Acadia Athletics: Good to Great
From Kevin Dickie’s start as the Executive Director of Athletics at Acadia University, there has been a strong emphasis on mission, and for Acadia Athletics, that mission focuses on the “continual growth of the athletic department, student-athletes and staff that comprise of it” and determining how the “program differentiates itself from a good program to a great one.” Going from good to great is what drives Dickie. Believing in the pathway from good to great is the foundation of any successful program, and if the 2017/18 season is any indicator, Acadia Athletics is thriving on that foundation. Good is being satisfied with a competitive Athletic program for a school of 3500 students. Great is competing at the national level and being able to provide national-caliber resources for those athletes. As Dickie explains in this 2018-19 pre-season interview, it’s a culture he’s proud of and something he envisioned years ago.
It’s been 7 years now since you became the Director of Athletics at Acadia University, what has been the most noticeable difference in the athletic department and how have you used those positives for the future?
"The first noticeable difference I think anyone would have is the development of our complex. It might not be as ‘new’ but I truly believe it stacks up against anyone in the country as far as what we have, all in one footprint. There’s something special about being proud of the place where you work, train and compete. This is the foundation of having pride in what you do. With that, I do think that is showing up in the success that we’ve had over this time. I mean, we’re one of only two schools in the country that have hosted four straight national championships, over the past 4 years. Combine that with 7 of our 11 teams attending National Championships last year, it’s all part of the strategic plan we set years ago - to both host U SPORTS Championships and for our teams to compete at them across the country."
Looking at the ‘By the Numbers’ for this past year, Acadia’s teams combined for one of the most successful years in school history. How has this year been a result of a vision you created years ago?
"The first thing is that it’s ‘we,’ the collective, I’m lucky to work with the coaches and staff that I work with and I truly mean that. It didn’t take long for us to get on the same page in terms of vision and mission. We created a strategic plan in 2011 and now we’ve entered into a new strategic plan in 2017. It’s truly been our roadmap so far. I believe in a lot of ways our success over the past few years and especially this past year is a byproduct of that. Strategic plans can die on the shelf if there's no buy-in or execution, but I'm proud of our commitment to action our plan. Also, the people I've reported to for eight years are outstanding, and they get the value of Athletics on a university campus."
Especially in a high turn-over industry such as sports, what does it mean for the culture of the program to have the majority of your coaches intact for the past 5+ years? Head coaches of hockey, football, rugby and both soccer teams have been here since day one.
"I think any sports organization will tell you that good people and stability are incredibly important to high performance. To work at Acadia you have to be a special person because you’re essentially in a fishbowl, and it’s really not for everyone. You also have to live the Acadia values, and again, I’m fortunate that people enjoy working here, and I can honestly say our group is as good as anyone in the country."
With so much success these past few years, primarily this past year, what do you see to still improve upon or your main area of focus moving forward?
"That’s the magic, trying to figure out what you want to keep and what you need to change and improve. For us, I think that our sports sciences and integrating all of the tremendous disciplines and people that we have throughout our whole university is key. In the area of sports science, integrating it and making it a part of one unit will help move the needle in our success. Another part is to keep getting better no matter what. Anytime that you rest on your laurels or think that you’ve got it figured out, people will pass us by, especially those big market schools. There are different playing fields in the country, but we want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to stay ahead and catch up to the ones we are not."
In addition to team success, what does it mean for recruits to see individuals achieve a high standard or continue professionally in their sport? Gabriel Bagnell with the Edmonton Eskimos, Erik Nissen playing professional basketball in Spain, Leier and Pufahl signing American Hockey League deals, all those, in just this past year alone.
"I think it’s very important, we want student-athletes to come in here that are in the top pedigree at their sport. If they are that, they have to know and believe they have the chance to continue on to the next level and we have some great role models there for them. By the same token, the best part of Acadia is that it doesn’t just help people prepare for continuing on their sport, it is a platform to move on in life in different professions. I would argue that Acadia is as good as it gets to prepare you for life. It's an incubator for pumping great people into many jobs and communities across the country."
Ending with Men’s Hockey Nationals in March of 2020, it will be four seasons in a row that Acadia will host a U SPORTS National Championship, what does this mean for the program and maybe equally important, the Town of Wolfville just being the size that you guys are?
"A couple things - the first one, Acadia hadn't been hosting National Championships for a long time...people were saying it's tough for a small school, and I just knew that wasn’t the case. It lets us know that we can compete from a hosting prospective with anyone in the country and I think we’ve done that exceptionally well. Second, Wolfville and Nova Scotia are prime tourism destinations, and with our new initiative ‘Destination Acadia’, bringing in events like National Championships is exactly what we want to have Acadia attached to."
Without giving away too much information, what is the next big ’move’ or ‘announcement’ for this program you think moving forward?
As I mentioned, over the past year, ‘Destination Acadia,” which was initiated to bring events to our campus and have people experience Wolfville and the Annapolis Valley, has advanced way further and quicker than we could have anticipated. I think through that, you will continue to hear about special things coming to our campus and beautiful town. Great examples are the national and international rugby events we have at Acadia this summer and fall.
Going from a hockey coach to Athletic Director, how have you grown as a person or improved in your profession, since making that transition?
"It’s funny you ask, because I just had to do a presentation to about 70 coaches from across Atlantic Canada on developing as a coach. When I think about going from coaching to an Athletic Director, it’s just about that, growing and developing. The one thing that I’ve always been is a lifelong learner. I’ve never had a day where I thought I had the market cornered in terms of understanding what I’m doing. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by a great group of people and to have the confidence from them, to lead them. I think that combination of wanting to get better, being around great not just good people, and being confident in my abilities is what keeps me excited for the next few years to come."