Although women head coaches on campus lead over seven teams in competitions, their efforts and abilities often go unnoticed. This three-part series will highlight some extraordinary women coaches at Occidental who deserve the student body’s attention. The first installation of this series covers head coach of the women’s volleyball team Heather Collins.
As a former All-American at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and professional volleyball player in the late ’90s, Collins began her journey at Occidental seven years ago, when she led Occidental to their best season in two decades.
In 1994, The Daily Bruin — University of California, Los Angeles’ school newspaper — wrote an extensive piece that called Collins the heart and soul of Gaucho volleyball and highlighted her athletic ability, pure talent and grit.
“Heather is a tremendous competitor,” former UCSB head coach Kathy Gregory said. “She has always had a remarkable ability to play. She is the best all-around hitter I’ve coached. She can block, hit and set. She has all the skills.”
Early on in life, Collins anticipated a career as a teacher but quickly realized that coaching and teaching were not that different, and seized the opportunity. According to Collins, good coaches are able to prepare their athletes for both the sport and life.
“There are so many factors that go into being a student-athlete,” Collins said. “Helping athletes learn responsibility, time management and accountability, as well as supporting them in their academics is incredibly important, especially at a school like this.”
The transition between playing and coaching at a Division I level and coming to Occidental was a surprisingly easy one for Collins. She understands that academics and extracurriculars outside volleyball are important to her players, and wants to be a coach that supports them in their endeavors. Collins views herself as a role model for her players, and looks to empower her athletes.
“Developing a relationship where the athletes understand that they can trust you, I think is really important, and to be that female role model for them. It is powerful being able to help with leadership, confidence and person-to-person communication,” Collins said.
Collins has been an inspiration for many of her athletes, instilling values that her players use both on the court and in the classroom.
“One of the most important things [she] has taught us is that confidence isn’t just something you find within yourself — but something shared among the whole team,” Cassandra Guidice (junior) said via email. “Our confidence isn’t dependent upon whether we win or lose; rather, it comes from the knowledge that we are all willing to support and fight for each other, both on and off the court.”
Gregory, Collins’ former head coach, inspired her and developed her love for the game.
“Her passion for the game was unlike anything I had seen, and that was really an inspiration for me,” Collins said. “She just taught me to be tough, and that was really important going into life.”
A coach that cares about their athletes and invests in them off the court is the type of coach athletes want. Collins is looking forward to another season of volleyball in the fall, and is ready to lead her athletes to a playoff run.