are times when a coach says that worked really well in this certain scenario and you have to be able to apply it to your athletes and your situation to see if it works. There’ve been some drills that you try where they look great when you envision them but when you try them out, the athletes just aren’t getting anything out of it so you modify.
OVA: What is the most important thing an athlete can learn from a coach?
Putting them in the right mindset when they train and focus on what they put it because it can apply outside of the sport and in their lives as well. When they come to volleyball practice it should be the intent that they are going to have the best practice they’ve ever had. If they make errors, it’s okay; if I look silly doing something different, it’s okay. If you can inspire your athletes to think like that, then the sky’s the limit to where they can get to and if you don’t have athletes who are in that mindset, it can get frustrating for some coaches because they’re then more into it than the athlete.
OVA: What is the most important thing a coach can learn from a coach?
Learning from other people’s experience is great and. Every coach I’ve reached out to – even if I’m competing with them in an upcoming game – have always been willing to share their philosophies and knowledge so you shouldn’t be afraid to make that reach out. That can only help grow everyone’s understanding on what we do.
OVA: What are some standout moments from your coaching career?
This moment would be during my first year as Assistant Coach at Conestoga when we went into our first cross-over playoff game up in Canadore. We were down two sets to one and we came back to win it in five. After the final point, the bench all cleared in a mass huddle and Wayne and I embraced in a big hug – it was a special moment for sure.
Three years ago I was the Region 1 Head Coach for the Ontario Summer Games was an amazing experience. Going through the opening and closing ceremonies and getting to bond with the team for that week was a rewarding series of moments.
This year, we had our first home playoff game and I’ve never seen our gym that full. It was loud from the first point to the end. The crowd was at a different decibel level and the atmosphere was incredible and will be something that I remember for a while.
OVA: How would your athletes describe you in the huddle?
I think they would describe me as sarcastic. I like to joke around and have fun with the guys. They would also say I’m fairly serious and when it comes the heart of the game I’m pretty demanding of the athletes and that ties back to our teaming having high goals and in order to reach those goals we have to demand it out of ourselves. That’s when it falls on the coach to produce that from our guys.
Ultimately, I would like to think that they see me as someone who really cares about them both in a volleyball sense and a life sense. Especially in college, you’re dealing with students who are trying to fit in academics with the varsity workload and often finding a job to finance school. There are important issues that have nothing to do with volleyball and you want to try and be there for them in those moments.
OVA: Are those moments why you keep coaching?
I like the game, the grind, the competition. I still have the athletic spirit, while it may not be physical I can achieve that through my coaching. It’s a rewarding and an amazing job that I have.
OVA: Any advice for 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.