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Revered Canadian University Basketball Coach Matt Skinn Increases Information Sharing During COVID-19 Pandemic

Matt Skinn | Head Coach | Cape Breton University

“He is driven and dedicated to getting the most out of his staff and his players”

– Kayon Mayers (2012/2013-2015/2016)

“Matt Skinn is the definition of a fearless coach, who just goes with his gut instincts in any given situation, the perfect example of a leader who loves to make tough decisions that others shy away from.”

– Meshack Lufile (2011/2012-2015/2016)

“Skinn loves to win and will do everything in his power to accomplish that”

– Osman (Ozzy) Omar (2018-2019-2019/2020)

“Matt will believe in you even if no one else does! Outside and inside of the court I sometimes doubted myself but Matt was always there to push me. I believe I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

– Kenny Jean Louis (2013/14 to 2015/16)

4 players (former and current) of Matt Skinn, the Head Coach of Cape Breton University’s Men’s basketball team. I chatted with Matt Skinn and present you with our 1 on 1.

× The interview with Matt Skinn was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Before we begin, give us a little update on how your job has changed since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.

Things have changed in a few ways for me since COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. Working remotely at this time of year is normal because most of our student-athletes return home to work, and/or be with their families. Since we only have a few players on our team from Nova Scotia/Cape Breton, this usually presents challenges for workouts, and staying consistently in touch. It puts the onus on the players to make sure they are ready when they do return to campus.

I think in a lot of ways things have become easier. With the use of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Houseparty, and it being readily accepted because of the circumstances, it has become convenient to have cyber meetings with my team, the Athletics Department, Alumni, and for Professional Development.

With the cooperation of our coaching staff and the Women’s basketball coaching staff at CBUd, we have been able to connect with high-level coaches from across North America. It has allowed me to become a better coach, and stay up to date with the trends that will make CBU a better team!

Tell us about your role as the Head Coach of the Cape Breton University.

This is my second tenure as Head Coach at CBU. I will be entering my 7th season in 2020-2021. We have 4 USports Varsity teams at CBU, men’s and women’s basketball and men’s and women’s soccer. I would like to think I play a role within the department and its overall vision of “Creating Champions – Relentless Pursuit of Success”. Within our program specifically, we try to follow a character based process; those with high character have the potential to achieve more. While this is not always a perfect process, we are looking to not only be champions on the floor, but to develop the overall student-athlete who is ready to take on responsibility once they graduate and be a motivated member of society.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I think the best part of being a full-time coach is the variability that comes with the job. One day can be 1-on-1 meetings with players in the office, or workouts on the floor with players, meetings with staff and administration, recruiting, practice planning, practice itself; or travelling in order to play league or exhibition games. Overall, we don’t really work with a check-in/out clock, just try to get things done that need to for that day. Connecting with alumni, watching video, scouting report prep, phone calls with colleagues/mentors all make up any or part of any typical day. However, I do make sure of a few things daily – at least 1 workout or yoga session (most of the time 2) and at least 2 walks with my dogs; balance is important.

Everyday could not be mentioned without my coaching staff; I have an incredible coaching staff at CBU. Ronnie Shaw has been with me since day 1. He is one of my mentors and closest friends and is a staple in the Cape Breton community. His passion, compassion and communication skills are second to none. Dennis Stapleton and David Ogbuah are two of the top high school coaches in Nova Scotia and have devoted countless hours to our program. And recently, David Kapinga, a former pro and National Team member has joined our staff and has brought his incredible experience and skill set with him. They all make my job easier on and off the floor.

When was the point you realized that you were meant to do this career? Take us through that realization.

I started coaching in high school; my older brother and I coached in our community’s youth rec league. However, I think it really became my passion while I was playing at CBU myself. I was incredibly fortunate to play for a legendary high school coach, Mike Rao (currently the Brock Badgers women’s head coach and the USports Coach of the Year this past season), at Notre Dame College School, in Welland, Ontario. He definitely instilled discipline in me as a person and a player, and got me thinking about how I may do things the same or potentially different. He would open the gym or the weight room for me anytime, both during my high school career and my university career, and he has become a second father to me, and his family a second family.

I tried just about everything in high school as an athlete – track, soccer, badminton, volleyball, golf, and of course basketball – although I do regret not playing football. We had some very successful basketball teams in high school, and the same when I was playing at CBU. I played for 2 coaches at CBU, Bill Burns and Jim Charters. Both introduced me to different aspects of the game I fell in love with in terms of coaching. Coach Burns pushed me to coach within the local basketball program in Cape Breton, and Coach Charters put me in charge of running basketball camps at schools while playing. This is when I started looking at the game in a different way than just as a player – it is a totally different process to prep for a game as a player compared to a coach.

When I started looking and thinking about the game in this way, I just tried to figure out how I could become a head coach as quickly as I could – this led me to do my Masters degree in Sports Psychology at the University of Calgary. I tried to maximize my time and do all I could to get the most experience I could as quickly as I could. I fell in love with it at U of C working for Coach Vanhooren. He introduced a completely new aspect of the game to me – about caring for and helping to facilitate complete young men. I like to think that all of my experiences have shaped who I am as a person, and as a coach.

What’s your favourite part about coaching?

I really enjoy the daily grind of it. The whole process of making a team and how things are constantly changing and how you constantly have to adapt in order to be successful. I feel like the formula we are using can be successful and has been, but I am very competitive and I want to be the best. I work in an extremely competitive field at an impressively competitive university – this environment drives me and pushes me to keep up.

The problem solving, creating relationships with the players, pushing the right buttons to find that success; all of these things make my job amazing. I love it every single day. I don’t really count it as a job because I love going to the office and putting everything that I have into the team.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your career as a basketball coach?

Winning and decisions.

Winning is hard. We try to do the right things at CBU every day, and we have great guys on our team who are working hard to be better and make their team successful. But it is still really hard. And that is motivating. We are not the biggest school in Canada; we don’t have every academic program that student-athletes are looking for; so we have to be creative to get the right players here and push them to perform.

I think almost equal to that is making tough decisions daily. As a coach, you hope you are doing the right things for the team to trust you and your actions so that they will play hard and believe in the message that you are echoing. But it is never easy, and you don’t always do that. I try to be as self aware as possible, and talk to as many people as possible before making decisions so that everyone can be on the same page moving forward. I try to portray myself as someone that people will want to follow – I have never drank or smoked or done drugs, and I really take pride in being fit with energy to give my best to the team.

Specifically, I made a decision to leave CBU in 2016. I was engaged at the time, and felt it would be best for my personal life to make that move. It was incredibly difficult to leave my alma mater, but the decision did lead to me winning a national title and getting my job back at CBU in 2018. I am truly fortunate that things have worked out for me.

What are your top three most memorable moments in your basketball coaching career so far?

  1. Winning the 2018 USports National Title with the Calgary Dinos Men’s Basketball Team.
  2. Winning the 2013 AUS Conference Championship with CBU Capers.
  3. Winning the 2015 U-17 National Championship with Team Nova Scotia.

What are some of your career goals? What goals have you already accomplished?

  1. I would like to win a second AUS title at CBU. I would be the only Men’s Coach to do that in the history of CBU. I would also like to win a National Championship at CBU. It would give me no greater pleasure than to do that with my alma mater.
  2. I strive to represent Canada on the International stage as a coach – this was looking like it was going to happen this summer prior to the pandemic. However, I am open to doing this in any capacity.

I am not looking much further than those two things right now – that is enough 🙂

What advice do you wish you could go back and give your younger self career wise?

Figure out what you want your team to look like and stick to it! Be ruthless in sticking to those standards, and try to fulfill them and push your team to want those standards on a daily basis.

I actually feel incredibly fortunate – I got my start at a young age and have had success; my path has been great!

Stacey Leawood Stacey's Final Thoughts

Before getting to speak with Matt Skinn I had heard many great things about him which made me eager to hear his story. He is a great example of hustle, determination, and loving the process. His biggest challenges are what motivates him most and this is exactly what’s going to help him to make history. He’s got unprecedented goals that I have no doubt he’s going to accomplish. I hope his story motivates everyone reading this, especially aspiring basketball coaches, to dream a little bigger and enjoy the pursuit of your dreams!

Connect With Matt Skinn