TORONTO – Heidi Peters is in her 11th season on the women’s national sitting volleyball team and has been part of its remarkable growth under head coach Nicole Ban.
When Peters started, the women’s team was a fledging outfit struggling to qualify for world championships and Paralympic Games. But with the arrival of Ban in 2014, the team progressed to seventh at the 2016 Paralympics, fourth at Tokyo 2020, and made history the following year with silver at the world championships.
“She is such a force and demands excellence, demands performance of us, but she knows that we can do it,” said Peters about Ban. “All of our team are just such strong individual female athletes. We are not afraid to use our voices, not afraid to take up space, and she just never backs down from anybody.”
Peters describes herself as an example of how Ban connects with the players one on one, igniting a fire which they thought they never had.
“She told me a long time ago you can be one of the best sitting volleyball players in the world if you want to be,” said Peters. “I would have never seen that, but she saw it. There's just such a foundational level of trust. It's all from a place of love and trust and confidence in my ability.”
Peters’ teammate Danielle Ellis, the team captain, concurs and adds Ban’s innovative techniques also now make Canada a powerhouse in the sport.
“She is bringing the sport into the future,” said Ellis, also a veteran team member dating back to 2009. “She’s not stuck with ‘Okay, we're gonna run this because this is what other top teams do’. She says ‘this is how our team moves. This is how we move. We're going to do this instead because this is going to make us better in the future.’
“She's not afraid to have that growth mindset.”
Nathan Clement, the gold medallist in the men’s T1 time trial last month at the Para cycling world championships in Glasgow, was quick to credit his coach Phil Abbott, who put him on the fast track to success on the tricycle.
“I'm very grateful to have a coach like Phil Abbott,” said Clement, who entered the Para cycling world in 2021 after a successful career as a national team Para swimmer. “Learning the trike for the first time is a very daunting experience, especially realizing you have to race in a couple of months on it.
“So having him there really allowed me to get that confidence on the fly to really learn to grow and become the best version of myself.”
Abbott taught Clement perhaps the most important lesson of being a high-performance athlete and reaching the top of your sport.
“He told me you have to love cycling, because you're going to be on the bike for four or five hours in terrible weather conditions and you're going to think ‘I don't want to be here’,” said Clement.
“You have to learn to love it and love it deeply. I started riding after that conversation with Phil.”
National Coaches Week takes place September 16-24, 2023 to commemorate the positive impact coaches have on athletes and communities across Canada. The Canadian Paralympic Committee, alongside esteemed partner Petro-Canada, celebrates all Paralympic coaches for their important role in developing Para sport and supporting Para athletes.