There’s a first time for everything, even in coaching.
It just so happened that many of Brock Perry’s coaching firsts occurred rapid fire in a very short time frame with Team Sask’s 16U male softball team at the 2023 North American Indigenous Games (NAIG).
The event marked his first time as a head coach, first time coaching a youth sport, first time coaching at an international multisport event and, perhaps most impressively, his first time coaching ever. And there were numerous other firsts along the way.
“It was all new emotions. All new experiences,” he said. “Everything was new, I was just trying to be in the present moment and soak it all in and really enjoy it.”
What Perry may have lacked in a coaching background, however, he made up for with the knowledge and skills he’s accumulated over more than two decades of playing softball himself, starting when he was just eight years old.
Growing up in Prince Albert, where he still resides today, Perry participated in multiple sports, but softball is the one he fell in love with. Inspired by his softball-playing uncle, Perry chose the pitching position and along with hard work, his talents took him to play at many Canadian National Championships and International Softball Congress (ISC) world tournaments. He even attended the 2006 NAIG in Denver, Colorado —earning silver after losing to Manitoba in the final— as a part of the same age group he coached at the 2023 NAIG.
While coaching has always been in the back of Perry’s mind as he progressed along his athletic journey, he wasn’t quite ready to transition to the role until an injury sidelined him in the summer of 2021. When that injury occurred, a friend suggested he apply for the NAIG coaching role and a few months later, Perry was at the helm of the team and being thrown a learning curve.
“In the coaching role, everything’s a new experience for me, so along with the whole evaluation process, how we’re going to run the camps and just everything that comes along with it, it takes a lot more than just being a player,” Perry explained. “There’s a lot more aspects as a coach to worry about, so everything that’s been as a coach so far has been all new, but it’s been very rewarding already.”
In addition to the skills and knowledge he’s been able to bring with him from his time as a player, Perry also had several coaches along the way who have left an impact on him as both a player and a person, including Harvey Tronson, Felix Casavant, Don Bates, J.J. Johnson and Bryan Kosteroski. That same mentorship is what he hopes he’ll be able to pass on to athletes that he’s coaching now and in the future.
“Coaching is a powerful experience that can be incredibly rewarding on and off the field,” he said. “I’ve had many kids from my NAIG team reach out personally and give me thanks for everything I’ve done already, so to get that and see that I’m making an impact on these kids in such a short period of time definitely gives me a great feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment of potentially being an impact on youth for the rest of their lives.”
“Besides going to the tournaments and winning medals, the goal is to develop these athletes into not just better athletes in the softball world, but as human beings as well. Help them develop into mature young adults and give them that guidance along way, whether that be through the sport of softball itself or from life experiences that I can share with them.”
Those life experiences of Perry’s came in handy when competing at the NAIG earlier this year.
After being postponed from 2020 as a result of COVID-19, the 10th NAIG got underway in Kjipuktuk (Halifax) in July of 2023. The event brought together more than 5,000 athletes, coaches and team staff from 756+ Indigenous First Nations to compete in 16 sports. For many of the athletes on Perry’s team, this was the first major sport event that any of them had ever competed in and as such he worked to prepare them both physically and mentally for what they would face.
“I’m a big advocate for sport psychology, especially in softball, it’s almost 80% mental and 20% physical. So just having the athletes prepare, giving them a formula or a guideline to follow to get the mental aspect prepared for it. I also competed in NAIG…so just having that experience, I was able to share with the athletes what to expect.”
That preparation paid off in gold.
Team Sask went 4-0 in round robin action, outscoring their opponents 46-11, then advanced to the final after shutting out British Columbia 7-0 in the semis. That final is where the team hit a snag. Due to inclement weather, the game was cancelled and Team Sask shared the gold medal with their opponent, Manitoba —who Team Sask defeated 10-6 in the round robin.
And while it wasn’t exactly how Perry and the team envisioned finishing NAIG, it was still a very special moment for the group and one that Perry was able to use for further teaching.
“Obviously you like to win a game and get that last out kind of thing just to experience the emotions and that feeling, but at the same time, you kind of have to accept what happened and we accepted the medals and we knew we were truly champions and that the hard work paid off.”
“We never really looked at it as a loss or a disappointment, just for the fact that from our play in the round robin, it speaks volumes. So even though we got rained out, it’s a lesson too that you have to teach athletes that some things are out of our control and you kind of have to accept it.”
Now that NAIG has come to an end, Perry is looking toward his coaching future and taking steps to gain more new experiences and more opportunities. He’s already been selected as an assistant coach with Saskatchewan’s male softball team for the 2025 Canada Summer Games, which will be led by head coach Dave McCullough, who Perry is excited to work alongside.
“I’ve known Dave a long time, I grew up playing with his son as well. Dave is an excellent coach with an enormous amount of experience coaching, so I’m really looking forward to learn from him to better my skills as a coach and expand my knowledge.”
Following the Canada Games, Perry has no specific plans in place for coaching yet. However, so far his experience has been so gratifying that he’s already set goals to go as far as he possibly can with coaching and hopes to take it to the next level as a coach with the Canadian programs.
“This coaching I’ve really enjoyed every step of the way and it’s expanded my mind to get to that national level now, whether it be junior levels or even senior national levels.”