By Woodard, Dale on July 11, 2020.
Mike Hawkins is returning to national coaching stage once again.
But this time around it comes with a twist for the local volleyball coach.
The Lethbridge product and current coach of the UBC Thunderbirds men’s volleyball team of the Canada West has been named the head coach of Canada’s U-19 national team for this season.
Hawkins, who graduated from Catholic Central High School in 2007 and also coached with the Lethbridge College Kodiaks men’s volleyball team in 2014-15, heads up the 30-man U19 squad after serving as an assistant coach on Canada’s youth national team in 2017 and 2018.
It’s a challenge he’s grateful for, even if the COVID-19 pandemic made things a little touch-and-go at first.
“With COVID it was put on the back burner a little bit due to the uncertainty over the summer and what it was going to look like if club volleyball was going to get cancelled,” said Hawkins. “Honestly, I could not be more honoured to be in this position. In any sport the pinnacle is being able to represent your country and being able to do that and coaching this team is really an honour for me. It’s special to be a part of the program, but now having the opportunity to lead the program as a head coach adds a little more value to it.”
The pandemic, however, throws a bit of a wrench into a summer normally set aside for competing in tournaments.
With those competitions out, Hawkins and his coaches designed a method to bring camp to his 30 players via social media
Beginning Monday, Hawkins and the rest of the team staff will run multiple webinars throughout the summer. The sessions are designed to expose the players aged 16 and 17 to Team Canada systems and principles, better preparing them as they enter into the national team pathway.
The summer program will also help them improve their technical and tactical skills through video analysis and modelling and provide support in areas such as strength and conditioning, mental performance and sport nutrition.
“Once we realized the summer tournaments were going to be cancelled, myself and another coach put our heads together and thought there can still be significant benefit for these athletes to go through a virtual program,” said Hawkins.
“So a lot of what we’re doing is going to be based off of observational learning. On one hand we’re going to be giving them a lot of information, Team Canada systems, principles and technical cues. The other aspect is going to be around the video analysis and using those cues and priming their focus to watch our senior athletes performing those skills.”
They can’t compete this summer, but Hawkins said the goal is to make sure the U19 crop of players are game-ready whenever things return to normal.
“The plan is that this foundation will be able to build this summer and, fingers crossed, by this time next year we’re back to some level of normalcy,” he said.
“The long-term goal of this program is to qualify for world championships. That’s going to be the other objective, to make sure we’re putting together the proper foundation so if we’re given that opportunity we are as prepared as we can be to go and compete.”
Phase 1 of that preparation starts Monday.
“Our morning session is our technical session,” said Hawkins. “Each day is going to be set up based on a theme. One day could be about our offensive systems and attacking. So we will go through a PowerPoint presentation with a bunch of information and immediately follow that with video of those particular cues. That’s building the foundation.
“The afternoon session is all around our integrated support team (IST). That is strength and conditioning, mental performance and sport nutrition. One session of the day will be around technical volleyball skills and the other session is going to be around that IST to give as much value to these athletes as we can for the summer.”
Hawkins and his staff hope to implement members of the Canadian senior team in Phase 2.
“So rather than do more technical sessions in the morning we’re going to hop on a call and all of our setters will go with the setters of the senior team,” he said.
“We’ll do a little more decision making. It will be the senior athletes leading those sessions, because truthfully they can give a perspective that I can’t. Those guys just finished qualifying for the Olympics here in Vancouver in January. So they’ll probably go through the key game of that tournament against Cuba and say to the setters (for example) in these situations this is what they were thinking and explain to the 16-and 17-year-olds what was going through their minds when they were one set away and trying to qualify for the Olympics. That is stuff that in any summer we would not be able to provide these athletes because the senior guys would be travelling and competing all over the world.”
Hawkins just completed his second year as head coach at UBC.
“Being the head coach at UBC, I just feel humbled and honoured to be leading such a historic program and I’m really excited at the potential and progress that we have been able to make over the last two years with such a young but talented roster.”
The pandemic has put a damper on his usual summer plans, but Hawkins will take time to visit his southern Alberta roots.
“Typically my summers are busy coaching volleyball, but I try to come back as much as I can,” he said.
“I still have some family that lives in Lethbridge and a lot of really close friends. I’m eager to get back. My sister just had a baby girl a couple of weeks ago, so I have to come home and meet my niece.”
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