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Volleyball Canada Combine pays a visit to Yellowknife

If you want to become the best at what you do, you have to learn from the best and that includes volleyball.

Some young volleyball players got the chance do that this past weekend courtesy of Volleyball Canada and Volleyball NT.

The Volleyball Canada Combine saw members of the national team program come North to put the players through their paces at St. Pat’s gymnasium this past weekend. The combine was held in between sessions of the NWT Volleyball Championships, which were also held at the same location.

Shannon Winzer, head coach of the Canadian women’s team, said it was all about making the most out the time they had to give the players a full experience.

“When we show up, it can be a bit nerve-wracking for athletes, especially on the women’s side, but every single one of them tried everything that we asked,” she said. “They’re open to learning new things and that’s perfect.”

The combine is a fairly new development for Volleyball Canada and has been in existence for the last couple of years. The goal is to give players an idea of what’s happening at the national level in terms of training. The players were through the same physical testing that national team players are put through and it’s all part of what Winzer described as a “gold-medal profile”.

“We start to create a profile of what the best athletes in our sport look like at a senior level,” she said. “We’re starting to track them from the age of 15 onwards. This is part of that information gathering — we’re building up our database so we can better identify where an athlete would sit at age 16 versus where the best in the sport sat at 16.”

From what she saw, Winzer said the players were keeping up with everything that was thrown at them.

“I think there’s a very steep learning curve in just how quickly we put information out there,” she said. “Each group is different between the boys and girls and they have different exposure to volleyball. For the women, as an example, we had some who had played volleyball for about two years and some who have played for six or seven years. That’s a huge difference and a challenge for us in navigating the varying skill levels.”

As anyone involved in Northern sport knows, the opportunities here often pale in comparison to what those in the south receive on a regular basis.

Winzer said she wants the players to get the same chances because there’s a big volleyball world out there and it isn’t just contained to playing.

“There are professions out there that are available to young people,” she said. “It may not be as an athlete — I want young women to see me as a coach, talk to me and talk about my journey. I want other people to see that profession in sport goes beyond just being an athlete.”

Most of those who took part were players on the Arctic Winter Games teams that will be on court next month in Alaska and Rami Ayache, Volleyball NT’s executive director, said the combine was one way to get better before leaving.

“I don’t think any other team has had this opportunity of a national team head coach sitting on the bench with them at our territorial championships or discussing nutrition, workouts, those sorts of things,” he said. “That partnership with Volleyball Canada has been great — Shannon was fabulous and the rest of the coaches have been awesome in providing this opportunity, which doesn’t happen often.”

The camp was originally set to happen in Hay River late last month, but weather forced a cancellation there. It did, however, happen in Fort Smith Monday and Tuesday evenings with Matt Krueger, the NextGen lead coach with the women’s national team, and Michael Cook, strength and conditioning coach with the men’s national team, leading things there.

Winzer said she just hopes everyone had a positive experience while they were here.

“If they can walk away feeling great about volleyball and feeling like a little part of Team Canada, that’s huge for us,” she said.