By Martin Cleary
OLYMPIC BOUND: The Tokyo Olympics will definitely be Games like no others. No spectators. Athletes enter the village five days before their event, exit 24 hours later. No cheering parents in the stands.
While most athletes’ parents are restricted to supporting their sons or daughters by watching on television or through social media, there is an exception to every rule. Everything is different during COVID-19 pandemic times.
Nicholas Hoag, a veteran member of the Canadian men’s volleyball team which trains at the national centre in Gatineau, will have his father, Glenn, right beside him, right on the team bench throughout the round robin and playoff matches.
Glenn Hoag has been the head coach of the Canadian senior men’s volleyball team for 15 years over two shifts (2006-16, 2018-21), while his son Nicholas has been part of the national team program for 13 years, the past nine on the senior team.
It’s rare to have a father and son also serve as a coach-player tandem on a national elite sports team, especially one that has qualified for its second consecutive Olympics. But they are accustomed to it and were both at the 2016 Rio Games.
“It has been quite an adventure,” Nicholas recently wrote in an email interview from a training camp in Turkey. “It was very difficult at first for both of us. “Separating my dad from the coach was a difficult task as I’m sure it was for him.
“Once we figured that out, I think it has been a great experience for both of us. Positive conversations outside the court and the honesty on the court were the two things that have had the most impact on me.”
One of their best father-son moments also involved the Olympics, when Canada survived an exhausting process and qualified for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Canada won its final game in the second qualifying tournament to go to Rio, the first time the Canadian men had qualified since 1992.
“The tears of joy and hard work are something I will remember for the rest of my life. That is a certainty,” Nicholas added.
When it comes to on-court volleyball, Glenn is always professional in his approach to his players, especially former national junior team members Nicholas, Tyler James Sanders and Lucas Vanberkel, who provided team depth and are now Olympians.
“It was not always easy to be a father and a coach as both ‘jobs’ require teaching and communicating, but in a very different way,” Glenn explained in his email interview.
“When you are a parent, it means a whole family, the connection to my spouse (Donna Kastelic) and Nick’s brother Chris. I had to try to keep everything in perspective.
“Donna and I discussed many times our approach to coaching both my sons and keeping a balance as a father. I remember Nick being harassed on social media about his position on the team and the fact that I facilitated that process.
“I remember him struggling to deal with this. In the end, it was all part of the maturing process and staying focused on his goals.”
Canada is ranked 10th in the world entering the Tokyo Olympics and will face stiff competition in its Pool A round-robin matches against Japan, Poland, Italy, Iran and Venezuela. Seven of Canada’s 12 players competed at the 2016 Rio Games.
“That is super helpful,” wrote Glenn, who appreciates that kind of depth on the team. “They can share their experiences with the others. Their focus is really on the podium performance.”
Canada had a slow start to its 2021 season in the Volleyball Nations League as the team had some injuries and a couple of players hadn’t played much because of injuries.
In its first 10 matches, Canada managed only two wins, but did play against three of its pool opponents, losing to Iran 3-1, Italy 3-2, and Poland 3-0. It also lost 3-1 to Brazil, the eventual league champion, and France, 3-1, the runner-up.
But Canada swept its final five matches – Germany 3-0, Japan 3-0, The Netherlands 3-0, Australia 3-0 and Serbia 3-2.
“We are not as experienced on the opposite position as we were in Rio, but our attackers had good performances in VNL. Our serving is probably the skill where the group in general has improved the most,” continued Glenn, who will participate in his fourth Olympics – 1984 player for Canada, 2004 assistant coach for France and 2016 and 2021 head coach for Canada.
“The group has done everything they could during the COVID crisis to stay connected and prepare for the Games. So, I am confident that we will perform well at the Games and offer a medal performance.”
Name: Nicholas Hoag
Sport: Volleyball (Men’s Indoor)
Hometown: Sherbrooke, Que.
Name: Glenn Hoag
Sport: Volleyball (Men’s Indoor)
Hometown: La Tuque, Que.
Olympic competition schedule:
July 24, 26, 28, 30 & Aug. 1 (pool play)
Aug. 3 (quarterfinals)
Aug. 5 (semifinals)
Aug. 7 (medal matches)
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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