First-year coach exceeds expectations
McKay focused on building volleyball program and empowering athletes
Trojans men’s volleyball coach Sean McKay has won south division coach of the year.
One of McKay’s most unique and recognizable characteristics is his young age.
“It’s really interesting to try and balance a professional relationship with something where I’m not being fake towards the athletes, not stuck up or too ‘suit-ish,’ I’m still a 25-year-old volleyball coach, and balancing that has been an interesting challenge.”
McKay has a background playing league volleyball, studied kinesiology, and holds his master’s degree in coaching.
Claiming to have walked into a good team, he attributes some of his success this season to the skills of the athletes, the dedication of the coaching staff and the organization of the administration.
“We finished the season with a couple big wins, which really can’t be completely attributed to me. The athletes are the ones who really make me look good.”
The Trojans finished fourth in the league this season.
“We made huge strides offensively.
“The setters and attackers did a great job in changing their mindsets.
“Defensively, we started to work as a team a little more.”
McKay was not recruited to a college volleyball team out of high school.
He attended Western’s open tryout in his hometown of Saber, Ont., and made the cut.
He started on the team as a walk-on, and ended five years later as the captain who led the team to a silver medal.
McKay said that although he was never the best player on the court, he showed some intangible qualities that helped steer the team in the right direction.
“I’ve always been coaching at summer camps, and once I took my masters in coaching, I veered more towards it becoming a career path.”
There can be risks and hardships involved in trying to build up a coaching reputation at a young age, and many people aren’t willing to invest the time and effort to build up their experience during the early years.
McKay said it felt natural to give one hundred percent of his efforts into becoming a coach from the start.
One of his mentors, Pat Johnson, was a great example of someone who was able to handle a hectic coaching schedule.
“He really showed me what it took — coaching here for an hour, running across the city and coaching there for two hours, just making it work.”
McKay arrived at SAIT in September during tryouts, leaving him very little time to get to know his players individually.
This affected the team negatively, since he couldn’t personalize what each individual needed to improve on right away.
McKay said he starts his team practices with some warm-up drills that bring the players back to life after long days in class.He likes to “keep it fresh,” by shooting baskets or kicking around a soccer ball.
“The guys just had a long day in class, so the biggest thing is clearing their minds and getting them set up in the volleyball mode.”
A cornerstone of McKay’s coaching philosophy is increased athlete involvement.
He believes that when players have a say in decision-making, they become more invested in the team.
Whether it’s choosing a team meal or new gear, he lets each player have a say in what happens, on and off the court.
McKay also believes that in order to be successful, he must constantly give himself and the team honest evaluations. “Being willing to put yourself down in an evaluation is pretty big,” he said.
When McKay interacts with his players, he knows that each one has to be motivated differently.
He encourages an open flow of communication between the team, and has individual meetings with the athletes before practice, looking at each player’s situation case by case.
“In a college environment with a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old, if you ever think of treating those two the same, you are setting yourself up for failure,” he said.
Since the coach put so much effort into the volleyball side of the program, he found the administrative aspect of managing the team to be challenging.
“There were a couple dates that were missed and scheduling errors, and I would definitely like to clean that up next year,” he said.
Going forward into next season, he plans on building more onto the volleyball program by doing things like increasing outreach and bringing in international talent.
“I’ve built a team, now it’s about building a program.”