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Brenda Willis teaches her players about more than just volleyball

January 8, 2014
Claude Scilley COLUMN

Claude Scilley
COLUMN

Half a world away, Michael Amoroso was not surprised Tuesday to learn that his former varsity volleyball coach at Queen’s University, Brenda Willis, had been selected to the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame.

“Many coaches teach the skills and trust that the other things will just sort themselves out,” Amoroso wrote in an email from Athens, Greece, where’s playing professionally for Panathinaikos Athletic Club.

“Brenda was there to support us every step of the way, and let us know that even in the tightest of situations the team could pull through together. (From Brenda) I learned how to train and perform under pressure situations.”

Joren Zeeman was a teammate of Amoroso on Willis’s last Ontario University Athletics championship team, in 2012. Now also playing pro ball in Europe, he echoed the sentiment.

“Brenda is a very influential coach and mentor in the lives of many young men,” Zeeman wrote in an email. “I, along with many others, came into her program as an 18-year-old boy and left as a 23-year-old man. She has taken on the role of guiding, instructing, and tutoring young males who, for the most part, are far away from home.

“She taught me so much; from the most basic life skills to the most complex volleyball tactics.”

Amoroso recalled his first encounter with Willis. He was in Grade 11 and a practice player with the provincial team, where Willis was a guest coach.

“I was only about nine months into playing the sport competitively,” Amoroso wrote. “Brenda taught me some mechanic adjustments on my serve, and then stayed after practice with me to help work on it.

“She wasn’t even a coach of the team, just a guest coach, and still she was willing to stay back and help me.”
Amoroso described Willis’ approach to coaching as “organized, methodical and calculating.”

“Every drill had a purpose and a goal,” he wrote. “Our practices, seasons and careers were about achieving those goals and growing as players and as a cohesive unit.  We had a lot of interesting conflicting personalities on the teams I was a part of and Brenda found a way to keep us all moving forward.

“I have played for a lot of different coaches in my career, and with some, their attitudes in practice are dictated by external factors not pertaining to the team. As an athlete, it is very hard to prepare for a practice with an unstable head-coaching presence. With Brenda, we always could trust that she would push when we needed to be pushed, let us work things out as the adults we were becoming when that was necessary, and also help manage us when our own personal problems needed assistance.

“In my five years playing at Queen’s I always knew Brenda was in my corner, and still is.”

Zeeman also wrote of Willis’s ability to foster cohesion among the members of her teams.

“Brenda has always promoted a team-first atmosphere, no matter which concoction of players she has chosen, and this has resulted in not only many OUA titles, but life-long bonds between teammates outside of the sport as well.”

Adam Simac, a current member of Canada’s national team, says it was Willis who opened his eyes to the possibility of playing volleyball beyond the intercollegiate level.

“She helped lay the technical foundation in my game that helped me succeed at the next level,” he wrote in an email. “She was a tough coach but fair. She commanded the respect of her players and in turn respected us as not only players but also young men.

“I will always have great memories of my time at Queen’s, culminating in the 2006 OUA championship and a fifth-place finish at nationals.”

The lessons learned from Willis in his time at Queen’s are diverse, Amoroso wrote.

“Technically, I learned most of what I know now. I could list those adjustments for days, and even now when I am coaching younger players and explaining skills, I hear her coaching shining through.
“I also learned how to manage my emotions better on the court and in practices, and be a more mature leader. Finding the line between pushing your teammates to succeed and putting them down was one I struggled with constantly, and Brenda helped me understand how my emotions and actions were affecting the players around me.”

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From → Amateur sport

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