For most sports teams, the head coach acts as the face of the program and the main point of contact for the media, in charge of recruitment and receiving the brunt of the criticism.
On the sidelines, but equally as important, the assistant coaches may avoid some of the blame, but they also go unrecognized for their major contributions to the team.
Carys Storey has been working with the STU women’s volleyball team and head coach Don McKay since 2013.
She began her coaching career at George Street Middle School in her 20s and hasn’t stopped since, coaching both boys and girls volleyball and settling on the Tommies and the Fredericton High School Black Kats varsity girls team for a number of years.
She says her values and expectations for a team align with coach McKay’s, making it a great coaching relationship.
“If I was to be an assistant coach with anybody I don’t think I could do with anyone but Don,” said Storey.
She thought long and hard before joining the Tommies, but “when Don asks, you do.”
“He does so much for everybody.”
Her coaching style has changed over the years, Storey said. While in her beginning years she was very strict and very focused on winning, her perspective has changed as she has gained more experience.
“My philosophy is I want them to have fun, I want them to work hard and I want them to understand what it means to be a good person.”
After working with more and more athletes and dealing with difficult situations, Storey said the mindset shifts.
“Is this really about winning? It’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself.”
While it hasn’t been easy balancing work, family life and coaching, Storey says “It’s not without guilt,” noting that it was especially hard when her own children were busy with their own sports.
One issue she finds with coaching women’s sports is the over-representation of male coaches.
“It just seems like that we don’t have females coaching men’s teams, but we have men’s coaches coaching female teams,” said Storey.
It’s a perspective that has shaped how she approaches coaching, as she recognizes the difficulty female coaches face speaking with refs, other coaches and parents.
“I also really want to demonstrate strength for [the girls],” said Storey. “I want to show them what it looks like to be able to stick up for yourself or speak out.”
Throughout her coaching career, it has become evident that running a sports program takes “a small village.”
A lot of us aren’t doing it for big bucks,” said Storey. “We’re doing it for the love of the game .. at the very end of the day, it’s the girls I show up for every day.”
Brendan Murphy played five years with the Tommies men’s volleyball team before hanging up his shoes to focus on his education degree. The libero decided to come back and coach the team he once played for, a process he has described as “pretty strange.”
The key point for Murphy has been setting boundaries with players he used to share the court with.
“Instead of being in the action, I’m just watching from the sidelines to help improve their game,” said Murphy.
Coaching allows him to see the finer points of the game. Instead of focusing on himself and where he needs to be to prepare for the next ball, he’s watching “the net … how people might do a wrong motion … the rotations, stuff like that.”
Joining the coaching staff was not originally expected as Murphy hoped to focus on his schooling, but “[head coach Henri Mallet] asked me to join the coaching squad, I couldn’t say no.”
It hasn’t been without difficulty, as the transition has definitely made Murphy miss being on the court himself, though the players on the team now are a new generation, missing the core group of guys he played with over his time as a Tommie.
“It doesn’t really go away, I guess,” he said. “I really do miss it.”
He feels having someone who played on the team for five years is beneficial for younger players to have someone they can go to with questions and who has experienced the grind of student-athlete life.
“Me on the coaching staff is a vital part because I know what success looks like,” said Murphy. “And STU has always been a winning culture.”
Benson Garchinski played with Murphy for four years before taking a gap year and returning to the team for the 2023-24 season, now having his old teammate and current roommate as a coach. For Garchinski, the change hasn’t been as drastic as you would expect.
“The last time we played together, I think we were coaching each other just as much as we are now,” he said.
Garchinski was excited for him to be brought on as a coach, adding that Murphy was a walk-on to the team in his first year, which gives him added respect for the work he put in to become a starter on the team.
“He earned his spot so he really knows the grind of STU volleyball,” said Garchinski.
“I think he brings a different aspect where he knows what our culture is like as a player and can improve it from a coaching standpoint.”