Justin Oliveira is the High Performance Director at Water Polo Canada. I was lucky enough to meet and work with him a few years ago. Now interviewing him for this feature, I was excited to get his thoughts on his journey to this current position. He’s been the High Performance Director for over 3 years now and has been pushing the organization, it’s coaches and staff to reach their potential since he started.
Justin’s background in coaching, his willingness to do what it takes to help the team and organization, and encouragement from his predecessor has led him to where he is now.
Justin graciously took time out of his day to chat with me about his career, even when his travel schedule has had him in Gwangju, South Korea and Lima, Peru – all within the last month!
Tell us about your role and what you do as a High Performance Director with Water Polo Canada.
My role is to oversee all high performance programs at Water Polo Canada that include both men’s and women’s programs from youth to the senior level. Some of my activities which are mainly with our senior national team programs include, but are not limited to:
- General leadership to our Coaching Staff and Integrated Support Team
- Setting the vision for our high performance programs
- Evaluating our programs program progression
- Completing annually reports
- Budget management
- Working with high performance partners
There’s a lot of collaboration with organizations like Own The Podium (OTP), Sport Canada and the Canadian Sport Institute Network. Crucial alignment work domestically is conducted with our provinces and clubs program.
It’s a large role filled with a lot of different moving parts that have been combined despite programming differences between our men’s and women’s programs to have a more “One Team” approach.
What does a typical day in the life of Justin Oliveira look like?
It depends on many factors:
- If we’re in a competition
- Where we’re at in the world
- If we are traveling or local
- And what time of the year
When We Are Home
Let’s just say when I’m home in Canada at work. The days are more typical and resemble a 9 to 5 job.
You have to sometimes take phone calls, conference calls or complete tasks later in the evening because of west coast versus east coast time. A lot of the work gets done for me in the morning. There’s a lot of catching up on emails from the night before and setting up the day prioritizing the key tasks to complete.
Diving through some issues that have come up usually takes priority, and then I set aside a few hours just to get some paperwork or planning done for the future.
Things can change from day-to-day. In the sports world, there are always little things that come up here in there that kind of grab your attention.
It doesn’t matter if I am home or away, I’m very involved with our staff’s to support them and our team as much as possible.
Training Camps or Tournaments
In a tournament, usually, there’s training in the morning and a game in the evening. A lot of the time is spent around a team.
- Supporting our players
- Watching them playing
- Observing the coaches
- Talking to staff
- Seeing how we can improve the program overall
- Chatting with our International Federation officials
When you’re away on a trip, you’re almost always on 24/7 mode. When you get home it’s less non-stop. But, I also find when you travel, it gives you more time to work on a few things. Because days are a little bit more open to working. I find that I’ll get time in the afternoon to focus on things because you’re away from the daily grind.
What do you enjoy most about being the High Performance Director of Water Polo Canada?
I enjoy being around the sport. I enjoy watching the athletes continue to push themselves to their limits. It’s a role that initially I was not considering because I was really focused on coaching. Over time and discussions with staff members and my predecessor, they encourage me to apply for the position.
I really like to see how the team progresses from the beginning of the year to the end of the year through a tournament. I like working with the coaches to see how the coaches evolve over time. Just as with coaching it is really great to build the plan and watch how the program progresses into what you know that they can be.
I’m helping the programs get to where they need to be and that’s a gratifying experience. At the end of the day, I feel like Water Polo Canada is getting better every day, which is the goal.
Your initial degree was in Urban Studies. What made you want to go the coaching & high performance route with your career?
Well, when I was finishing my undergraduate, which is not at all related to sport, I was involved with coaching. When I was done playing, I realized I wanted to transfer what I know about the sport to others. Trying to transfer my knowledge and skills to younger athletes was something I wanted to do. It involves showing them the path they need to reach a higher level.
I was also fortunate to be given a good opportunity from a former head coach as well. That pushed me a little bit more down the path to landing this role as High Performance Director of Water Polo Canada.
I just really loved the sport and always wanted to stay engaged and supportive athletes. When coaching came around, I jumped on the opportunity. From that point, I was fortunate to be on the coaching staff of the Women’s senior team for about 6 years.
How do you think you’ve impacted others around you in your sport career?
My goal is always just to help others reach their potential, whether it’s our staff or our players. I’ve always tried to bring our staff together to work towards a common goal. It’s not always easy to work with a big staff and a group of athletes. You have to assemble the troops towards a common goal and make sure everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. And I think just being very analytical in the way that I see things, supports the progression of our teams at Water Polo Canada. As coaches and leaders, you’re always trying to make people better and the program better overall.
At the end of the day, if the program is improving, or a person is evolving, I’m satisfied.
My mantra is always “I want the athletes and staff to get the best out of the program and I want to get the best out of the athletes and the staff”.
I want staff to get the best out of me and the athletes too. At the same time, I want the program to get the best out of Water Polo Canada. So, that’s more or less the way I approach my everyday work.
What are three essential traits someone needs if they’re going to succeed in the sport industry?
I think passion is a huge one. Without passion, you won’t get as far as you you’d like to. Also, without passion, I don’t think you could motivate others as much as you can.
I think you have to be relentless in this industry because things are constantly evolving. You need to be relentless to push your team and your staff to where they need to get to and uncover every stone. Being relentless in researching and implementing new methods that will push your athletes forward is key.
There Is No Task Too Small
Finally, willing to take on any task or any role is something that breeds a positive team culture. There are no tasks too small or large in my opinion. Just because you want a big role, or have a big role, doesn’t mean you can’t take on small tasks. You have to be ready to take on some of those lower tasks that need to be done. We are all part of the same team working in the same direction.
Who do you think we should interview for SPMA next?
First off, my predecessor Roger Archambault would be a great person to talk to. He came into Water Polo Canada as the High Performance Director and made great changes. He added professionalism to our sport that I think was really important at the time. Also, he has a lot of experience in the sport industry. He was also the High-Performance Director for Biathalon Canada. There are many other great experiences he’s done too. Now he is the VP of Performance Services at the Sport Institute in Montreal.
John Atkinson is the National High Performance Director/National Coach at Swimming Canada He’s had some fantastic success in Korea lately and has really brought Swimming Canda to another level of the past years. So talking to him, would be a big plus.
Finally, Denise Dignard would be great. She’s currently the Director of Women’s High Performance for Canada Basketball and is someone whom I enjoy speaking with the get insights on how we can all do better in our sport.