Michael Wahbi returning to coach Pakmen
By DAVID WINER
Mississauga Pakmen lost a good coach when Michael Wahbi left after the 2012 season.
According to those in the know, the Pakmen will get a great coach when Wahbi returns for the upcoming season.
That knowledgeable inner circle includes Junior National Team head coach John Barrett, who took time away from the team’s training camp in Gatineau, Quebec, to speak glowingly of the man who assisted him for three years at the University of Toronto.
“Michael will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the young men he comes in contact with,” said Barrett, whose been head coach of the Blues since 2011-12, a year before Wahbi joined the ranks. “His authentic enthusiasm for the game, work ethic and desire to learn and get better will be contagious for those surrounding him. Michael will teach young men about becoming resilient, growth-minded leaders in sport and life. He is a teacher at heart and this comes through in everything he does.”
As it turns out, Wahbi is a teacher at heart and in practice.
Wahbi is a health and physical education teacher at Monsignor Percy Johnson Catholic High School in Etobicoke, where he also serves as the head coach of the boys’ volleyball team.
“Michael was very good at relating to the young men of today, and his ability to help them in different ways, not just volleyball, shone through,” said Barrett, who is preparing the Canadian team for the U21 Pan Am Cup June 23-28 in Gatineau.
Former Pakmen stars Brandon Koppers and Stephen Kary are members of the team, which departs for the World Student Games in Gwangju, South Korea July 14, before leaving for the World Junior Championships in Tijuana and Mexicali, Mexico in September.
“Michael is a kind, caring, individual who is coaching for all the right reasons,” added Barrett. “He cares about the young people he interacts with, and wants to help them improve in all facets of their life, not just volleyball. He is a tireless worker and is also willing to listen and learn new concepts and theories regarding coaching, performance and volleyball.”
For his part, Wahbi is appreciative to have had the opportunity to work with Barrett and assistant Marc Arseneau.
“The experience was wonderful and the learning was instrumental to building a solid coaching foundation,” said Wahbi, who was also strongly influenced by Jeff Chung while an assistant for Team Ontario 20U in 2012.
Like his former coach, Wahbi himself will have a busy summer.
A referee in the top tier of the Ontario Ball Hockey Federation, he has been named referee in chief for Canada, and is slated to referee at the World Championships in Switzerland beginning June 18.
Volleyball, however, and the Pakmen, in particular, will not stray too far from Wahbi’s consciousness.
“I am very excited to be back with the Pakmen Volleyball Club,” said Wahbi, who will take over the 18U Black team for the indoor season. “I chose Pakmen because they are a club committed to high performance and athlete excellence. I have worked with (club founder and president) Kelly Smith in the past and he is truly all about the kids.”
And Smith can’t wait to have Wahbi back in the fold.
“We’re extremely pleased to get a coach of Michael’s experience and qualifications,” said Smith. “Mike did a fantastic job with our club a number of years ago, and we feel we will be able to field two medal contending teams at U18 Provincials again this year.”
Wahbi, who thought enough of the Pakmen organization to enlist his child in the club’s Spikes program, looks forward to the challenge.
“The goal with the team is to be able to compete at the highest level as frequently as possible,” said Wahbi of his objectives. “We will set attainable goals, while at the same time, ensuring that the athletes deliver on their academic expectations. We will do our best to create student-athletes who embody mature life skills and a high standard of discipline. Volleyball is a great avenue to teach such skills.”
Skills, Wahbi insists, that are never too early to teach, as evidenced by enrolling his 6-year-old.
“Spikes is a program designed for kids first being introduced to the sport of volleyball,” explained Wahbi. “My son is enrolled for the first time and has, not only learned the basic skills of the game, but has learned essential qualities such as collaboration, effective listening, effort and respect. My son has gained an incredible amount of confidence and enjoys the fantastic coaching.”
The program is coached by the likes of Karim Khalil, Daniel Dearing and Jessy Satti, who in turn were taught by Wahbi, when a coach with the York University Lions, prior to joining U of T.
“It’s beautiful to see athletes that I once coached on the York men’s program give back, not only to my son, but to the entire Pakmen Community.”
And that’s what Wahbi had in mind when leaving university ball.
“I felt it was time to give back to Pakmen,” he said, adding, “My passion for coaching comes from the beauty of the sport and the incredible athletic talent that is necessary to be successful. I love empowering athletes to make decisions during crucial moments of a match. When coaching against another coach I feel as if a chess match is at hand — one play countered by another.”
A chess match which will begin in earnest in the fall.