Keith Hansen couldn’t have asked to be treated any better during his time in Dueren, Germany.
The RDC Athletic Director spent the last year in the European city, working on a sports psychology degree and with the men’s volleyball team that competes in the German National League.
“They did a wonderful job of hosting myself and my family,” he said. “One fan gave us his fully furnished house he was trying to sell about eight-kilometres outside of the city and it was perfect. It was a smaller community of about 1,200 and the my two oldest (six-year-old Avery and four-year-old Sophie) attended kindergarten every morning which couldn’t be better in language development and meeting other kids.”
Hansen’s wife, Julie, and two-year-old Olivia rounded out the family.
Hansen took a sabbatical from RDC to do practicum work in sports psychology. He also took three on-line classes from the Yorkville University, working towards a masters of counselling degree and at the same time was an assistant coach and performance consultant with the Dueren Volleyball Club.
“I also worked as a coaching mentor as their head coach played a long time and knew the game, but didn’t have a lot of experience in the science behind coaching. He (Sven Anton) was only in his second year and the first year was a bit bumpy.”
Hansen was a perfect fit to assist Anton as he was familiar with the program, having worked as head coach of the team during the 2000-01 season.
That was a dream year for the program.
“That year the club’s budget was about ninth in the 12-team league and we reached the German Cup final and finished third or fourth in the league. They had never done that well before.”
So with Hansen’s return this year there were high exceptions, even though he was an assistant coach and the team was coming off a so-so year.
“A lot of people remembered when I was there and they expected a big shift this year, which was a bit unrealistic,” he said.
But there was still a bit of magic as once again the team reached the German Cup final, losing 3-2, and finished third in the league.
“It was a good year,” he said. “The two teams that finished ahead of us in the league were made up of German national team starters, or starters from other national teams. We had two players from the national team, but overall not as experienced. As well our starting setter injured his knee just before the semifinal.”
Former RDC King Tim Gourlay joined the Dueren team at Christmas last year while setter Brock Davidiuk was also in the league.
Three other former Kings — Dallas Soonias, Mark Dodds and Nicolas Cundy — are also playing in Europe. Soonias is in Spain, Dodds in Belgium and Cundy in Portugal.
A sixth member of the RDC alumni — Gavin Schmitt — was the MVP of the Korean League this season.
Dueren is a city about the size of Red Deer with the volleyball team the No. 1 sports program. They play in a facility of about 3,000, drawing an average of 2,000 per match.
“It’s the biggest thing in the city, like the Rebels here,” said Hansen. “People live and die by the team. You lose and they’re glaring at you. You win and they’d give you their first born. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Hansen could well make a career of coaching in Dueren as three times he’s been offered the head coaching position over the last decade.
“It was a lot of fun working with a team at that level, but I love RDC and I wouldn’t want to be a full time pro coach,” he stressed. “Our family is from here and it’s better for us here.”
Hansen, who is the winningest coach in the Canadian College Athletic Association history, but is now strictly the AD, enjoyed his time back in the gym.
“I’d lie if I said I didn’t miss coaching. But I was there strictly as coach. There was no administration duties and Julie was off and the family life was good. I do love coaching, but you throw in teaching with Julie working and three young kids, it’s tough to do.”
Hansen, who took over as AD in 2007, returned to work this week.
“It was a good break, but it’s nice to get back. The big thing was that Gord (Inglis) did an excellent job as AD while I was away and Carolyn (Neufeld), Janis (Makofka) and P.J. (Swales) all stayed and did a great job so I walked back in and there were no fires to put out.”
Neufeld and Makofka are program assistants and Swales marketing director.
The coaching staff is close to the same with only Kings basketball coach Craig Behan and Queens soccer coach Jerry Gerling gone. Dave Coley, who was assistant coach, takes over from Gerling while the basketball coach is close to being announced.
“It was good for Craig to get away,” said Hansen. “I talked with him and it’s a great opportunity for him (working with the University of Victoria men’s basketball program). His replacement is all but confirmed.”
Hansen stressed it was important to receive the support of the college in being able to take a sabbatical.
“I firmly believe the two years I was away have been extremely beneficial to the college and myself,” he said. “I come back with different experiences and different ideas that will aid our program. As well I got some time away and came back rejuvenated and excited to be here. You realize how good of a job this is.”