Brian Plett acknowledged he was over a decade into his coaching career before he realized he still had a lot to learn.
Plett, who just finished his 32nd year of coaching at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, said he had a stubborn approach to coaching for his first several years, but he overhauled his practices and became one of Manitoba’s most successful bench bosses.
On April 6, he was honoured at the 2014 Coaching Manitoba IMPACT Awards with the Peter Dick Award for work within the school system.
"When I came out of university, having played some university sport, I think I thought that I knew it all," he said. "It took me about 10 to 12 years of coaching to make me realize I didn’t know that much about coaching.
"Over the last 20 years, I’ve tried to continue that learning process."
Plett has coached the Hawks to six MHSAA AAAA varsity boys’ volleyball titles, first in 1996 and most recently in 2012, while also coaching basketball, badminton, and golf at the school at various points. He’s had the opportunity to coach a second generation of players and has been able to see the sons’ progress as a benchmark of how far he’s come since leading their fathers.
"I remember conducting what I thought was a good practice, but watching some of the players after the practice walking out of the gym with some very despondent looks on their faces, and realizing something about that practice just didn’t come off the way it was supposed to," he said. "(One former player’s) son had a much better experience, and it’s because I didn’t know much about coaching back then."
After the epiphany, Plett asked other coaches for the opportunity to sit in on their practices to soak in what he could be doing differently. Early in his career, he noted he had skilled groups that struggled to win key matches. The coaches who mentored him included former teammate and two-time CIAU champion David Unruh (University of Winnipeg). Unruh was also Plett’s predecessor as MBCI’s varsity boys’ volleyball coach.
Plett also hopes that even players on title-winning teams took more than just the victory with them after graduation.
"Winning championships is nice, but for these young guys I’m helping to coach, it’s about building character, a set of values, helping to develop a perspective on life and a perspective on relationships that can be sustained," he said.
As for the award, Plett said he was thrilled not only to be selected from the group of coaches that he was, but also because he looked up to Dick as a coach. He recalled one game against Dick’s powerhouse Steinbach Sabres where Dick sent out a completely different lineup for the second set because all players deserved a chance to play.
"He is extremely caring for his players, really loves his athletes," Plett said.