Active in youth sports throughout the region for more than 30 years, former Wellesley Applejacks coach Rob Way will be recognized this month by Civitan Sports with a community involvement and leadership award.
“It’s a real special honour,” Way said. “It’s pretty elite company when you consider that it’s given along with the Athlete of the Year Award, and you look back at some of the people that have received the volunteer award over the last number of years, it’s pretty special, because you recognize a lot of names that have given a lot to the community.”
The annual award, which honours volunteers and not-for-profit organizations which demonstrate leadership and dedication for local sports, will be presented at the Wilmot Recreation Centre on May 20. The New Hamburg Firebirds hockey club got the nod for the team award, while the Wilmot Aquatic Aces were selected in the organization category.
Way got started as a minor hockey coach in Waterloo as a university student in the early 1980s. Eventually, he also took up with youth fastball, helping out with numerous teams for his own kids and for others that just needed the help.
“I’ve always believed that the kids you coach are like sponges and you can’t give them enough information,” Way said. “I think sometimes coaches sell their kids short on what they can do, and I just love to teach and give kids the ability to do different things and improve. I think that’s really neat for me. And the other thing is, I just love the relationships with the kids.”
Having been involved with youth sports for so many years, he’s watched countless athletes grow up and go on to success in sports and in life.
He gets a real kick out of running into former players years later, all grown up.
“We went to sell our house a few years ago, and the real estate agent told us, ‘you know the people that want to buy your home, the guy’s picture is on one of your plaques. You coached him when he was like 10 years old.’ Did I ever feel old,” he laughed. “And the other neat story, I was at the Waterloo mayor’s event a couple years back and one of the chiefs had been a goalie for my team back in the day.”
Way served as an assistant coach with the Applejacks for the 2012-13 season, taking over as head coach for the 2013-14 campaign. He left the club last spring in order to spend more time with his family.
But he’s still at it at the minor league level, helping out where he can, employing his three decades worth of experience.
“I’ve learned to understand what motivates kids,” Way said. “Some kids you can come down hard on them and it really motivates them. Others, you have to approach in completely different way to get the most out of them. That’s something you learn over the years, how to work with the kids to get them to the best of their abilities. And the other thing I’ve learned, is that all these kids, by and large, are just trying to do their best. … I always tell my players, and I have for years, is that if I am hard on you, it’s not because I’m mad at you, it’s because I want to make you better.”