When Garth Pischke started coaching at the University of Manitoba in 1979, Sony had just come out with the Walkman, the Berlin Wall was still up, and ESPN had just launched on cable television. In that time, Pischke has accomplished a lot, and has earned the title of being one of, if not the best volleyball coaches in North America.
On Jan. 14, the University of Manitoba men’s volleyball team defeated the UBC Thunderbirds in four sets to give Pischke his 1,300th career win. Pischke has been around the game of volleyball for a long time. He played for the Bisons during his university career, as well as the Winnipeg Wesmen, a team he has only lost to 48 times in 227 matches in his 35-year career as a coach. As a player, he also won the CIS Championship three times, twice as a Wesmen and once as a Bison.
Pischke played professionally in the International Volleyball Association in Denver and El Paso. He earned rookie of the year and MVP honours during his time in the now-defunct league. Apparently, during his time playing professionally in Denver, Pischke participated in a jump off against hall of fame basketball player, David Thompson. That actually never happened according to Pischke – apparently after Thompson watched one of his matches and saw him jump he declined to participate.
Pischke has also represented Canada at the international level. The Winnipeg native played for the national junior team from 1970-76 and in his grade 12 year, he was selected to represent Canada at the 1976 Olympic games in Montreal. He also played in the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles. Pischke enjoyed a successful playing career, but he never thought his coaching career would take him to where he is today.
“I started coaching when I was still doing my masters in business, so I figured I was going to end up in the financial world,” Pischke said.
Since he took the helm of the Manitoba men’s volleyball team, he has reached the national championships 26 times. They have made it to the national finals 18 times, winning nine of them. They also have five third place finishes, two fourth place finishes, and just one fifth place finish.
“I like winning, I think everybody likes winning,” Pischke said. “I can honestly say that I don’t hate losing, I think losing is a fact of life. The important thing is that you learn from those situations and hopefully the next time we step on the floor we’ll be better for it.”
With a total record of 1,302 wins and 359 losses in his 35 years as head coach of the Bisons, the 61-year-old has done a lot more winning than losing. It is the most overall wins by any coach in U Sports history. Pischke attributes all that success to instilling a good work ethic amongst all of his players.
“We try to bring an attitude in practice that nobody is going to outwork us,” he said. “I think that when my players leave my program that they are not afraid to work hard and if they do work hard they know they can be successful.”
Players have been successful in playing for Pischke, as over 30 of his players have gone on to play nationally after their time with the herd.
A lot of things have changed in the time Pischke started coaching, including the whole recruiting aspect, which he’s had to add to the list of things he does as a coach.
“Recruiting wasn’t a big part of the job in those days,” he said. “Guys just came and you coached what you had. In fact, when I first started I was actually coaching guys who were older than me.”
Early in his coaching career, the Bisons made the national championships eight years in a row. Pischke attributes that success to his knowledge of the game, something other programs didn’t have at the time.
“The game was young and I really felt that I knew a lot more about volleyball than most of the people around the country,” he said. “I felt that for the first 10 years we were way ahead of everybody else, just based on knowledge of the game, training methods, etc.”
The current Bison men’s volleyball team is enjoying a lot of success this season, currently ranked third in the country and riding a 12-game winning streak. Pischke is still eager to win the U Sports national title coming up in the spring.
“It’s been a few years since we’ve had [a national championship],” he said. “It’s much more difficult of a road to get there now then it was back in the day. I’m hungry for this squad. It’s a veteran squad and they’re good enough to go all the way if they play their best.”
The Bisons will hope they will be heading to Edmonton to play in the U Sports national championships in March. For now, they have some tough slugging ahead of them in the Canada West. They face the ninth-ranked Brandon Bobcats and the first-ranked Trinity West Spartans in the final four weeks of the season.