A pair of former Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association soccer stars have kickstarted their coaching careers thanks to the Female Apprentice Coach Program.
Kaity Letwiniuk of the Medicine Hat Rattlers and Kelsey Acaster of the Douglas Royals were mentored by their former head coaches this past soccer season.
In the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference (ACAC), former CCAA Coach of the Year Jim Loughlin took Letwiniuk under his wing at Medicine Hat College.
After a five-year playing career with the Rattlers, Letwiniuk was ready for a new challenge.
“Throughout my career I have always had to overcome something, and this year was the transition,” said Letwiniuk. “It wasn’t easy being done the sport that I’ve played my whole life, but having this opportunity to still be a part of the Rattler family meant so much to me and made the ‘retired life’ easier.”
Letwiniuk also learned that she is more than just a soccer player.
“I learned that while being a student athlete in the past was an incredible experience that I’ll cherish forever, it’s not all that I am,” she said.
At Medicine Hat, Letwiniuk has formed a special bond with Loughlin and she wouldn’t have wanted anyone else mentor her. She was Loughlin’s captain the last two seasons.
“He knows me as a player and a friend and was able to push me out of my comfort zone when it came to the learning process of coaching,” said Letwiniuk. “He knows the ins and outs of every side of the game and always keeps you on your toes.”
Letwiniuk, a former CCAA All-Canadian and four-time ACAC All-Conference player, has learned that coaching is more than just running training sessions and trying to win soccer games. Loughlin has taught her that in order to get the most out of the student-athletes, it’s imperative to go above and beyond.
“When you are willing to push yourself, that’s when you can push your players and they won’t see it as punishment,” said Letwiniuk. “They will see it as you wanting the best out of them.”
While Letwiniuk has coached several Division 2 and 3 youth teams, this experience has motivated her to want to work at a higher-level of soccer. She plans to finish her Provincial C license certification and also take the Provincial B license coaching and certification.
In the meantime, Letwiniuk will continue to work with the Rattlers during the ACAC Futsal season.
The FACP opportunity has given her the chance to continue using her passion for soccer through coaching. Letwiniuk is grateful to have played for some amazing coaches and hopes she can have the same impact on others.
“This opportunity has opened doors for me that I never thought I could open as a female coach and it will always be the stepping stone I look back on in the future,” said Letwiniuk.
Over in the Pacific Western Athletic Association (PACWEST), Acaster teamed up with Laxton, who coached her in her final two seasons with the Royals.
A couple of seasons ago, Acaster captained Douglas to its first-even PACWEST title and fourth-place finish at the 2015 CCAA Women’s Soccer National Championship in Peterborough, ON.
Heading into the 2017 season, Acaster was unsure how she would mesh with the team, particularly working with several student-athletes she once called teammates.
“The team and coaching staff made it an easy transition and welcomed my input, experience and mistakes, which helped me grow,” said Acaster, who suited up for the Royals for four seasons. “The student-athletes aided in my increase in confidence and encouraged me to try new things with them to find my bearings.”
When it came to practice drills and coaching points, Acaster found success when she related back to her experiences as a player. This brought perspective into her explanations and coaching tactics that further benefited the players.
Acaster, who previously coached U12 girls teams at the BC Summer Games, knew she’d be working with someone she already trusted in Laxton and that he’d give her the freedom to explore in the early stages of her coaching career.
“I have learned that there is a time for serious and a time for fun and Chris is able to balance this,” said Acaster, who learned the two can intermingle and meet the needs of the team.
“This is something that you cannot read in a coaching manual or learn at a camp, but something that you learn from spending a lot of time with this group of student-athletes and taking time to get to know them,” she said.
The Royals qualified for CCAA Nationals once again this season and Acaster’s experience – this time as a coach – was unforgettable.
“I had a great time going to Nationals as a student-athlete and the experience was almost completely different as a coach,” said Acaster. “It was interesting to see how some of the logistics and planning worked, as well as being responsible for the overall well-being of the student-athletes.”
The PACWEST champion Royals placed fifth in Halifax, NS.
“They are a great bunch of women and I am very fortunate that I was able to experience National Championships with many of them as a fellow teammate and now as a coach,” said Acaster.