Chantal Vallée is the Head Coach of the University of Windsor women’s basketball team in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer, Chantal is the Head Coach and General Manager (GM) of the CEBL’s Hamilton Honey Badgers. As one of the most recognized coaches in Canadian basketball circles, it was an honour to chat over the phone with Chantal Vallée a few days after her first season with the Honey Badgers came to a successful end. I asked Chantal to detail her career, about the balance of being coach and GM, top highlights (and lowlights), and more. Enjoy!
Please note: This interview was conducted via phone. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the essence of the interview.
Detail your career in sport.
I am the Head Coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Windsor and I’ve done that for 15 seasons. During the offseason, I am the Head Coach and General Manager of the Hamilton Honey Badgers, a men’s basketball team competing in the Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL). On top of that, I have my own company coachvallee.com. I consult on management, performance, team building, success, and keynote speaking.
What is it like to balance the role of Head Coach and General Manager?
Discussing with my players this summer, many think we should make the roles separate. Building relationships as the Head Coach and then making some hard decisions such as moving, benching, replacing them in both roles was difficult. Being the GM was good because I could build my own team, choose my own players and build the vision for the team. However, because this meant replacing and cutting players, it was challenging to establish trust with the players at times.
What are some of the highlights of your career?
The first time that I won a national championship in 2011 was spectacular. I had never done it before. It’s the goal of every coach in university sport to achieve, so it was an incredible moment. When we won for the fifth straight time in 2015, it was with a team that had no business winning really. It was one of the hardest years of coaching and one of the championships I was most proud of. All my best players had graduated. When I saw one of my players, Miah-Marie Langlois, playing at the Olympics in Rio and starting for the Women’s national team, it was a proud moment for me. I knew that she had been deadlocked in our system at the University at Windsor, so it was special.
When I received an email from John Lashway (President of the Hamilton Honey Badgers) to be considered for the men’s pro team, it was a highlight. Accepting the job, being named to the position and seeing the interest worldwide of how a woman could do this was special.
Winning the semi-final game with the Hamilton Honey Badgers against the #1 team to make it to the finals was unbelievable. I leaped and jumped for joy. It was a fantastic sense of accomplishment.
What was the lowest point in your career?
Oh boy. That’s a tough question! There are so many lows [laughs]. The highs are super high and the lows are super low in coaching. It’s really important to understand for all coaches, we go through a time where we reflect on whether we’re cut out for this.
Sometimes there’s a big emphasis on the highs; the wins, the championships, national finals. My coaching career has equally had an incredible amount of lows. It’s important to mention so that nobody thinks we are just superheroes [laughs]. We are humans. I would say for example of lows are times where players didn’t enjoy being coached by me and never have had the chance to be the Head Coach of one of our national teams.
What are three pieces of advice you’d give to someone who wants to coach basketball full-time?
1 Go For It!
That’s the first thing. You have to go for it. I know that it’s difficult sometimes in today’s society mixing finances and full-time coaching jobs. When I started to coach, full-time coaching jobs barely existed. So, we made it work through earning a few thousand dollars, learning the game, sharing apartments with other people who also wanted to become a coach [laughs], the hard way! Passion needs to drive you. Don’t take the money into consideration if you want to start. You have to learn the ropes and not worry about the feasibility of a career. You have to follow your passion.
2 Work On Yourself
Work on yourself as a leader and a person. Most young coaches focus on x and o’s and strategy but the focus should be internal. Developing oneself as a leader, as a performer, as a manager of people – is probably the most important piece of development to focus on.
3 Create Your Own Path
I think sometimes we look at other people who are successful and think, “oh I think I am going to follow the same path as them.” Or we look at others who are the same age and compare their success to ours. Maybe they’ve achieved more success than you have at this point in your career. Wanting to quit becomes an option when we do this. Don’t compare yourself to others. Instead, create your own path and go with the cheerleaders that support you and advance your career that way.
You can catch Chantal Vallée on the sidelines coaching the Windsor Lancers women’s basketball team now!