A coaching career in ringette that started at the age of nineteen, and has now spanned almost thirty years, was recognized earlier this summer in Sudbury.
Long-time Dowling resident Lucie Poulin was honoured as the Provincial Coach of the Year by the Ontario Ringette Association, as the group assembled in northern Ontario for their Annual General Meeting at the end of June.
The youngest of three girls in the family, Poulin was involved in ringette for as long as she can remember, with a typical entry into the sport, similar to so many athletic young ladies dating back to the 1970s or so.
"Every little town had a team at every level," reminisced Poulin. "We were very populated back then. I loved the sport straight from the start." A goaltender by trade in her playing days, the still active mid-fifties mentor benefitted enormously from the guidance of coach Bob Bell, both in terms of developing her talent as an athlete, but also building the foundation of the coach that she is today.
"He knew how to develop what we already had," she said. "Through him, I've learned how to do that with others. He was tough, but fair. He expected a lot from each player, but always fair."
While Poulin has never denied being engrained with a natural streak of competitiveness, it is the balance that she maintained, both as a player and a coach, that has helped make her ever-popular with all those who have come in contact with her.
"It really is about the friendships you create," she stated. "That should be utmost in any sport, and I still believe that to this day." She had already attended two sets of Ontario Winter Games, as a player, when she took up coaching prior to her 20th birthday.
"Coaching came naturally to me. I love the sport and was always enthused to be with the girls. I don't think I've changed much. The way I've always looked at it is that my goal is to take my weakest player, and have her step up and play near the level of the top players - give her the self-confidence, the enthusiasm, build her up in little steps."
Though Poulin passed along the ringette genetics to her own off-spring, she remained vigilant not to overstep the line between parent and coach. "My daughter played on the same team I coached, but I was the defensive coach, and she was a forward."
"We often talked after a game, after a tournament, but I didn't want to impose myself," Poulin continued. "I always waited for her to bring her questions to me."
For the past several years, Poulin has worked most closely with the younger teens, though she is known for lending a hand to coaches across the north, far and wide. It allows her to work with an age group that the soon-to-be grandmother suggests provides her with wonderful payback.
"I'm actually selfish, in a way," Poulin explained. "The girls keep me in touch with the music they listen to, the lingo they use. I love their ideas and the way they think. They share that with me, and that's the creation of the relationship I have with them."
Poulin is equally in tune with "her girls" when they are on the ice. "At this age, you want them to start thinking for themselves on the ice," she said. "It's still a learning process for them. You want them to become independent players, within the concept of the team."
Perhaps more than anything else, it is Poulin's highly contagious passion for ringette that helps her create such a tight bond with the young ladies under her watch. "Ringette is beautiful to watch, especially when you get to the upper levels," she said.
"It's such a smooth and fast game." These days, her involvement is focused largely on teams competing at the provincial "A", "AA" or "AAA" groupings. "The girls that play at those levels, they're there because they want to be there, they want to challenge themselves."
"They always seem to have a good attitude. We never seem to have a problem with them." And in return, these talented girls enjoy the opportunity to play with one of the top coaches in the province. Lucie Poulin has the hardware to prove it.