They say it takes a village to raise a child — or in this case, a coach.
Shawnee Harle draws from all of her previous experiences, including being raised in Prince Rupert, that helped prepare her to be the lead assistant coach for the Canadian women’s Olympic basketball team.
Harle, who was in Rupert to lead a coaching clinic for the Prince Rupert Minor Basketball Association, considers the city the starting point for her career.
“It’s not just exciting to come back here, but it feels like a privilege to come back and give back because this is where basketball started for me,” she said last Saturday.
Harle moved to Prince Rupert with her family when she was in Grade 2. Her father, Warren Harle, was the principal of Prince Rupert Secondary School (PRSS), and coached the senior boys’ basketball team. She is now a Calgary resident.
It didn’t take long to realize Harle had a future in basketball. As a Grade 7 student at Roosevelt Park Elementary School, she was asked to play on the junior girls’ basketball team at PRSS.
“I’m very proud of growing up in Prince Rupert. I feel like it really gave me a spring board that I knew this is what I love. Basketball is what I became good at, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t started here,” she said.
After a successful career at the University of Victoria, where she played on a team that won two championships and was runner-up in a third, the coach/speaker worked as a Canadian Intrauniversity Sport (CIS) coach for 20 years. Harle coached at Brandon University for two years and then spent the next 18 years as the head coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Calgary.
There, she ran a successful program and the team was runner-up to the championship in 2001. The team was consistently ranked in the top 10 throughout her tenure there. It was in Calgary that Harle had one of the highlights of her career, a game against the University of Regina when UCalgary hosted the national championships in 2012.
“We went in as the eight-ranked team and knocked off the number one ranked team in the first game of the tournament in a packed house, standing room only on our home court. I will never, ever forget that one,” said Harle, who is the only basketball coach in Canada, male or female, to have a Level 5 in the National Coaching Certification Program (NCPP).
But despite her success as a CIS coach, it is the Olympic experience that Harle is most proud of.
The recent Rio de Janeiro Olympics were the second of her career. She also helped coach a team at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, a team that finished in 11th place. 20 years later, she was back on the international stage in Brazil with a team much more advanced. Harle had experienced the joys of the Olympics, but Canada’s 68-63 loss to France in the quarterfinals brought her a sorrow she hadn’t known yet.
“We were so close in Rio to playing for a medal and it was absolutely devastating. It’s the toughest loss I’ve experienced in over 30 years of coaching,” Harle said.
The coach expressed how amazing her Olympic experience was but also how hard it was to deal with the loss.
“I still can’t believe we didn’t win that game. I could feel it slipping away in the last two minutes and I cried for the next four days afterwards,” she said.
It felt like real grief to her, but that’s how the Olympics are.
“What I saw firsthand at the Olympics was there are way more tears than there is joy. It’s the thrill of victory and the agonies of defeat. The highs are so high and the lows are so low.”
But still, for Harle, nothing compares to representing her country at a time when the eyes of the world are on you.
“The thing that was really amazing was the feeling of pride when you get to wear the maple leaf and know that the whole country is there with you,” Harle said. “I can remember in each game when we’re standing there in front of the flag and we’re singing the anthem, every single moment of that was incredibly emotional for me because I could feel our country.”
The best is yet to come, if you ask her. She still plans to help bring Team Canada up to the next level.
“I want to be one of the pieces of the puzzle that helps our program grow to the next step. We’re right there,” she said. “That loss makes me hungrier because now I feel the responsibility. I need to help us get that thing we’ve not gotten yet and we’re good enough to make it to the medal round.”
When she’s not spending her time coaching Olympic athletes, Harle runs her own business, called Winning Matters. Through speaking engagements, corporate coaching, holding camps and working with both coaches and athletes, she passes on her extensive basketball knowledge to the next generations of ballers.
All the stops along the way prepared her for who she has become, and she thanks the village that raised her.
“It begins back in Prince Rupert and then whatever happened with me in junior high and high school,” Harle said. “Then I’m 18 years in Calgary, but I think about all the people that shared that journey with me at different places of the road in the journey,” said Harle.
Maybe it wasn’t just one village, she admits. Maybe there were many villages that helped give her the moments she is so proud of.