This month’s we are featuring a Thriving Thunderbird on campus: Marisa Kovacs, Head Coach of UBC Women’s Soccer team.
Our Thriving Campus and Faculty series regularly feature contributions and personal experiences from UBC staff and faculty who exemplify the integration of health and wellbeing into classrooms, research, departments and communities.
What are the central challenges you face in your role as Head Coach?
I think the biggest challenge I face in my new role as Head Coach is executing all of the ideas I have for our program. I have so many ideas and goals for our team now that I have seen the abundance of support given to the students here at UBC. I want to assist my student athletes in becoming successful players and people.
Based on your experiences, can you describe the relationship between athlete mental health & wellbeing and learning?
Since starting my coaching career and also having an education and psychology background, I have come to understand that without mental health and wellbeing, student-athletes will have a difficult time learning and retaining the information presented to them. I focus heavily on creating a safe and healthy environment for my athletes and I believe in uplifting my team with positivity and constant feedback. Our team culture is one of inclusiveness and understanding. Players within our program know that they can come to me or other teammates with issues within their lives—they are also aware of the support system within UBC. Athletes need support when dealing with stress and time management to ensure they’re given optimal opportunities to learn and achieve on and off the field.
Do you implement any strategies to support athlete mental health and wellbeing in your teams?
As a coach I try to stress and support proper nutrition and sleep. We also do weekly yoga as a stress reliever. Taking care of our bodies assists with mental health and wellbeing. I also look to create a culture of support within our team by having fourth- and fifth-year students mentor our younger players. Throughout the year I have bi-monthly individual meetings with my players to talk about school, soccer, and everyday stresses and situations. My hope is to have my players feel supported, safe, and understood.
What strategies do you use in your own life, that help you thrive as a coach?
As a coach I try to practice what I preach. If I want my players to eat right and get enough sleep I need to do these things as well. I like working out with my players and hope to be a positive role model in everything I do.
Are they any specific initiatives you are involved in that promote health, mental health and wellbeing?
My team is actually involved with the Vancouver Street Soccer League – a volunteer-run organization which reaches out to individuals who have been homeless, are currently homeless, or are at risk of homelessness, as well as individuals who feel marginalized within their communities, or are recovering from drug and alcohol addictions. In the VSSL we address the issue of homelessness, marginalization, and addiction through inclusivity and soccer – believing we can enhance all of our lives through the principles of Fair Play, Community Building, Supportive Partnerships, and Health and Safety.”
My team in particular helps run training session every Sunday and also is looking to put on a tournament for the VSSL to raise funds for this non-profit organization.
Are there any resources on campus that you have found to be helpful for promoting wellbeing for either yourself or your teams?
I am extremely grateful that UBC offers the travelling health fair and I have utilized this resource for myself and brought back information for my players.
In your role as coach, please describe your experience balancing work-life commitments? Is there a metaphor that depicts this relationship?
I philosophy for coaching and life is “Belief and Balance.” We must believe in each other as players, coaches, support staff, and ourselves in order to move towards the same goal. We must also be balanced within our lives in order to be able to achieve success emotionally, physically, and psychologically. I try to run my program with a holistic approach and stress balance. In my own life as well, balance is key to wellbeing and mental health. As much as I love my job and can at times be a bit of a workaholic—even sunshine burns if you get to much, so I want my players to understand balance. When I stress balance to my team I also stress giving 100% of your effort to the task at hand. “Whatever you are doing you commit fully and focus on achieving your outcome to the best of your ability. “
Marisa comes to UBC after successful coaching tenures at the University of West Georgia in Carrollton, Ga., and Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., both NCAA Div. II institutions.
Last year, Kovacs was named an assistant coach and head scout for SFU Clan men’s soccer. In two seasons with Kovacs on staff, SFU made the NCAA Div. II championship tournament twice, advancing to the national semifinal round in 2013. While at SFU, she also completed her Bachelor of Education degree. In addition to her degrees from UWG and SFU, Kovacs holds a Bachelor of Arts from Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., where she played varsity soccer from 2000 to 2003.