A small-town boy coaching for a big city school
From growing up in a small town in Alberta’s badlands, to going into his seventh season coaching at SAIT, Art O’Dwyer is full of surprises.
O’Dwyer loved the freedom he experienced growing up in Drumheller, Alta.
“It was great,” O’Dwyer said.
“As kids we got to do anything we wanted… and we had a pretty strong sports program at my junior high school and my high school.”
It was in Drumheller where he started his volleyball journey. A football coach had moved from Calgary and started to coach volleyball, alongside one other member of the town, and they grew the sport within the community.
“It’s funny, in a small town, how one or two people can make a difference,” O’Dwyer said.
After high school, O’Dwyer and one of his friends moved to Calgary and played volleyball while going to school at the University of Calgary. O’Dwyer said he had an instant group of friends with the team, but that it was nice to have someone from his own small town there with him.
He found it more shocking to move back to the town after a year in the city, than it was moving to the city from the small town.
While at the University of Calgary, O’Dwyer got his physical education degree, took four years off, then went back to get his second degree, a bachelor of education. With those degrees, he started to teach elementary Physical Education at the Calgary Montessori school, and ended up becoming the principal there.
“It was kind of weird,” said O’Dwyer.
“I really enjoyed the teaching part of it, but I kind of got directed towards administration.”
The Calgary Montessori school was a small private school, so O’Dwyer was never a full-time principal, as he always taught classes. O’Dwyer was the principal during a time when the school was growing from being very small, to being bigger, which O’Dwyer said he really liked.
“It shows I’ve always kind of been in leadership roles,” said O’Dwyer.
While he continued to help grow the school, O’Dwyer started a school bus company to provide transportation for the private school, which he kept after he left the Calgary Montessori school.
Now O’Dwyer’s school bus company provides transportation for West Island College, a grade seven to twelve private school in Calgary.
All throughout this, O’Dwyer has coached everything from university to high school to club, both girls and boys, volleyball.
“My [coaching] philosophy is that I have to create the environment that athletes can learn [in],” said O’Dwyer.
The volleyball coach wants to create an environment that his athletes feel safe enough to make mistakes in but also demanding enough that they do learn and grow.
O’Dwyer likes to let his athletes figure things out on their own, rather than trying to drill things into them.
“Volleyball is a flow game, so what has to happen is you have to make decisions, hundreds of decisions, during a match and if I’m always, as a coach, really on top of you doing that, you’re not going to get to that next level and making those decisions.”
O’Dwyer is not a coach that is controlling but rather, the kind of coach that lets athletes discover and work their way through to figure out what is best for them.
For O’Dwyer, the best part of coaching is that every day he is learning as he works with new athletes to figure out how to get his point across to different people.
“It’s a never-ending challenge for sure.”