Jayme Menzies always knew she was Métis, but she didn’t fully understand her heritage at a young age.
Growing up in Dauphin, it just wasn’t something talked about in her family home. But as she entered adulthood, and began to make a name for herself in volleyball, Menzies starting asking more and more questions, exploring what her culture is truly all about. She didn’t move on after getting some answers, though.
Menzies, a former setter for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen volleyball team (2004-09, 2015), has proudly embraced her Métis identity and has spent years giving back to the Indigenous community through sport. Her time and effort haven’t gone unnoticed, as on Tuesday, Menzies was one of several coaches to be recognized with a Sport Manitoba Coaching Award. Menzies, 35, won the Peter Williamson Memorial Award for her contributions in coaching competitive volleyball and she was also named the Manitoba Aboriginal Sports and Recreation Council’s Indigenous Female Coach of the Decade. This year’s Sport Manitoba award winners were recognized for their achievements over their entire careers.
Menzies coached Manitoba at the 2017 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) in Toronto, and at the Canada Summer Games in Winnipeg, where she helped guide the women’s volleyball team to a gold medal. But arguably her biggest impact has come through Agoojin Volleyball Club, which she co-founded in 2018. Agoojin is based in Winnipeg and designed to make elite volleyball accessible to young female Indigenous volleyball players across Manitoba while mentoring athletes spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. The program has helped several players move on to play university volleyball.
"I believe that I’m the one that’s benefited from Indigenous sport," Menzies told the Free Press.
"Obviously, there’s some mutual benefit, but I have found that the Indigenous ways of knowing, ways of being, allows for one’s whole self to be present in a space and it’s just more of a holistic worldview than what mainstream sport allows for sometimes. In mainstream sport, winning is really important and sometimes sports can put too much pressure on that. I found that in Indigenous communities, the more significant benefits speak equal volumes to winning or medals or whatever. I feel like I’ve benefited because the benefits of sport have expanded and have just become innumerable in Indigenous contexts for me."
The pandemic has slowed Agoojin and all other volleyball programs down, which Menzies admits hasn’t been easy.
"I think a certain age group of Indigenous athletes have come to know me as a reference point for sport. I get a lot of messages from families or youth saying ‘Can you come to our community and do a camp? When’s the next volleyball camp happening? Can I play on your team?’ And it’s so sad," Menzies said.
"I’ve worked so hard to get to that point where I am that contact point and can say ‘Yes, here’s the opportunity.’ For the past however many months having to say no, it’s hard to feel like I’m having to say no because of an additional hurdle that’s out of my control. I like to remove hurdles, not to report more."
However, Menzies has found other ways to stay involved and give back despite COVID-19 restrictions. She’s a certified facilitator for the NCCP Aboriginal Coaching Module and trained over 50 coaches in nine different communities this past year. The course is mandatory for anyone who wants to coach in the NAIG, but Menzies hopes it becomes a requirement for all coaches in the near future. It focuses on taking into account an athlete’s mental, emotional, spiritual, and cultural side. It also addresses racism in sport.
Menzies has coached for more than 15 years and has recently made it a priority to start mentoring other coaches. She’s currently working with six young female coaches, allowing them to shadow her and other experienced coaches.
"I just think females and Indigenous people are so underrepresented in positions of authority generally, but certainly in coaching positions," she said.
"If I can sway that tide, I’d love to."
Lindsay Enns was also honoured on Tuesday with the Vince Leah Memorial Award which is awarded to a coach who helps athletes learn the fundamentals of the game. In a normal year, Enns coaches her daughters Mackenzie, 14, and Maddy, 12, at the school and community centre level in four different sports: volleyball, soccer, ringette and hockey.
"I grew up playing everything you could possibly play. Both of my parents were very actively involved in coaching me and my sister from when we were young till we got older. Always volunteering for our community clubs and managing teams, coaching teams we played on. It kind of came second nature to me because that’s the way I was raised and the importance of giving back and being a part of your community," Enns said.
There’s never an off-season in their Island Lakes home, so as you could imagine, 2020 was a major adjustment for her household. She said it was nice having time to actually sit down and have dinner together throughout the week instead of someone having to rush off to a practice or game, but she’s crossing her fingers they can get back to their hectic ways soon. Enns, 42, believes it’s important for young athletes to try their hand at a wide variety of sports.
"Maybe I think some parents are losing the bigger picture. Or everyone has different goals for their kids. For us, I want our kids to play and have an active life forever," she said.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.
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