It didn’t take long for Brandon University Bobcat alumnus Luke Reynolds to prove himself as a head coach in the professional volleyball ranks.
In his first season out of university, the native of Melbourne, Australia, helped turn around the Svedala team in the Swedish women’s league. Reynolds took a team that went 6-12 the previous season and helped them post a 16-2 mark and advance to the league final, in which it was swept by Hylte/Halmstad in the best-of-five match series. Despite the second-place finish, it was an incredible turnaround for Svedala and one that Reynolds took a lot of pride in, although he rarely said so while in Sweden.
"We got a lot of media coverage over there when it came to newspapers and TV and all that stuff and I can tell you I was never gloating about it at all, but inside I was super proud of the turnaround we had," he said via Skype from Australia, where he’s visiting his family. "I’d always say it’s always about the girls, and it is, they’re the ones playing, but the way they were trained last year was kind of like show up to the gym and just play. There was no coaching really and there wasn’t really directive and no one was held accountable. It was a big change to the program and why they wanted to have me back.
"Inside I was pretty proud of how we were doing. I’m the guy who is never satisfied and always wanting more, and that’s how I will always be. I was never like we can hang our hat on that, we’re done. I’m pretty proud for sure."
It wasn’t just in the league where Svedala found success. The team also finished second in the league cup tournament, losing to Hylte/Halmstad in the final. However, they did qualify for the Grand Prix — the top four teams at the midpoint of the season are selected for the single elimination event — for the first time ever and Svedala went on to win the title.
The 28-year-old Reynolds, who was 15 years younger than the next youngest coach in the Swedish women’s Elitserien, credits the athletes buying into the culture change that he brought to the team this season for its turnaround. However, there were some challenges that came with the job.
While people raised in Scandinavian countries know English as a second language, it took a while for the players to understand him through his accent and he still doesn’t understand Swedish. However, it was the way in which he handled players that had to change the most.
Reynolds, who served as Grant Wilson’s assistant coach with the Bobcats men’s volleyball team in 2012-13, quickly came to realize there’s a big difference coaching women and men.
"I had every girl cry on me in the season. That was interesting because I don’t think I’ve had a guy cry on me in a practice session or a game," he said. "I still did a lot of the same stuff, but you have to change your way or your approach for feedback and talking to people. With a guy, you can yell at them a bit more in a negative tone and I did that with a couple of the girls at times. They’re pretty quick to get bitchy and they reacted more to positive feedback. That was probably my biggest thing."
While his first season was a success, Reynolds gives a lot of credit for it to his time in Brandon. He moved to the Wheat City and joined the Bobcats men’s volleyball team as a player in 2007. He spent a lot of time with former head coach Russ Paddock and Wilson during his time here to learn about coaching and admits if he hadn’t come to Brandon, he wouldn’t be coaching volleyball now.
Even though he’s on his own, Reynolds doesn’t want to stop learning and he’ll get another chance next winter as well as he accepted a one-year contract extension with Svedala.
He did, however, contemplate whether to take it as Reynolds was thinking of trying to find a men’s team to coach. But after discussions with some friends in the business, including Paddock, he decided to return to Sweden with the goal of completing unfinished business and winning the league championship.
Although he’s not sure how long he’ll stay in Sweden, Reynolds loved his first season on the bench and is planning a long career as a volleyball coach, no matter how hard it is to keep or find a job.
"I can’t see myself doing anything else," he said. "I have a double degree in teaching and I certainly don’t want to teach. (Coaching is) certainly a tough job to do because my job is up for grabs every year, it’s a year-to-year contract, and if I want to try to move, there’s no job advertised. It’s not like I can pick up a paper and go ‘Look, there’s a coaching position.’ You have to shake bushes and contact people and really advertise yourself.
"If it is going to be a long-term thing, it’s going to be a tough road, but obviously the best things in life aren’t just given to you. You have to work hard for them."