Sean White was asked the question posed to almost all former elite-level-athletes-turned-coaches. Does that make you have more empathy for your charges as what has become known colloquially as a ‘players’ coach?’
“Coaching needs to be collaborative, regardless,” said White.
“You need the in-put of the players. If the visions are different between the coaching staff and the players, conflicts can arise. It’s a disservice to impose your philosophy on a team.”
But let there be no doubt, added White, as important as player in-put is, the final decisions can only rest at the coaching level.
“Much of coaching is situational,” he added.
White came out of Oak Bay High and the James Bay Athletic Association to earn 27 caps for Canada in XVs, including in the 2011 World Cup, and won two Pan Am Games gold medals in 2011 at Guadalajara and 2015 in Toronto and also played in the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games. But he never got to the Olympics as a player, retiring after Canada fell short in the last-chance world qualifier in Monaco for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Now he has a chance to get to the Olympics as head coach of the Langford-based Canada sevens men’s team.
“There is pressure to win games and qualify but it’s a long process,” said White.
It has begun. The top four men’s and women’s teams in the 2022-23 HSBC World Series season will qualify for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games with rest of the national teams having to go through regional qualifiers next fall and a last-chance world qualifier in spring of 2024.
“Pressure is just being prepared,” he said.
“Qualifying for the Olympics, and placing in the top 11 to remain on the World Series circuit, are the top priorities,” said White, in his first World Series tournament as head coach this weekend in the Dubai Sevens.
There is clearly work to do as Canada placed 14th after losing 17-7 to Kenya and 38-7 to Spain on the consolation side Saturday. The Canadian men went 1-2 in group play Friday with a 19-14 loss to the U.S. before being downed 33-5 by Samoa. The Canadians rallied to finish the day with a 28-14 victory over Japan.
White stepped up from his assistant coach position to replace Henry Paul as Canada men’s interim head coach last month. Paul departed the position after guiding Canada to the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympics last year and the quarter-finals of the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games this year.
“I learned a lot from Henry Paul about dedication, attention and preparation,” said White.
“Which is a lot of what I believe in. A lot of it comes down to preparation. My motto is be prepared as coach and get the players prepared.”
A youthful group of players, several from the Island, have inherited the roster spots from retired veterans Connor Braid of Victoria, former UVic Vikes star Nathan Hirayama and Harry Jones who played in the Tokyo Olympics.
“It is bittersweet having [Paul] leave but the players have dealt with it great and handled it well. We’re not changing our plan. It’s just a different person executing it.”
South Africa defeated Ireland 21-5 in the Dubai men’s final.
The Canadian women’s team, based in Langford under Jack Hanratty, began Saturday with a 36-5 win over Brazil on the consolation side and followed up with a 15-10 victory over Japan to place ninth.
The Canadian women opened in Dubai on Friday with a 12-7 loss to a U.S. team that it will eventually likely need to beat at some point on the road to Paris. That was followed by a 33-0 loss to Australia and a 26-10 victory over China. Veterans on the Canadian team include 2016 Rio Olympics bronze-medallists Charity Williams, returning from a near year-long injury, and Bianca Farella. A rising young player on the squad is University of Victoria Vikes star Krissy Scurfield. Also coming up with a strong performance in Dubai was Keyara Wardley.
Australia defeated New Zealand 26-19 in the Dubai women’s final.