By David Grossman
Canadian Sport Institute Ontario believes in the power of sport and the importance of positive, inspiring role models and mentors at all levels of sport. This 5-part article series, written by award-winning sport journalist David Grossman, was designed to showcase how these remarkable women in the industry have used sport, and the many transferable skills learned through sport, as a pathway to professional opportunities and leadership positions.
In partnership with Sport Canada and their funding support for Gender Equity in Sport and Safety in Sport initiatives, CSIO strives to be a leader in advocating for a more inclusive, gender equitable sport system.
There are people who say it just can’t be done.
Maybe so in some cases, but not when you’re referencing the determination, adherence and effort of two bright women, who have made a positive impression in the world of sport.
For Wendy Dobbin and Angie Shen, it has always been about the team – win or lose.
Talented and advanced as athletes, it was volleyball for Shen while Dobbin chose softball.
Active, learning and contributing, all were part of happiness along the way with plenty of devotion. They pushed themselves, enjoyed success and just went right back at it during tough times.
One thing was clear throughout, the importance of coaching. Shen and Dobbin said they were always shown encouragement and a willingness to help them climb the hill to becoming high performance athletes.
Shen had some challenging roads to conquer – even dating back to her grade school days when she recalls playing on a boys’ volleyball team at Glen Shields Public School. There were other occasions - when she had watched during her lunch period, because the boys, and only boys, were allowed to play floor hockey in the school gym.
The frustration continued in high school and Shen figured it was time to do something about it. She saw a poster for a volleyball camp.
“I loved volleyball, I was athletic, but not naturally talented. - there’s a difference,” she said. “My volleyball skills were very raw and I had to really learn how to play. I think that’s what helps me relate with athletes and be an effective coach. Without things coming naturally to me I had to really inquire and look within for how to improve. Different than if I could just do it without effort.”
An Athlete of the Year in elementary school, then again at Vaughan Secondary, the top athlete award didn’t happen at York University. It was no big deal as she was an Ontario university all-star and member of the York volleyball team that won a league championship.
Shen wasn’t through with her devotion to volleyball. There was a desire to coach. For 10 years, she has worked at the Ontario Volleyball Association, providing leadership, advice and instruction to coaches and athletes across Ontario.
“My job is to create a pathway to get Ontario athletes on the international podium,” said Shen, who has not only won her share of medals, but coached teams to medals – including five World Championship medals in beach volleyball. “As a coach, I am effective when athletes have their needs taken care of in order to be able to compete.”
Shen said there was a place that was, and continues to be, an integral part of her success.
“CSIO has been a huge support,” she said. “They care about me and my development as a coach. I am the coach I am today with their support.”
Dobbin had a remarkable career as an athlete – and still owns the pitching record at Indiana State University for the lowest earned average. That’s also where she coached the team in the NCAA’s Missouri Valley Conference and worked with young pitchers while she finished up a few courses enhancing her degree that encompassed both sports studies and coaching.
She would also win a Canadian championship, and that title earned her a spot at the World Championship in Beijing. But, there are many who would debate that her coaching success is even more impressive.
A multi-sport athlete in her teen years at Dunbarton High School in Pickering, Dobbin, who called herself “a sports junkie”, at one time had visions of competing in the Olympics. When a scholarship offer came her way, spending several years some 10 hours from home, Dobbin chose to make the move and had her family support.
“First semester was rough, but I settled in and it was a great experience,” said Dobbin, who claims to be the most serious athlete in her family of four siblings. “The best part of my softball career came after university.”
Aiming to coach at the 2012 Olympics, shock hit softball supporters when the sport was taken off the Olympic program. For Dobbin, the big push was on the 2008 Games in Beijing where she was an assistant coach for the team. Dobbin and Canada would just miss out on the medal podium, but they did have a remarkable fourth place accomplishment.
“That was special – and to have been involved with so many talented individuals to accomplish something many thought was out of our reach,” said Dobbin, who had not only played at a major level, but now was one of the top coaches in the sport in the country.
Dobbin had the taste of success and a desire to do more to support National athletes – even though softball was out of the Olympics. She became Manager of Athlete Services at the National Sport Centre - Toronto, which changed its corporate name to the Canadian Sport Centre Ontario in 2008, and later earned a designation from Sport Canada and Own the Podium, to become Canadian Sport Institute Ontario.
Now responsible for educating and developing programs for coaches and technical leaders, Dobbin’s expertise also includes leading and facilitating within the national Advanced Coaching Diploma East Hub, as CSIO’s Lead, Coach Development.
“Growth” is the one word that best describes the role that CSIO has given to Dobbin.
“It’s all about learning, strengthening your skills and knowledge and then sharing it with one common goal – to get better,” said Dobbin, who spent 20 years working outside of sport. “There is great value for businesses to work with people from sport, but there is also great value in sport people working within business.”
Dobbin and Shen have more in common than just being athletes, coaches and leaders.
“It’s not about me – the accolades and attention is not me,” said Dobbin. “It’s all about putting others forward, working together. I enjoy watching people do something they think they weren’t capable of doing. It’s about participation and the love of sport.”
David Grossman is a multi award-winning communicator and storyteller with a distinguished career in Broadcasting, Journalism and Public Relations in Sport and Government Relations. In 2018, he was the recipient of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Media Member of Distinction.