He’s head coach of the Humber Hawks – the varsity women’s basketball team who became first in the 38 year history of the Ontario College Athletic Association (OCAA) to win a national championship of any women’s team sports. This past spring, Ajay Sharma – named Canadian Coach of the Year by the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) – led 16 players to gold at the CCAA Championships, where they defeated Holland College with a buzzer beating three pointer.
To get to gold involved high-intensity, two-hour practices four nights weekly, weight-lifting sessions, and lots of game film feedback. And, to amp up their preparation, the women occasionally practiced against the men’s team, also national champions.
Coaching is just Ajay’s hobby. As a recreation co-ordinator at Chancellor Community Centre, Ajay programs recreational courses for a living, including a Vaughan Sports basketball league for children and pick-up basketball for youth and adults. A seasoned recreationist, Ajay got his start with the City of Vaughan as a summer camp counsellor in the late 1980s. He caught the coaching bug in high school, when he volunteered to fill the vacant role of grade nine girls basketball coach (he played on the boy’s team). After more than 25 years, Ajay has many coaching highlights, including:
- helping high school players secure postsecondary sports scholarships
- coaching back to back OCAA champions – 2014/15, 2015/16
- coaching the U17 Team Ontario to a bronze medal at the 2010 Canada Summer Games
- taking road trips to American colleges like Duke University to watch (and learn from) legendary coaches
- flying to Israel to lead Team Canada in the Maccabi games, and capturing the bronze medal
- sitting on the sidelines as spectator of the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs training camp
Ajay’s coaching style is all about picking up pointers. He borrows tactical skills from NBA greats like the Spurs, Pistons and (of course) Raptors. What it takes to be a professional athlete, he’s learned, is character. “It’s The Spurs’ Way,” he says of the best operating sports franchise, known for only “drafting players who have gotten over themselves.” How athletes conduct themselves on and off the court is crucial.
Team players need to be selfless. “Nobody is bigger than the team,” is Ajay’s philosophy – one he shares when hiring and training instructors for the City’s recreational programs, including Vaughan Sports. When selecting instructors for the City-operated co-ed sports league, launched in 2012, recreation co-ordinators looked not necessarily for instructors with the strongest sports skills, but “strictly for mentors and cheerleaders who would encourage the kids,” says Ajay. That’s the Vaughan Way.
Vaughan Sports offers ball hockey, basketball, indoor soccer, lifesaving, tennis and karate leagues for children ages 5 to 12 years at community centres across the city. The structured practices, which can run up to 18 weeks, end with a tournament amongst all teams. All Vaughan Sports teams feature a unique name – like the Al Palladini Pirates, Garnet A. Williams Griffins and Maple Mustangs – as well as uniforms to help players build a connection to their teammates and community.
Aside from health benefits such as weight control, stress relief, improved mood and energy, there are many psychosocial perks to being part of a sports team. Children (and adults, like our squash houseleaguers) build self-esteem, discipline and perseverance. They make friends and learn the golden rule of sports while doing so: sportsmanship.
If you suddenly have serious #SportsGoals, visit vaughan.ca/recreation for registered and drop-in sports options available across the city. Fall recreational programs and swim lessons started Sept. 17. Register online at vaughan.ca/RecOnline or drop by your local community centre for assistance in-person.
Recreation Services, City of Vaughan
Visit the City of Vaughan’s website at vaughan.ca.