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Balancing act: making it work as coach and mom

Vikes coach Dani Sinclair has only job she ever wanted
Head coach Dani Sinclair of the UVic Vikes women’s basketball team has her dream job, but a lot of pieces had to fall in place to make it happen. Sinclair’s two-year-old son Benjamin sleeps through practice. Travis Paterson/News Staff

When she first got pregnant, Dani Sinclair thought it would spell the end of her basketball coaching career.

It turns out, balancing motherhood is only one of the many pieces that’s had to fall into place for the head coach of the Vikes women’s basketball teams. Having grown up in an era where there were ‘few examples of coaches’ who were moms, Sinclair never expected the type of support she got. And it’s gone a long way.

“This is the only job I ever wanted,” Sinclair said, adding there were a lot of things that had to happen.

First though, about those Canada West playoffs in 2016 and Sinclair’s now legendary story about birthing on Friday morning, and then coaching on the sidelines that night.

Sinclair earned a lot of attention, including from national media, when in March 2016 she gave birth to her third son during the Canada West playoffs in Edmonton. For starters, she was hesitant about even going. The baby was ‘ready,’ in terms of gestation, though she wasn’t due yet.

“I didn’t even think the WestJet staff would let me on the plane,” she remembers.

Sinclair, though, had the support and accompaniment of her husband Matt.

On the Thursday night in Edmonton Sinclair went into labour, and early Friday morning Benjamin (now two) was born. By noon, with medical clearance and a life’s worth of adrenaline, Sinclair was discharged from hospital. With Matt there to take care of baby, Sinclair was back on the sidelines that night.

The fact that Sinclair showed up to a game about 12 hours after giving birth isn’t something everyone can do, and is something people need to understand, she said.

“Afterwards I thought about what kind of example that sets for the [players],” Sinclair said. “No one expected me to be there. My boss was surprised, everyone was surprised and totally supportive.”

Despite being highly thought of among her UVic superiors and highly successful in her first four years as head coach, Sinclair couldn’t escape the thought that someone might question her priorities if she missed a game to be with her children.

“I think, in the back of my mind, I was still a young coach, I didn’t want there to be any reason I shouldn’t have this job.”

It’s laughable, of course, that anyone could critique Sinclair’s resume and priorities.

“With [Matt] there I figured I’ll just sit on the bench, I didn’t think I’d coach,” she said.

Sinclair, née Everitt, came to UVic as a U Sports (CIS) all-star from the McMaster Marauders to study teaching. As a teenager in Ontario she had idolized the Vikes and viewed Kathy Shields as the pinnacle of coaching in Canada.

In her second season with UVic she captained the Vikes to their last title, the 2003 national championship (against her former team, the Marauders). When Sinclair’s player eligibility ran out she volunteered as an assistant coach with the Vikes, serving in that role from 2006 to 2009 and then again in 2010-11. There was a year in the middle where Sinclair followed her husband, Matt, a navy clearance diver, to a posting out of Halifax.

She took over the team in April 2012 and has been to the Canada West quarterfinals four times, the Canada West Final Four and was a big part of UVic’s bid to host the U Sports women’s national championship last year.

Sinclair also coaches for Canada Basketball, and was an assistant for the U16 Canadian women’s team that won gold at the FIBA Americas tournament in 2015 and in 2011 with Canada’s senior basketball team at the Pan American Games (both were in Mexico).

When she came back to the Vikes in 2011, with her son James still a newborn, then coach Brian Cheng was the first to say “Bring your baby to the court,” Sinclair said.

“It’s about the support system, my mom and my husband have been key to it all.”