Michelle Wood: fostering leadership in female athletes
As Head Coach of Acadia Women’s Volleyball, Michelle Wood teaches her student-athletes leadership skills on and off the court. As a leader herself, she has won a WomenActive-NS Leadership Award and been named Coach of the Year and Volleyball Nova Scotia Volunteer of the Year. She was also World University Games Assistant Coach in Taipei, Taiwan (2017), and in Gwangju, South Korea (2015).
“I absolutely love coaching,” she says. “On any given day I get to walk into a gym and be surrounded by such motivated student-athletes. That’s a really powerful environment to be in.”
When Acadia’s coaches recruit athletes, they look at the whole person. “Here at Acadia, we are in a smaller town, so the impact these individuals have on their community has to be something we look at,” Wood says. “Who’s going to come in and be that ambassador for our institution, give back to the community, represent us from an academic standpoint but also on the playing field? We have to look at them as individuals before we can start coaching them as an athlete.”
“I absolutely love coaching,” she says. “On any given day I get to walk into a gym and be surrounded by such motivated student-athletes. That's a really powerful environment to be in.”
Acadia student-athletes volunteer in the community with people of all ages: within schools, with Acadia Active Aging seniors, with S.M.I.L.E. children, with the Cardiac Rehab program, and in the local hospital. Her players also work with Axe Volleyball, a minor volleyball program where they mentor young female athletes. “It’s empowering to see how much those young ones look up to our current student-athletes,” Wood says. “It’s really important that we give back within the community, because the community gives so much to us.”
Her athletes learn leadership skills they’ll carry through life. “Any time a student-athlete goes out into the workforce, they’re going to be in a group environment working with their colleagues, and they have to take leadership roles, and they have to be accountable to the group members they’re working with,” she says. She sees a big change in students from year one to year four as they grow into leadership roles and learn to work together and solve problems.
Despite just missing the championship last season, the team had a successful year, Wood says. “Our semi-final win was outstanding. The energy and emotion that came into play – I asked the girls to invest so much this year, and they did. As much as losing in that final was a heartbreak, it was still one of my proudest moments coaching this group of athletes. We had Academic-All-Canadians. We had individual award winners. We had a CIF Youth Sports Award winner. We had a lot of individual accolades we could celebrate.”
Wood celebrates her own accolades with humility. She received the 2018 Trendsetter Leadership Award from WomenActive-NS, an organization that advances the participation of girls and women in sport, recreation, and physical activity, and empowers them to take on leadership roles. “It was a very humbling experience, and to be surrounded by other individuals who believe in the same thing and are passionate about it as well,” she says.
Acadia: “small and powerful”
Wood points to the tremendous benefits donors bring to female athletics. “I think people are recognizing the value of giving to female athletes because they go on to be leaders within their communities – some go on to be presidents of organizations. Our female athletes are doing big things in the community,” she says. “We’ve established our first ever Women In Sport award, through an annual fundraising brunch. That was a big growing point for our program. And we’ve established a general fund for women’s athletics, so individuals within the community can support the development of female sport.”
“People are recognizing the value of giving to female athletes because they go on to be leaders within their communities.”
Acadia is a gem, she says. “It’s one of those gems, almost a hidden gem, that exist within a small town, and I always say it’s like a paradise. People come here, and they’re in awe when they have that first experience of being here.”
She thinks for a moment. “I think how we choose to define ourselves, the language we use, is important. We are small, and we are small and powerful,” she says. “It’s not a negative. It’s actually an incredible strength.”
To watch the Acadia Women’s Volleyball team’s progress at the AUS Finals, follow them online. (http://www.austv.ca/) or check out the schedule for the tournament at Dalhousie University (AUS Championship Schedule).