The season may have been cancelled but the courts have not been completely silent at the Robert J. Surtees Student Athletics Centre at Nipissing University.
“We’re very fortunate here that we have been able to do some training quite regularly and 17 out of our 18 guys came on campus to train back in the fall. We were still able to stay on track in terms of development and practices and we’re hopeful that can also provide us a chance to go a little more in-depth with our analytics,” says Eric Yung, the Head Coach of the Nipissing Lakers Mens Volleyball Team.
It has been a year full of adjustments for everyone, but Yung says, “We have to take some of the positives out of it and we just have to stay on track and try to stay ahead of the game because I know some of our opponents don’t have the opportunity to even train right now.”
Yung has been at the helm of the Men’s Volleyball program for over a decade but says coaching was not on his radar as a full-time career.
“Throughout my athletic career, I was always part of a lot of the camps and clinics they would run as one of the counsellors, and gradually through those situations, I was able to learn a bit about the ways in which those camps are run. I was leaning toward teaching as a career, to begin with, and there are many similarities between teaching and coaching,” he says.
Yung spent five years as a student-athlete at Nipissing and graduated in 2008 with his Bachelor of Business Administration and Bachelor of Education but says, “The idea of being a full-time coach was not even something I was considering at that times.”
“After I graduated, I was an Assistant Coach for the volleyball program for two years and when you’re looking for teaching jobs, the school board is always telling you to volunteer and get involved, and that way you can get supply days. I said I was willing to coach anything, especially at the intermediate level. I took over the Grade 8 volleyball team at WJ Fricker and that was my first experience as a head coach,” says Yung.
“We were a very strong team. We ended up winning a 48-team provincial tournament down in Oakville, it was quite a memorable year. The following year, Vito Castiglione who is the Athletic Director at Nipissing University approached me and wondered if I had any interest in coaching the team.”
It was the beginning of what was about to become a very busy few years as a coach for Yung.
“I had to discuss it with my partner, we had to weigh out our careers and at that time, the offer was only part-time so I would still be teaching at the local school boards. About a month later I said I was open to taking the position.”
It wasn’t the only offer Yung received that summer. He took over the Lakers team in July of 2010, and the very next month he took a call from Dez Forget at Chippewa who said the Raiders were also looking for a volleyball coach.
“Much to the dismay of my wife, I took that job too,” says Yung who asked for the help of some friends and former teammates to make it all work.
“Those were great days but they were long days. I would teach during my day job, run practice at Chippewa from 3:30 – 5:30 and then run practice at Nipissing. At Chippewa, we ended up winning at NOSSA and we won the consolation at OFSSA going 7-1 the year I took over that program.”
Multiple practices on the same day weren’t entirely new to Yung, as he was a multi-sport athlete during his time at Nipissing playing for both the soccer and volleyball team.
“Obviously, there were times where I was just completely exhausted when I was allowed to practice both sports in one night. That was pretty demanding on the body. But I just managed because I loved it. When you love something, you don’t think about how hard it is. I loved playing soccer outdoors and I loved being indoors to learn the sport that was still relatively new to me,” says Yung.
In fact, Yung didn’t start playing volleyball until high school. Born in Hong Kong, Yung moved with his family to Toronto at the age of six and then travelled north to Mattawa at the age of 12.
“I got recognized by the high school coach John Jeffries and when he saw me play, he had me transfer from FJ McElligott to Widdifield for my OAC year to play volleyball,” says Yung.
“The team got to go to Hawaii so that was an easy sell. Unfortunately, when we showed up it was a work-to-rule year for teachers and we weren’t able to have a real season, but we did a couple of tournaments, including the Hawaii trip during March Break.”
Yung thought after his OAC year that volleyball was just going to be a wonderful memory for him as he started his post-secondary education at Carleton.
“What actually drew me back to North Bay was soccer,” says Yung.
“The coach then was Rob Celebre who had recruited me to play soccer, and at that time, John Jeffries saw me training at the school and asked if I was back in town for volleyball and I had no intentions of actually playing, but he contacted the men's coach. I met him over the summer at a beach volleyball tournament and I told him I would commit to playing and so, I ended up playing both sports for the Lakers.”
From competing for the team, to drawing up the game plans, Yung has certainly left his mark on the program in many ways as he turned the role from a part-time coaching positing, to a full-time job as he successfully transitioned the team from playing at the college level, to competing in the OUA.
“Back when I played, soccer was at the OUA level while volleyball was at the College ranks in OCAA just based on resources. A lot of schools do that across Canada because of the sheer size of the sport and so it helps with recruiting if they aren’t trying to compete with the large schools in the OUA ranks,” says Yung.
“We just so happened to leave CCAA and OCAA on a high note,” says Yung.
“Some people think it's because we won that we transitioned to OUA, but that’s not how it works. We had to apply and we knew that was going to be our last year at that level. The team that we won with at the college level was actually pretty fitted for the OUA style of play because we were very physical. One thing I noticed in the university league was the size difference. Regardless of skill level it just seemed like the first thing universities did was scout guys based on their size. 6’5” or 6’6” yeah, we’ll work with you!”
Yung says there were members from that 2013 championship team who became very good university level players and even ended up as all-stars or went on to play pro and represent Canada and Yung says that expectation for the athletes changed with the Lakers moving to the OUA level.
“It’s a full-time program; full-time training, video and being fully immersed into a high-performance regiment where they are giving up easily 20 hours a week to the program. One thing we now have to do is not only compete here but also prepare these guys for that next level whether it be national or professional. I don’t think there were that many aspirations before to achieving that, there were guys that were definitely capable, but now the guys that play in the OUA are usually using that as a development platform.”
But the athletes weren’t the only ones on the national team's radar, as Yung got the call the don the red and white for the International University Sports Federation (FISU) games in 2017.
“It is held every two years. It’s sort of like the Olympics, but just for university athletes and it’s kind of cool to see that level of talent. It is the second biggest global competition after the summer Olympics as it is actually bigger than the winter Olympics with all the different disciplines and events they have,” says Yung.
“I got a taste of representing the red and white which was an unreal experience and to get to do it with three of our athletes from Nipissing who made the squad, and they got there before I was even approached to be a coach. It was a great professional experience to be with our guys and represent Nipissing Lakers Athletics on the world stage and personally, it was an eye-opening experience as well. To be able to coach with James Gravelle and William Alexander who are both with the University of Windsor and are such high-level coaches and to work with some of the best athletes across the nation was an unbelievable experience and I took away a lot from that which I now apply to what we do here at Nipissing.”
Yung says through the days as an athlete to his days as a coach, the best part of being involved in the sport has been the people and the contacts he has made along the way.
“I have had my share of individual awards, but I would say the best thing I took from all of this, by far, is the relationships that I’ve built. I’m still friends with many of the guys that I played soccer and volleyball with. I’m friends with a lot of the guys we played against too. At the end of the day one of the best things you walk away with as an athlete is the relationships you’ve built. I wouldn’t give anything back.”