Tara Poulin: From uncoachable to head coach
When it comes to coaching basketball, Tara Poulin is from the school of do as I say and not how I played.
“As a player I had a lot of success. I made provincial teams but I lacked a lot of aspects to my game — leadership, communication and coachability — and I had a bad temper,” said the coach of the Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf senior girls squad and the Niagara Girls Basketball Academy Juel program. “One of the reasons why I do well at coaching is I don’t want the girls to make the same mistakes I made. I am able to push my girls and I’m building standup citizens and strong women before necessarily creating a skilled basketball player.
“My experiences helped me become a good coach.”
The 37-year-old Welland native played high school basketball with Notre Dame and travel hoops with the Welland Warriors and the Southern Ontario Renegades out of Toronto.
She played three seasons at Brock before her career was cut short by a knee injury. The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“Sometimes you have a bit of regrets but, at the same time, I was able to see there was more to life than just basketball and basketball was my life for so long. I am glad I finished early because it made me concentrate on getting a profession, a job and things like that.”
After graduating from Brock with a degree on history, Poulin’s original plan was to be a tour guide in Europe, but she started supply teaching at Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf at the urging of her sister, Tricia, a teacher at the school.
“I got a supply job here and never left,“ she said, adding she received her teaching degree online from Laurentian.
She has now been at Brébeuf since 2006 and has coached basketball at the school her entire career. She coached the boys team for one year and then took over the girls team, developing it into one of the best single A high school programs in Ontario.
At the travel level, Poulin started coaching with the Wetland Warriors about 13 years and followed that with a stint with the Hamilton Foxtrotters before joining the Niagara Girls Basketball Academy, If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, she would have been in her third season as head coach of the NGBA’s Juel squad.
She is motivated to coach by a number of factors.
“I had a lot coaches who put in a lot of hours for me and the idea of giving back is important.”
She also does it in recognition of her father, Ron, who for three years drove her four days a week to Mississauga to train.
Her mother, Pam, also played a role in her basketball career.
“My parents were big supporters and I know at Brock, there wasn’t a game where they weren’t in the stands.”
Along the way, Poulin has been influenced by a number of basketball lifers, including McMaster women’s coach Theresa Burns, local ref and coach Sandy Forand, long-time Welland Warriors coach Richard Chehowski and Paul Ferracuti.
“He (Ferracuti) was my Notre Dame coach and also my history teacher,” she said. “I sort of fell in love with history because of him and I ended up going to school for that.”
The women have obviously been big influences.
“It is important to have strong women leading players into bigger things.”
Burns is at the top of that list.
“It is not very often you see a woman coaching at a high level and raising kids at the same time and it is something that I definitely want to do. Often times you have to sacrifice family and I look up to people like that.”
Poulin’s coaching philosophy starts with defence.
“You don’t need to be the most skilled player but you definitely have to be able to play defence. Our teams back then at JV (Jean Vanier, now Brébeuf) did not have skilled basketball players but we had athletes who bought into the concept and could play stand-up defence.”
Coachabilty is also crucial.
“You have to be able to buy into what the coach is selling you no matter what it is,” she said. “For example, I know Frank (Niagara Juel coach Keltos) and I have very different philosophies but both of us have success and the reason for that is we have kids who respect us and buy into our philosophies.”
Her favourite part of coaching is watching her former players advance to play at the post-secondary level.
“Every single girl last year in our graduating class (NGBA Juel) is playing post secondary,” she said. “Being able to see them succeed with the passion that they have is a highlight.”
The only part of coaching she doesn’t like is the time commitment that takes her away from spending time with her two sons, Yanick and Médrick
“It’s a lot of sacrifices with my kids and they are getting to the age now where I am missing out on a lot of things and that is a little bit tough.”
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