Coach reflects on wins, losses and leadership after championship setback
Just before the Ooks women’s soccer team set foot on the pitch at this year’s national championships, head coach Carole Holt told her players to remember a simple phrase.
“Be determined to win and not afraid to lose,” says Holt. “It took away a lot of pressure. Even though we lost some really close games, I think that attitude helped us.”
The Ooks didn’t get the results they hoped for – finishing sixth at the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) Women’s National Soccer Championships in Coquitlam, B.C.
But it’s that kind of wisdom and leadership that earned Holt CCAA Women’s Soccer Coach of the Year, handed out the same week. The award follows regional coach of the year honours from Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC).
“It's their award just as much as mine.”
Although it’s nice to be recognized, the award belongs to her entire NAIT coaching staff, she says.
“How do we get all of our names on it?” she laughs. “I think that's important because it's their award just as much as mine.”
Disappointing end to a promising season
After an ACAC gold medal, the sixth place finish at nationals was disappointing, especially after such a strong year. Holt says she now has some reflecting to do.
Injuries made games difficult at times, but she says the passion and integrity of her players and staff came through to the very end. “We had a really nice group of people, which makes a big difference when you spend as much time together as you do. It was the best group of people to give us a chance to win.”
“We had a good season,” she adds.
It’s not always easy to find the right words when the game doesn’t go your way, she says. But the ability to set a positive example and lead during less than ideal scenarios is what sets the best coaches apart.
Finding the right words after nationals was especially difficult. Goals in a couple of games were a result of bad luck and timing.
“It was really hard. I’ll be honest,” she says.
A leader on and off the field
Holt is in her seventh season as Ooks head coach. She describes her leadership style as fluid – she adapts to the emotions and situations of a game. Her staff helps pull it all together, whether that’s during preparation before a game or through adjustments at halftime. But there was a time when she wouldn’t accept such help.
“When I first started, probably for the first three or four years, I felt like I had to do it all myself,” Holt explains. With experience came the realization that she didn’t need to tackle everything alone. She learned to delegate and relying on the other coaches hasn’t only helped the team, it’s improved her mental health because she’s not worrying about every detail herself.
“I've been able to get a feel for my own strengths and weaknesses as the leader, and bring in other people that complement each other. I’ve been more willing to let go of some things and trust that they’re going to be able to deliver.”
Holt credits two of her former coaches, Tracy David (formerly with the University of Alberta, now at the University of Victoria) and Len Vickery (recently retired from the U of A), for helping her become the leader she is today. In fact, she continues to share lessons she learned from them with her own team. Holt hopes her legacy is just as valuable to her players for any who decide to go the coaching route.
“I'd like to think that they've been able to learn something from me along the way,” she says. “Maybe they've learned things that they would never do! They've got to figure out their own coaching style.”
“She draws out the character of the athlete. I have a lot of gratitude to her.”
Holt’s impact on her players has never been in doubt. Players appreciate their coach’s dedication to the team and sport. Midfielder Yumi Ishimura, who came to NAIT from Japan this past summer, says Holt found a way to communicate with her even as she learned to speak English.
“This team has the best coaches,” she says. “It was easy for me to understand. Carole is particularly good at building trust with the players. She draws out the character of the athlete. I have a lot of gratitude to her.”
“I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive, motivational and encouraging coach throughout five years playing soccer for NAIT,” adds defender Kayleigh Pepper. “For as long as Carole is head coach, the NAIT women’s soccer program is in the best hands possible.”
Now that the season is over, Holt says she’s in a mourning period. It’s strange knowing their isn’t another tournament to compete in.
“What are we going to do with all this free time now?” she says. “For me, it’s getting reacquainted with my family and my colleagues.”
After a short break, the work will then begin on getting ready for the next season. Holt will meet with players to recap this year’s games and discuss what they’re prepared to do differently, and then do regular strength and conditioning sessions in addition to exhibition games.
“It's important that we come up with a plan that we all feel accountable to,” she says. “But it's also important that we take some time and gain some perspective. Next year, we'll try it all again.”