Ryerson sports administrator takes on new role in birth country
April 26, 2018
Facing challenges head-on is something that Ryerson University athletics director and soccer coach Dr. Ivan Joseph embraces.
When the polytechnic institute-turned-university was looking for someone to turn their sports program around after years of futility, he unhesitatingly answered the call a decade ago.
The investment has paid handsome dividends
Last month, the Ryerson Rams made history winning its first national university title in the institution’s 70-year history when the women’s volleyball team knocked over the Alberta Pandas in the championship game. It was the university’s first championship since the men’s curling side captured the provincial title in 1959-60.
Joseph is set to embark on another difficult test as he seeks to resuscitate the Guyana Lady Jags women’s soccer program.
He was approached a few years ago about the coaching position.
“At the time, I was still trying to build the Ryerson program and to do the things we needed to do,” said Joseph who has made a one-year commitment to the Guyana Soccer Federation. “I was approached again this year and it just so happened that the timing is right since all of our teams made the playoffs and we won a national championship.”
Two years ago, Guyana beat Guatemala 2-1 in a Confederation of North, Central American & Caribbean Associations of Soccer (CONCACAF) Olympic qualifying tournament in Texas.
The program, started in 2009 by Guyanese-born Mark Rodrigues who spent 32 years in Canada before relocating to Tampa Bay 10 years ago, became dormant.
“I am going into this with the intention of building the program from the ground up,” said Joseph who led the revitalization of the iconic Maple Leaf Gardens into a new $60 million multi-functional athletic and recreational centre for Ryerson students and the community. “I am looking at this the same way I did when I started at Ryerson when none of our teams had winning records and they were underperforming. My role is to do a squad analysis and build a program with a long-term vision for sustained success.
“It’s not just about bringing in a team and trying to ascertain how do we win. This is about looking at the development of soccer in Guyana and trying to figure out how do we set up regional centres of excellence and how do we make sure we develop fundamental skills so there are more than just a handful of local Guyanese on the squad. It’s also important that we train and develop them so they can move through the system and see potential educational and performance outcomes.”
Time is not on Joseph’s side as he seeks to roll out his plan.
The Lady Jags are in Trinidad & Tobago for the Caribbean Women’s Challenge Series tournament. The Guyanese met Grenada on April 25. They play Suriname on April 27 and the host country two days later.
Next month, Guyana hosts Bermuda, Suriname and Barbados in Group ‘E’ of the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. The group winners will meet from August 18-26 with the top three teams advancing to the eight-team CONCACAF women’s championship from October 4-17 in the United States.
The majority of the players are expected to be Canadians of Guyanese heritage.
“Some of our top players are still in university and will miss the April competition in Trinidad & Tobago,” said Joseph who has a PhD in sports psychology from Capella University in Minnesota. “Hopefully, they will be available for the competition in Guyana next month.”
The two-time Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East Coach of the Year isn’t downplaying the challenge that lies ahead.
“The closest this comes to was when I coached the national women’s team at the Military World Games in Brazil seven years ago,” he said. “The difference though is that the players were Canadians, they were in the military and very well organized and there was funding. They had a base. Now, I have to build infrastructure and processes from the ground up and that’s going to be challenging. Coaching soccer is something I can do in my sleep with one eye open. To be able to attract the right players, ensuring I am putting together all the pieces that make a program successful is where the hard work will have to be put in and that is not a one person job.”
Joseph is in the process of assembling a staff and formulating a marketing strategy to get the word out that the Lady Jags are back.
“I am going to use some people here that I know and trust,” he said. “I also plan to start a mentoring program for Guyanese so we can develop coaches there.”
Joseph is confident that he can install a solid program that will make Guyana the envy of the Caribbean.
“To turn a program around, you need to have great leaders like coaches and support and conditioning staff, you need to attract talented student athletes and you have to give them opportunities to train and compete,” he said. “That is the same formula I will use to put the Guyana team together and build the program.”
Migrating from Guyana with his family at age five, Joseph attended King City Secondary School and Laurentian University before Graceland University recruited him as a student-athlete in 1993. He was the director of soccer operations, head coach of the men’s team that won its first National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) soccer title, the mastermind behind the creation of a premier multi-field soccer complex and an assistant professor at the Iowa University before joining Ryerson in the summer of 2008.
With the 2006 NAIA Coach of the Year at the helm, every varsity player that competed at least one season graduated.
As the athletics director at Ryerson, Joseph is responsible for strategy, leadership and management of the athletics department that serves the entire university with 12 varsity teams, over 20 multi-tiered intramural leagues, several sports clubs and other extensive offerings.
He spent six seasons coaching the men’s soccer team that qualified for the OUA Final Four championship three times and the U Sports (formerly Canadian Interuniversity Sport) national tournament for the first time in 2013. He took over the women’s program in 2015.
With the Ryerson soccer teams enjoying success, Joseph has relinquished his coaching responsibilities.
“The thing that makes me proud of how we have won is that we have done it the right way,” he said. “Our students are graduating, they are committed to community service and they are great citizens. That ensures that when I leave or a coach leaves, the program will sustain its own level of success. This is what you really hope for as a leader. The program is not about you. The legacy is the success that goes beyond your leadership and ability.”
Joseph, who isn’t taking a leave of absence from Ryerson to function in his new role, returned to Guyana two weeks ago for the first time in 12 years to meet with Guyana Soccer Federation president Wayne Forde and members of his executive and technical director Ian Greenwood.