Behind the Podium with Allison Saunders
A selfless leader, CSI Atlantic’s Community Coaching Lead Allison Saunders’ team first mentality, rooted in communication, authenticity and connection, is already helping make coaches' lives easier.
Growing up in Sydney, N.S. Saunders always wanted to be a part of a team but hadn’t quite found her sport. It was when she met her first volleyball coach that she fell in love with the game, “I credit my coach for my involvement in volleyball,” says Saunders. However, this was only the beginning of a lifelong presence on the volleyball scene for Allison.
Attending Mount Saint Vincent University in 2003 to pursue English and sociology, Allison played on their varsity Women’s volleyball team until her graduation in 2007. Following her time as a student-athlete, she headed to the University of King’s College later that year where she entered the journalism program. Allison always had a love for telling stories and thrived in journalism after her graduation in 2008, spending 10 years at The Coast holding positions as a writer and an editor. Later, she moved on to accept a position as a communications and marketing coordinator at Atlantic University Sport where she became even more invested into the culture of sport.
Throughout her career, Allison became increasingly involved in sport: volunteering as a volleyball coach with the Bedford Blizzard, sitting on the board as a treasurer at Volleyball Nova Scotia and now, she sits on this same board at Volleyball Nova Scotia as part of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) committee. Allison even had the opportunity to serve as an assistant, it was here she stood out.
While coaching alongside former MSVU Men’s soccer team captain Tyler Simmons, Allison brought a different dynamic to the team. “With her patience in connecting with athletes to gain their understanding, she would not have the loudest voice in the room, but she would have the most important one,” says the 2023 MSVU valedictorian Simmons. Simmons, who is also an assistant coach for the MSVU Men’s soccer team, knew Allison would be a great fit wherever she went. “She looked at coaching using every lens imaginable, focusing on all aspects [of the game], she is an asset,” says Simmons.
As she gained experience as a coach, she became familiar with some of the CSI Atlantic staff through coaching opportunities and certification programs. “All of the staff from CSI Atlantic that I had met were amazing, and clearly lived by the values they promoted,” she says. When a position became available at the Institute, Allison jumped at the opportunity to join the team.
Starting her new role at CSI Atlantic in February of 2023, Allison was welcomed to the team with open arms. “It was very easy to fit in. I felt comfortable and supported at CSI Atlantic right away.” In the midst of beginning an exciting new chapter, Allison was eager to begin helping other coaches. “I have loved my journey of becoming a coach, coaching can feel really lonely sometimes and it excites me that I can make coaches' lives even slightly easier with guidance and resources.”
Allison hit the ground running just three months into her role she was amongst some of the best coaches in Atlantic Canada at the Atlantic Coaches Conference (ACC) in early May. “Being able to be a part of ACC was really important to me, it gave me the chance to see how much the coaching community in Atlantic Canada are impacting the next generation of athletes, being there and getting to meet all of these great coaches was so rewarding.”
Guiding her journey not only as a coach, but in life, Allison focuses on communication, authenticity and connection. “Rooted in everything I do, in my coaching, my relationships, my career, I make sure those three things are present." Whether it is on the sidelines or in the office, Allison's compassion is always felt. “The main thing about Allison is how great of a person she is,” says Simmons, “she always puts the team first.”
Much like her first volleyball coach influenced her involvement in sport, Allison's arc as a coach is coming full circle. As she selflessly leads with compassion, carrying the torch as she continues helping coaches inspire the next generation of athletes while at CSI Atlantic.