Grounded in growth: Jeff Ross coaches women’s volleyball with a focus on the players’ future
Meet Jeff Ross, head coach of the Douglas College Royals women’s volleyball program. As a guide and mentor for student athletes, he views his biggest role as giving his players a great experience full of opportunities for personal growth.
On Nov. 11, Jeff received the 2022 National Indigenous Coaching Award from the Coaching Association of Canada at the Petro-Canada Sport Leadership Awards Gala. Though Jeff considers himself an ambitious coach, he doesn’t do it for personal recognition. His top priority is always the athletes – and the young coaches he hopes to inspire to chase their dreams.
How did you start coaching the Royals?
In the summer of 2016, the Douglas position opened and I figured I would take the opportunity and apply. At that point in my coaching career, I had coached a lot with Thunder Volleyball Club and Team BC programming, and I was assisting with UBC Women’s Volleyball. So, I felt ready to take on a head coaching role. The attraction there, I think – for any coach who reaches that point in their career – is that chance to run your own program while seeking your personal growth as a coach.
How intensive is your coaching style?
I hold my athletes to a pretty high standard both on and off the court. I try to keep things relaxed and calm, but at the same time, they know my expectations. With that said, I cherish every day in the gym with the athletes – the practices, the match prep. It’s great to be able to create those relationships, help them as much as I possibly can and, hopefully, be a good role model.
Coaching is about more than just overseeing practices, of course. What else do you do to support your team and their growth?
In terms of the job tasks, there’s the long-term, behind-the-scenes pieces, like fundraising, organizing the tournaments or planning team trips. But while all these logistical pieces are important, our department thinks more about the bigger picture: How are we preparing these student athletes for life after our program? In everything we do, we work on equipping these young athletes with the tools to be successful long after they leave Douglas. That, to me, is the most important form of support we give.
Have you faced any big barriers in keeping the Royals competitive?
At the start of my career at Douglas, one big block was resources – specifically, the lack of them. U-Sport schools had access to a lot more resources than we did. But over the years, the athletic department has been tackling many of the challenges we’ve faced to create an experience that is on the same level as those top programs.
What other challenges have you faced in your position?
Speaking as an Indigenous coach, I see a lot of hurdles even today. It’s much tougher to get career opportunities or chances for professional development. That makes it hard for many Indigenous coaches to consider this a viable career. So on top of trying to be a role model to my players, I also try to be a good role model for young coaches, showing them that this is a realistic career path. I don’t want to call it “leading by example” – it’s more like we’re all putting in the work together, a joint effort to build something exceptional.
Something I really want to do myself eventually is start an Indigenous coaching program. It would get more coaches involved from many communities across Canada and give them that doorway into this type of career. And I don’t know how that looks, or how it would look, but it’s been on my mind for a few months now, if not years.
As a coach, how can you make a permanent difference for student athletes?
I would hope that when the athletes move on from Douglas and the Royals, they leave with the tools – work ethic, time management, communication skills – they require to be successful five, 10, even 20 years down the road. Honestly, I want them to have the chance to inspire young athletes to chase their own dreams.
What are the volleyball team’s current priorities?
Obviously, every year we’re chasing a national championship. We’re going after it every day, and we’ve been there three times in the last five years. We’ve lost in the national final twice, so the top priority is to get there again and give ourselves a chance to win on that scale. While we’re on that path, we’re still thinking about making the experience positive for our players, so that our journey as a team makes them better people, too.