Italy’s done. Tokyo is out. Now it’s all about Paris.

On an off-day in her hotel room in Rimini, Italy, Canada’s national indoor women’s volleyball coach Shannon Winzer talks about what her team has done and, more importantly, what they’re chasing.

“We’re here chasing the Olympics,” the Terry Fox secondary grad says. “We’ll chase 2024 and if that doesn’t happen we’ll chase 2028.”

The Canadian women’s volleyball team hasn’t cracked the Olympics since 1996 – a drought Winzer is hoping to end.

Winzer spoke to the Dispatch during a recently concluded Volleyball Nations League tournament that showcased the team’s inexperience as well as their potential.

The squad ended the tournament with five straight losses including a 3-0 drubbing at the spikes of Belgium on Sunday. 

But Canada also showed their upside and athleticism with a dramatic five-set win over China, the defending gold medal champs.

“That was huge,” Winzer says. “It was affirmation that we can play at this level and that we can compete with the best in the world.”

With an average age of 25, Winzer said she’s hoping the roster can stay intact and make a serious run at the 2024 Olympics in Paris. But the mental approach is crucial, she advises.

“We’re at our best when we can play free,” Winzer says. “The second we worry about the results or we worry about the errors we’re making we don’t play good volleyball. Good volleyball is where we feel free to take risks and to fail. . . . We’re not going to win games by playing safe.”

As a coach, Winzer says her job is to find a balance between knowing what your team needs to hear and figuring out what you need to let go.

“As a player you see things in black and white and then when you start coaching you see things in grey,” she says with a laugh. “I never had as much self-doubt as I have as a coach.”

Coaching is about understanding that everyone’s motivation, experience and even expectations are different, Winzer says.

“It’s the one profession, I swear, that everybody thinks they’re an expert and everybody thinks  they can share their opinions,” she says.

Now living in Australia, Winzer is cognizant that she plays a role in building not only the team, but an entire volleyball program.

“I think it’s really important for young girls especially to see these older women doing amazing things on a professional level and understand that all of our athletes make a living playing volleyball . . . in the professional leagues in Europe and Asia,” she says. “There is a future for our sport and it’s a well-paid future if young women want to achieve that.”