UVic has a rich history of competitive sports teams. The eight varsity sports at UVic—basketball, swimming, soccer, rowing, rugby, field hockey, golf and cross-country/track—have shown great success throughout the years at the Canadian Interuniversity Sports (CIS) level. What is it that fosters a competitive sporting environment at a major university such as UVic?
Coaching staff from all sports work year round to put together the most competitive group of student athletes. To the standard onlooker, seasons may look like a four- or eight-month venture, but for the coaching staff, scouting and recruiting is a 12-month process.
Doug Tate, Vikes rugby coach, says scouting and recruiting fall almost solely on the coach’s shoulders. “I pretty much do all the scouting. I go to high-school provincials and watch the kids. The kids also contact me when they are applying for early admission and set up times to visit the campus.”
CIS sports in Canada aren’t necessarily brimming with the type of cash that gets tossed around at Division-I NCAA schools. Prospective student athletes making the trip to UVic often do so on their own dime. For some this only entails hopping onto a ferry, but for others, it can mean a flight out of their own pocket.
“We have players from all over. It used to be that we’d only get players from the Island, but now we have kids coming from the States, Alberta, Ontario, and even Hong Kong, for example,” Tate says.
The Vikes women’s basketball coach, Dani Sinclair, echoes Tate’s thoughts. “Ideally, we’d love to grow our team locally, but we’re looking for players all over the place,” she says. “We have girls from the other side of the country and even one player from Australia.”
Sinclair, who says player identification starts when the athletes are in Grade 8 or 9, tackles most of the scouting for her team herself, but says her assistant coach, Leanne Evans, provides identification help.
Playing on a varsity team requires hours of work and dedication per week. All teams hold their players physically accountable throughout the whole season.
Sinclair says being on a varsity team is almost like having a full-time job. “We try to create an environment where they can be the best they can be. We are about high performance and excellence. You have to show a certain level of dedication to compete,” Sinclair says.
UVic also keeps its athletes academically responsible. They are, after all, student athletes. Athletes must have at least a minimum entering average of 80 per cent to even be considered for a CIS Athletic Financial Award (AFA) and they have to maintain the CIS required 65 per cent if they wish to hold onto their scholarships.
The Vikes rugby program, albeit different from other varsity programs at UVic, has three competitive teams: a first-year team, an under-20 team, and a varsity team. The scholarship money allocated to rugby gets spread throughout the teams in order to keep students around for the long haul.
“We don’t give anyone full tuition,” Tate says. “I like to spread the money out within the teams. It wouldn’t make sense to dedicate most of the money to one or two players when you have three teams.”
Rugby and basketball aren’t the only teams actively recruiting. All varsity sports have resources embedded in the local and Canada-wide youth programs to give UVic a fighting chance at securing the next generation’s best.
“Maintaining a good relationship with the club coaches and high-school coaches from across Canada has allowed us to get a good look at upcoming talent,” Sinclair says.
Even having Vikes athletes run basketball and soccer summer camps can pave the way for a potential star player to choose UVic. Having a strong relationship with the sporting community gives the Vikes a good opportunity to scoop up some young local talent before other schools get the chance.
On the West Coast, most sports can be played year-round. This can be a huge advantage for student athletes looking to advance their sporting career. For Tate, this geographic advantage has allowed for a steady income of Eastern Canadian athletes.
“We are getting more and more players from out East. There, they can only play May to November, whereas here we go all year,” says Tate. “They also know that the National Training Centre is out here, and if they want to make the jump to the Canada u20 team, coming out West is a huge advantage.”
Students can be recruited to universities for any such discipline. Not surprisingly, sports are a key contributor to recruiting at any major university. Part of UVic’s success is in not only getting strong income of talent but also keeping them and helping them grow.