Emma Duinker studying, coaching at University of Windsor
"I wasn't done learning," says 2012 Acadia grad of decision to enroll in Masters program
By John DeCoste '77
Since graduating from Acadia in 2012, Emma Duinker fulfilled her goal of becoming a professional basketball player, suiting up for three seasons with three different professional clubs in Germany.
"So much has gone on in my life since I left Acadia," Duinker, now 28, said in a Dec. 19 interview. "It's hard to believe it's only been five years."
Playing professionally – and living – in Germany taught Duinker a lot. "All their basketball teams are run through clubs," she explained. "The clubs run all the way from potentially as young as U-5 all the way to a First Division team, either men's or women's."
Looking back, the whole experience represented "a 'turning point' experience in terms of my life and career, and what I'm doing now," which is studying toward a Masters degree in Sports Management at the University of Windsor and serving as an assistant coach with the Lancers women's basketball team.
"Part of the reason I stopped playing basketball was that I wanted to go back to school," she said. "I realized I wasn't done learning."
While in Germany, Duinker, who graduated from Acadia with a B.Sc. in Nutrition, "taught as a substitute teacher my first year. The other two years, I coached other club teams" as well as playing.
During the off-season, she worked for PGC Basketball, an organization that operates basketball camps through North America and is one of the largest organizations of its kind.
"They teach about life through basketball," she said. She was employed as a seasonal staff member, working "in around 11 different states," and filled a number of roles, including camp director, site coordinator, assistant director and coach/trainer.
She acknowledged, "I learned a lot about growth and resiliency through their teachings."
After leaving Germany – and professional basketball – in the spring of 2015, Duinker moved back to the Valley, "lived at my mom's place" and spent a year as part of the workforce. All the while, she was checking out post-graduate opportunities in the sports management field.
"There comes a point in an athlete's career when going to the gym feels like a chore. I was reaching that point. (Playing basketball) was still fun, but it was starting to feel like a chore."
She had experienced many things being part of the different clubs in Germany "that interested me, including the management of the club and the management of people."
She had enjoyed the coaching she had done, so she "went looking for an opportunity to be an assistant coach, and at the same time take a Masters degree in Sports Management. There were opportunities in the U.S., but they didn't make sense for me financially."
Turning her focus back to Canada, she chose Windsor, which is "in the top-three in North America and world-recognized" in the field of sports management.
Windsor, a perennial U-Sports top-10 program in women's basketball and winner of five straight national titles under head coach Chantal Vallee, "was a good choice in terms of basketball, too.
"I contacted Chantal asking if there might be an opportunity to coach as well as attend school. She said yes, and said she remembered coaching against me when I played at Acadia."
Vallee "facilitated me getting into the Sports Management program, and connected me with my advisor." She was ready to start in September of last year, but "the advisor I wanted had too many students until January when a spot opened up."
Meanwhile, she had begun as an assistant coach in September 2016 "before I started school." Asked how she was enjoying being a student again, she acknowledged, "it's awesome. I'm loving it, and it's a good fit for me." Needless to say, she is also enjoying coaching and "being part of the game again."
Duinker had no aspirations of becoming a coach once her playing days were over. Given her new experience, "eventually becoming a coach, at some level, is becoming more of an option for me, even though I haven't done enough of it yet to know whether I really want to do it."
On the other hand, "I do know I'd like to do something in the sports field. I want to learn more about the field from the perspective of other than an athlete or a coach."
And even though she has only been in the program since this past January, "that's already happening, and big-time. Some of the courses I'm taking are really intriguing me."
She is enrolled in a two-year program that will allow her to graduate with a Masters degree in Sports Management. "I'm looking to finish by next Christmas (2018) or possibly the following spring."
Wherever she has been the past five years, Duinker has followed with interest all the Acadia varsity sports, and in particular the development of the Axewomen basketball program.
Even though she is now part of another program (Windsor is currently ranked seventh in the country behind nationally top-ranked Acadia), she admitted, "I still follow the Axewomen, and I'm proud of them."
University basketball programs "grow and change," and eventually "the right combination of players comes along." Windsor this year has "eight first-year players, which limits our experience on the floor," and has had "some nagging injuries. We have a ton of talent, but we need to learn to work our talents together on the court." She would love to encounter Acadia at the 2018 U-Sports nationals.
Overall, Duinker is "really happy" with her choice to return to school, "and totally looking forward to my next challenge." She pointed out, "a lot of athletes when they stop playing, get nervous and anxious about what comes next. I've been there, and I took the time I needed to figure out what I wanted to do next. That was an important step and a necessary part of the plan."
As part of her studies, Duinker is required to do an internship. While it would be tempting to try and do it here in the Valley, it probably makes more sense to intern closer to Windsor. "I'd like to work with a university or professional sports organization," she said, adding, "there are lots of opportunities out there" without even leaving the Windsor-Toronto axis.
Duinker acknowledged, "not knowing what's next for you can be scary, but in the field I'm in, there's lots of potential for opportunities, whatever they end up being."