After years in the wilderness, Canada’s men’s volleyball team making an impact on world stage.
It may seem like the Canadian men’s volleyball team is just another overnight success after a recent upset over powerhouse Russia.
In fact, it’s a success story seven years in the making.
And the man who built the foundation is coach Glenn Hoag, who has guided the team since 2006.
Volleyball isn’t a sport that gets a lot of attention in Canada, although that may change if the national team keeps developing and winning more.
But University of Winnipeg volleyball coach Larry McKay says outside of Canada, people know who Glenn Hoag is and they respect him. The national volleyball training centre was based in Winnipeg until it moved to Gatineau, Que., in 2009.
“In Europe, they think he’s one of the best coaches in the world,” says McKay, who adds that it’s a sentiment Hoag’s players share.
“He’s a guy that’s incredibly passionate about what he’s doing,” says attacker Justin Duff of Winnipeg.
On the team four years, he also played for Hoag when he coached professionally in Turkey.
“I’ve not seen a lot of people that care as much about their job and what they’re doing as he does.”
A key to Hoag’s plan to revitalize the national team was re-establishing the national training centre, after a decade when university players moved directly to international play.
Duff says that alone is huge. It gives Canada’s players the training they need to cope with teams from countries where you can turn pro at 17 or 18 and play full-time.
“The full-time centre helps us catch up. It gives us a full year of training physically and with basic skills of volleyball and advance tactics.”
Duff points to Rudy Verhoeff. The Calgary native had just finished university and never played pro, yet he was a huge contributor to their recent success in the FIVB World League thanks to the national centre.
But the rest of the story comes from what Hoag learned through years playing and coaching professionally in Europe – the way to succeed is basically to sweat the details.
“Establish systems and get the players to (understand) these are their references,” he says. “By establishing these systems, I established a training philosophy around (them).”
He knew it wouldn’t create a winner overnight but it seems to be paying off now.
The team’s latest triumph is their win over Russia at the recent World League final tournament in Mar del Plata, Argentina. The win helped boost Canada seven spots to 11th in the world rankings, with Russia still at No. 2, behind Brazil.
Although Canada ended up losing to Brazil (and Russia bounced back to win the title), 2013 saw Canada’s best performance ever in World League play with a record of 9-3, the latest sign a program that languished for a decade is picking up steam.
“What I’ve been able to do is trap some teams because they think they’re so good,” Hoag says of his upstart Canadians. “We’ll do it with patience. We’ll do it with the qualities we want to develop.”
Not that winning is the only measure of success. It’s probably not even high on Hoag’s list (although he admits it is very nice).
He says he’s been able to see progress in other ways as the team develops.
“Are they better receivers, better attackers? Is the group performing better in certain areas?” he says. “Winning is really important and we all like to do it but, if you don’t develop the means to win.”
Hoag has spent most of his life playing or coaching volleyball. As a player, he’s already been inducted into the Quebec Volleyball Hall of Fame.
He played on the national team from 1981 to 1986 and on the 1984 Olympic team that finished fourth (Canada’s best to date).
He helped Canada win silver at the 2003 World University Games and gold at the 1984 Commonwealth volleyball championships.
He played professionally in Europe between 1984 and 1993 and coached Paris Volley to a Triple Crown victory, winning the French Cup, the French Championship and the European Champions Cup.
“Europe is the Mecca of volleyball internationally.”
When he returned to Canada he also returned to coaching at Sherbrooke University, where he’d worked in the ’90s, before taking the reins of the national team.
But Europe was his graduate school.
“I got to learn a lot,” he says.
The centre and more training is important. But it’s also important that his players believe they can be winners.
“We’ve reached a certain point in our game and now we’ve got to polish it a little, but our guys are not afraid to play anyone now,” he says.
The team has a break from competition this summer.
“It was a good World League, now it becomes the past for me,” says Hoag. “I evaluate and I measure and we get back in the gym in August.”
Their next competition is NORCECA, which covers North and Central American and the Caribbean, in Vancouver at the end of September. The Canadians will face rivals such as Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico and the United States.
“I still have to work a lot on the skills,” says the coach.
Cracking the top five in the World League is great but Hoag says they aren’t letting it go to their heads as they prepare for the world championships next year and hopefully the Olympics in 2016. The Canadian men haven’t qualified for the Summer Games since 1992.
“I’m happy that we grew but I don’t pay attention to the world ranking too much. … We can beat some teams that are ahead of us and we can also lose to teams that are behind.
“And it’s because volleyball is so competitive worldwide.”
To keep moving forward, middle blocker Adam Simac says the team has to eliminate inconsistencies and the kind of unforced errors they made against Brazil.
It’s even more important now that they aren’t so far under everyone’s radar, but that attention should also help force a little focus.
“We’ve kind of served notice to the world, ‘You can’t take Canada lightly any more,’” he said.
“Every team that plays us is going to be ready for us and is going to be gunning for us. That will make our focus a little bit better and hopefully we deliver a more refined product.”