From Passion to Purpose: The Coach Guiding Indigenous Youth

  • September 27, 2023

CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench: Truth & Reconciliation Edition

“Having a sense of your (Indigenous) culture, helps me identify with my past, and also have the freedom today, to be who I am, be recognized for what I do, and be proud and able to contribute.”

By David Grossman

There is a saying that the mark of a champion is having the ability to combine superior performance, under demanding circumstances, with a quality of personality that captivates an individual.

Meet one of those champions – Amy Wilson.

Start with a gleaming personality and an abundance of charm, Wilson is a brave individual who is far from apprehensive and more like a lightning bolt of enthusiasm and dedication.

Born in the small lumbering town of Fort Frances, in northwestern Ontario, Wilson remembers always being one who wanted to be around to help others. There were several in her family, who chose to work in the medical field. Wilson would follow the same professional route and graduate with a Nursing diploma from Northern College.

Sports were always in her life. At Fort Frances High School, she was active in almost every activity, from soccer to volleyball, and the list goes on. In her case, she did it all with grades that portrayed academic honors. Wilson was offered a full scholarship to study and play soccer at a major university – but turned it down for personal reasons.

Volleyball would become her sport of choice. These days she is an assistant coach at the University of Waterloo as well as developing volleyball camps for youngsters in remote First Nations communities. From being an athlete, and she excelled at that, to taking time to shine as a superb coach, was an interesting move.

At the age of 25, and while working as a nurse at a home for the aged, she took a telephone call from her father. She remembers it well. It was a September afternoon in 2006, when her dad had called to say that a local Catholic elementary school needed a coach – or the team would not be allowed to continue.

Minutes later, and with no previous coaching experience, she accepted the challenge. But Wilson also wondered why her father would call his daughter – the oldest of three siblings? She would soon find out. Asked about that launch of her coaching career, Wilson didn’t hesitate with a reply.

“My father (Terry Wilson) had seen my passion and the gift of wanting to help people whenever I can,” said Wilson, who is an Anishinaabekwe and from Rainy River First Nations. “He saw an opportunity that he thought would fit for me.

“That coaching experience turned out to be one of the best decisions that I had ever made. The start of something real big for me – and it has led to wonderful opportunities and so much more in my life.”

In Canada, September 30th marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. It’s a time that honours Indigenous children, their families, and communities. Wilson is one of them. Her father was a survivor of Ontario’s residential schools.

A day devoted to Canada’s Indigenous community is also a time to reflect on culture, self-esteem, and freedom. Wilson knows that, too.

“Having a sense of your (Indigenous) culture, helps me identify with my past and also have the freedom today to be who I am, be recognized for what I do, and be proud and able to contribute,” said Wilson, who is a mother of five. “In sport, winning is exciting and important. Beyond sport, having a day to reflect on our Indigenous past is crucial, and understanding that there is so much more to be done.”

Wilson remains in close contact with her family after moving to the Greater Toronto Area in 2017. It was several years later, on a return home for the festive season, that things didn’t go well. About one hour outside of Fort Frances, the vehicle she was riding in as a passenger, was hit head-on by an impaired driver – who was later charged by police.

Her persistence and fortitude were too strong for setbacks – and especially having that lust and eagerness to comfort, support, and guide people. Wilson, like everyone, also has her values and dreams.

High up on the list is one day becoming the first Indigenous coach of a Canadian National women’s volleyball team that moves on to compete in international competition. She has had a taste of it. Wilson has coached Ontario teams at the 2017 and 2020 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).

“Young people need to realize there are opportunities to learn, stay disciplined, stop making excuses and respond in a positive way,” added Wilson, who has her Level 3 accreditation in the National Coaches Certification Program. “There are so many young people in Indigenous communities who never get seen and we need to encourage them to continue to get active and have fun.”

Wilson has many stories of her days as an athlete, which include the moments of success and frustration as a coach, but there is so much more about her than winning medals, awards, and championships.

When it gets down to coaching, her battle plan is simple, sincere, and straightforward. It’s based on 17 years of experience, honesty, and integrity. To those she coaches, she repeats a game strategy lesson of past.

“I believe in you – and I know you can do this,” Wilson has said time and time again. “We are not going to look ahead. We are going to stay calm and leave everything that we have out there”.

Personal gratification is not big with her, but she has received special honors as a recipient of the Aboriginal Apprenticeship Coaches award at the 2017 Canada Games held in nearby Winnipeg. In 2021, the Ontario Volleyball Association selected Wilson “Coach of the Year” for her work with the 18-and-under girls’ team at the Pakmen Volleyball Club of Mississauga. Now, another time to shine as a recipient of the 2023 Coaching Excellence award from the Coaches Association of Ontario.

There would have been more opportunities, but the pandemic shut down a trip to train and coach with the Youth National team in France. Also closed was a summer to train and coach with the Team Canada Next Generation (Senior ‘B’ team) women’s volleyball team.

With challenges galore, and not having a female Indigenous coach to look up to as a mentor, Wilson recalls a social media message that she had received in 2021. It came from an individual she had coached many years back and had a huge impact on that person.

Wilson gets emotional thinking about it.

“She wrote to me and said she had been having a tough time and that, while coaching her, I had changed her perspectives on life,” Wilson said of the note from that athlete. “She said that I had given her love, was always there for her, saved her life and that she was here today because of me.”

Wilson’s story, and what she has done for athletes as a coach, is another example of the need to remind all levels of government in Canada to provide extensive public education that share the history and national story of Aboriginal athletes. Wilson’s story highlights the importance of having a Truth and Reconciliation Day. In support, the CAO strives to share the stories of Indigenous coaches and sport leaders.

Look for her in August of 2025 at the Canada Games in St. John’s, Nfld. Wilson has been appointed an assistant volleyball coach for Team Ontario’s women’s squad.


David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.

There are so many young people in Indigenous communities who never get seen and we need to encourage them to continue to get active and have fun.”