By Orrin Farries
Benj Heinrichs, the NAIT Ooks women’s volleyball coach, is stepping back from the Ooks to pursue a different kind of coaching career with his new company Own It Wellness.
Heinrichs spent eight years coaching at NAIT. Prior to leading the Ooks, Heinrichs spent 14 years as a head coach at Medicine Hat College, four of which leading the men’s team, and a decade at the helm of their women’s program.
“I don’t know that we accomplished everything that we wanted to, but from my perspective, we always had teams that were just really scrappy and worked hard,” said Heinrichs of his time at NAIT.
“There were just so many good young women that I got to work with [at NAIT],” he said.
“Probably the most fun I had was last year, 2019 to 2020, [we] just had a really fun excellent staff and a team that battled all the way through.”
The 2019-2020 NAIT women’s volleyball team needed to battle from a slump in the mid-season, which forced them into a win-out situation to make the playoffs.
“They had to win five games in a row and they did it. So that was a pretty special finish to the year for sure,” said Heinrichs.
To his players, Heinrichs was a source of constant energy and optimism, which will surely serve him well as he transitions to his personal wellness business.
Kate Dyck, a third-year transfer and setter of his 2020 team, considers herself “privileged” to have played for him.
“My favourite season was my 2019 to 2020 season when I transferred to NAIT,” said Dyck.
“[Benj] was a great leader and coach. He pushed me to be the best volleyball version of myself and I’m forever grateful.”
When he looked back at his career at NAIT, Heinrichs spoke as a man without regrets, but not as though he didn’t make mistakes along the way.
“I always valued asking, ‘How do we do things better?’ and ‘Are we getting the results we want?’ Not necessarily the scoreboard results, but the process,” said Heinrichs.
He hopes to be remembered at NAIT for his vision of progressing his athletes’ wellness and his valuing of the people behind the program.
“The second [most important] thing for me was just being about holistic wellness: preparing for matches, helping our student-athletes with managing stress, the medical side of things, physical prep, and creating a learning environment,” said Heinrichs.
“It was just a great environment to learn, not just about volleyball and sport, but about life.”
Heinrichs is leaving volleyball with the hopes of sharing his knowledge of holistic wellness learned from a lifetime on the hardwood courts, where he instructed student-athletes to reach their personal bests.
“I’m looking to teach and inspire people how to own their health and happiness,” said Heinrichs.
”I spent two and a half decades obsessed with wellness, and I have a lot to share with people so that they can be healthy and happy for the rest of their lives.”