On June 22, Ryan Thorne, Martlet Basketball Head Coach of 17 years, signed a new contract as head coach of McGill’s men’s basketball team. Thorne will be succeeded by Rikki Bowles, whose experience as an assistant coach with the women’s team for the past four years will help make for a smooth transition.
“I battled with this decision for a number of weeks [.…] It was a tough time to communicate [this decision] to a number of players,” Thorne said in an interview with The McGill Tribune.
Thorne’s experience playing at the U SPORTS level his entire university career has helped his coaching evolve. He expects a lot from the players, but understands that each student athlete is different.
“You’ve got to coach athletes to the level they want to be coached,” Thorne said. “You can’t project what you want for them onto them. Everyone comes in with their own opinion on what they want to do and what they want out of this experience [….] If you try to give them what they don’t want, [it makes] the relationship sour.”
Thorne also described the importance of effective communication between coaches and student athletes.
“We don’t all see things the same way,” Thorne said. “We don’t receive information the same way [….] Even if the information is right, if [student athletes] are not receiving [that information] in the right manner, it can create a bad vibe or bad connection between the [coach and the athlete].”
Thorne emphasizes the importance of the learning process and coaching each game rather than the sole objective of winning a championship.
“If your [only] goal is […] winning a national championship, then you are probably missing out on [the] great successes […] of your […] athletes,” Thorne said. “You have to celebrate [small successes] as they go. As a coach, one needs to be a lot more transformational as opposed transactional.”
Heading into the next school year, one of the team’s main priorities is strengthening relationships.
“The game is not changing, I’m just coaching different athletes,” Thorne said. “The most important thing for me is building trust [and] building confidence. Those things are important in any relationship.”
Thorne does not plan to drastically change his coaching techniques in this transition, and any adjustments will be based on past experiences with the Martlets.
“[I will] definitely try to bring my experience from the women’s side to the men’s side,” Thorne said. “The difference between the men’s and women’s game has more to do with athleticism, so there might be some things on the side of athleticism that I might be able to implement.”
In this period of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Thorne advises student athletes to follow the provincial health guidelines and remain optimistic.
“I think the toughest thing right now is not seeing your teammates,” Thorne said. “Find any means you can to stay connected. Regardless of what kind of isolation, there has to be a connection with friends and family [for you] to stay stimulated and engaged.”
To Thorne, social interactions and support networks are also important for mental health during this time.
“This is a time when mental health issues can be really brought out and you need people,” Thorne said. “We lean on each other, we talk to each other, we communicate and benefit from that communication.”
Both the men’s and women’s teams have arranged regular video calls on Zoom to stay connected with their teammates.
“We do Zoom workouts, see each other on camera, have meetings about what’s going on,” Thorne said. “Both groups meet on Zoom three times a week. On the women’s side we have workouts and a basketball IQ lab, and [sometimes we have] ‘how you are feeling’ sessions and talk about what’s going on in our lives. On the men’s side, we’re just chatting and getting to know each other.”
The varsity basketball seasons are currently suspended due to the pandemic, and there is uncertainty around when the regular season will resume.