Kevin Orr: A day in the life of a wheelchair rugby coach

Kevin Orr: A day in the life of a wheelchair rugby coach

We follow the veteran as he prepares his team for a gold-medal run at the Parapan Am Games

By Jacqueline Doorey, CBC Sports
August 12, 2015

CBC Sports recently got acquainted with Kevin Orr, coach of the Canadian wheelchair rugby team.

We followed him for a day as he prepares his team for a gold-medal run at the Parapan Am Games and, if all goes well, a trip to the Rio Olympics in 2016.

11:36 a.m. ET

Just moments after arriving in the Athlete's Village, Orr is stopped by members of Brazil’s wheelchair rugby team.

“Everybody knows Kevin Orr,” says Brazilian player Luis Fernando Cavalli after they stop for a picture and a chat with Canada’s coach, who guided his team to a win over Brazil in the opener.


11:51 a.m. ET

Coach Orr stops by the recovery room to check on players Trevor Hirschfield (the one closest to Orr) and Mike Whitehead, who are prepping for their 5 p.m. game.


12:10 p.m. ET

Orr steps in to meet with the team’s technical programs manager Patrick Cote (botton left) and high performance director Andy Van Neutegem (bottom right).

The two are going over team analytics, which go further than statistics or video analysis.

“We dig deeper into advanced numbers that are performance indicators,” says Cote.


“We analyze match statistics to look for performance gains versus the opposition and to examine our performance against our high expectations,” says Van Neutegem.


12:40 p.m. ET

Orr takes time for lunch.

“You’ll usually find me off to the left, away from all the noise”, says Orr.

Lo and behold, there he was, off to the left, sitting alone at a long table. Before long, team staff joins him.


1:15 p.m. ET

After a quick change, Orr and the team gather at the unofficial meeting spot: the pink muskoka chair.


The team has training camps once a month since players come from all over Canada.

Otherwise, the players train with their respective clubs and provincial teams.

“We have regular online meetings to keep the team together in a decentralized environment,” says Orr, who is from Alabama.


1:17 p.m. ET

The team flocks through the streets of the Athlete’s Village, heading towards the transport zone.

Players and coaches then board a bus from downtown Toronto to the venue in Mississauga.


2:00 p.m. ET

“He’s been doing this for almost as long as I’ve been alive,” says star player Zak Madell (bottom right) of Orr. “He’s one of the big reasons I’m playing rugby.”


2:45 p.m. ET

Snack and equipment prep starts while players change into their uniforms.


3:13 p.m. ET

“At this point, it’s a game of hurry up and wait,” says coach Orr, watching some of the Colombian team make their way to the warm-up court two hours before the game.

“Usually, our guys warm up for 30 minutes tops,” he says.


4:27 p.m. ET

Team Canada lines up right beside Team Colombia before heading onto the court.


4:41 p.m. ET

“Our players are very good,” says Orr. “The work they put in at home is comparable to a professional athlete.”


5:02 p.m. ET

Right before game starts, the team gets a surprisingly short speech from Orr.

“I would describe myself as a player’s coach,” he says. “I look for a team full of leaders."


5:04 p.m. ET

The long grind of a wheelchair rugby game begins.


6:19 p.m. ET

While the team holds a steady lead, Orr gives Cody Caldwell (9) a few words of wisdsom. 

“I have strong expectations of what I want people to do…I try to make my guys better,” says Orr.


6:39 p.m. ET

Canada routs Colombia 76–32.

“It’s a pretty high-scoring game,” says Orr.

“Goals against a team like Colombia are for us to play our winning style of play. We set out to control what we can and limit our errors. We are always striving for perfection.”


6:52 p.m. ET

The media requests come in. Coach Orr does a television interview while his team speaks with other outlets and signs autographs for fans.

Orr is interiewed by CBC Sports reporter and Canadian Paralympic icon Chantal Petitclerc. 


6:58 p.m. ET

Before leaving the venue, the team does a meet and greet with a disabled fan.

“This is why wheelchair rugby exists,” says Van Neutegem.

“This kind of thing is how a lot of the guys came to be on our team. Senior players visited them in hospitals and got them involved.”


7:38 p.m. ET

As the team gets on the bus to go back to the village, Orr is asked what his goal is for the Parapan Am Games.

“Our goal is to win gold and qualify for Rio,” says Orr.

“But another goal is to create awareness of the athleticism of our athletes and encourage others who are eligible for sport to get involved.

"It would be great for the GTA to get back as the epicentre of wheelchair rugby as it was in the late 1980s. Many people simply don't know how or where to get started. We would love to meet the next Trevor Hirschfield or Patrice Simard or Zak Madell."

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