All Chantal Vallée does is win championships, but it's not what drives her
Windsor coach's biggest reward is watching players grow beyond basketball court
For most of their 55 years, the Windsor Lancers women's basketball program was a laughingstock.
Since its inception in 1950, the team had just four winning seasons and no playoff wins.
And then in 2005, Chantal Vallée walked on to campus as the program's new coach, armed with a five-year plan to transform the sadsacks into national champions.
It took her six years.
Four more followed in succession, a run from 2011-2015 that established the Lancers as a perennial powerhouse and the Montreal native as one of the country's top female collegiate coaches. Her record in her 12 years on the Windsor sidelines is an impressive 323-84.
On the court, Vallée is all business, the proverbial take-no-prisoners coach. But off it, she prefers the role of counsellor for her student-athletes, working to put them in the best position to succeed.
Vallée's formula for success is more than just finding players with skill — good character is just as important to her.
She looks at how players treat referees, how they engage with their coaches and their demeanour on the bench. The Lancers' head coach doesn't even bother talking to a potential recruit if they disrespect the game and those involved.
"We have values on our team — playing with integrity — those are things that are very important to us. When players do not abide by these rules, there are penalties for that," Vallée said.
"Some of them have been benched, some of them have been suspended. We created a culture where we want to be world class. It's not sustainable [when] somebody is not acting properly as a human being, never mind as a basketball player."
A culture has been established with annual themes that Vallée believes best fits the current team and its goals for the season. It also provides her players with an identity and something to work toward.
The players buy into Vallée's vision and as of three years ago, began their own training camp ahead of hers.
"We had quite a bit of turnover on the team and my captains came to me and said, 'Coach, we're a little concerned that all these new players are going to come [into camp] and don't know you or our system. We don't want to have a difficult month of September. Would you be okay if we ran a player's camp?' Vallée said. "And I said, 'That's a fantastic idea.'"
The player's camp is completely player-led with the veterans taking charge, showing the rookies the ropes ahead of the season.
They all go through the playbook, walk through their own practices and conduct in-class sessions with the freshman.
By the time training camp begins, Vallée says it's a smooth transition and everyone is on the same page.
Year after year, the Lancers are either competing for a national championship or at the very least an OUA title.
Vallée has won 19 coach-of-the-year awards — including U Sports' women's basketball coach of the year (2013-14, 2014-15) — while producing players good enough for the national team, such as point guard, Miah-Marie Langlois.
But to Vallée, coaching isn't all about win and losses, titles, or records.
"One of my favourite sayings is success and winning is not about championships. It's about relationships. It's taught me so much about relationships in terms of management and leadership — how to work with and empower people you work with in a much better way," Vallée said.
"It's very rewarding to see some of these women become incredibly successful — not only on the court but once they graduate five and 10 years down the road.
Whether she's coaching internationally at the Universiade or collegiately at Windsor, Vallée feels she owes her players her best effort because they do the same for her on the court.
Their goals and dreams matter and Vallée doesn't want to let them down.
"Every year, I have 12 new women in front of me that are looking up to me as their leader and are saying, 'We want to win,' and that's very motivating to me. I want to give back to them. I don't want to be the limiting factor on my team's success," Vallée said.
"Helping these girls helps me become a better coach and person. And that's extremely motivating and very rewarding when I look back at my 12-year career at Windsor — how much I've grown as a human being and as a coach as a result of that. It's incredible to be in a job that allows me to grow and change like that."