Reigniting the spark: UBC coaches are leading the next generation

After hanging up their jerseys for the final time, many athletes turn to coaching to keep their sport in their lives. Every reason to coach is special — whether it is to give back to the sports they loved or at the suggestion of a mentor.

Sierra Moores, assistant coach for UBC varsity swimming, became a coach to help other athletes achieve their goals.

“When an athlete has an unreal performance, there is no high like it,” Moores said. “It is the most elating experience because you have helped this person accomplish this thing, and you know the hours that they have put in for it.”

Moores was a swimmer her whole life, eventually swimming for the University of Waterloo as an undergraduate. She later stopped competing and began coaching strength training. With the Waterloo swimming head coach’s encouragement, she returned to the pool deck.

“She just kept saying, ‘Why don’t you come try [to coach swimming]?’ And before I knew it, I was hooked again,” said Moores.

After coaching at Waterloo for a “couple of years,” Moores moved out west to pursue a master’s degree at UBC. She was still deciding whether to focus on coaching swimming or strength training when another mentor entered her life and solidified her path.

UBC varsity swimming head coach Derrick Schoof invited Moores to be a part-time coach in January 2019. They got along well, and Moores began coaching full-time in September 2020.

Moores and Schoof led the Thunderbirds to victories at the 2022 Canada West Swimming Championships, where the women’s team claimed gold and the men’s team captured silver. But the road to coaching success didn’t come without its own challenges for Moores, especially since female coaches are in the minority.

As of 2022, women made up just 16 per cent of head coaches and 18 per cent of assistant coaches across Canadian national teams.

“There was some very significant imposter syndrome when I first started. But it was a fantastic challenge because I knew that my athletes were watching, and it was an opportunity to be conscious of the example that I was giving, which is really important to me,” Moores said.

Laurier Primeau, UBC’s track and field and cross-country head coach, was also influenced by another coach but for him, it was his high school track coach Dave Nichols.

Nichols not only led Primeau’s high school team to win the BC Track and Field Championships, he also led Primeau to coaching. Nichols became a mentor for Primeau, later becoming his friend and an important part of his life.

“So much so that my dog’s name is Nichols,” said Primeau.

But when Primeau was in his second year at SFU, Nichols tragically passed away. Primeau’s high school asked him if he would be willing to take over coaching his former team, and he agreed.

“I didn’t get into coaching on purpose,” Primeau said. “I got into coaching to fill the very big shoes that Dave Nichols had left.”

Only then did he discover he loved it.

“I [have] a passion for the process of figuring out our athletes’ unique challenges and different strengths and weaknesses to create the best performance results,” said Primeau.

Since his first venture in coaching, Primeau has made his own unique impact as a coach at UBC and beyond. He led the Thunderbirds to win the Canada West Cross-Country Championships for the second straight year and was Team Canada’s head athletics coach at the London 2012 Paralympic Games. While the demographics of his athletes have been far-ranging, his coaching attitude remains unchanged.

“I think that coaching is coaching,” he said. “If one cue or idea doesn’t work, I try to use other cues to affect the same result — and that’s no different in the Paralympic population. Paralympic athletes are high-performance athletes, and it all comes under the umbrella of track and field for me.”

For Moores and Primeau, coaching is more than just running practice laps, doing reps in the gym and beating a personal best. They both value the opportunity to help their athletes be good and well-rounded people.

“It’s about being the best you can be on the most important athletic stages as possible, but sprinkled in there are all the ideas about fair play and doing it the right way and being a good person as well,” said Primeau.

Moores sees her role in the same way. She stresses to her athletes to be more than swimmers — to value themselves as students, siblings and friends.

“As a university coach, the point is to make better people at the end of their time here,” Moores said.