For the love of the game

A woman wearing a Queen's jersey holds a squash racquet up to her face. She peers through the mesh of the racquet with her left eye.

Photography by Lauren Kaufmann

On home court at the Athletics and Recreation Centre this year, the Queen’s women’s squash team cruised to a remarkable eighth consecutive Ontario university championship. For every one of those titles, Lisa Coates, Sc’88, Ed’89, has been the volunteer coach, athlete motivator, and den mother to a talented squad of players.  

“Lisa is a driven, focused, kind, compassionate, and inspirational leader,” says Leslie Dal Cin, former executive director of Athletics and Recreation. “Her enthusiasm for the game and her players is infectious and has been a driving force as a builder for the game of squash at Queen’s and in the Kingston community.”  

Her list of accomplishments is extensive. The team has three times won the award for Varsity Club of the Year at Queen’s. Ms. Coates has also been named Ontario University Athletics Coach of the Year on three occasions. And she has been honoured by Squash Ontario for promoting women’s squash across the province. 

Growing up in Hamilton, Ont., she knew little about the game. However, upon arriving at Queen’s as a student in 1983, she took it up with gusto. Initially, she played recreationally, but in her fourth year she tried out for, and made, the varsity team.  

She enjoyed her engineering classes but quickly realized her passion was teaching and coaching. After completing an education degree, she taught in Kingston-area high schools and coached sports ranging from tennis and volleyball to field hockey.  

Tragedy struck in 2004, when her partner, Carol Cuthbertson, died of brain cancer at the age of 43. Coincidentally, a Kingston friend, Howard Jacobson, lost his spouse to the same disease that year. Ms. Coates and Mr. Jacobson turned their grief into action by raising more than $300,000 for brain cancer research over several years.  

In 2014, Ms. Coates approached Queen’s to see if the squash team needed any help. At the time, two student-athletes were serving as coaches and they were grateful for any assistance. She implemented formal practices that emphasized the building of skills and helped shape the players into a spirited and close-knit team. 

“My main goal as a coach is that I want them to love the sport for the rest of their life – just like I do.”  

Now, the squash team is renowned across the province – and beyond. Before coming to Queen’s for medical school, three players completed their undergrad degrees and played varsity at Harvard, Columbia, and Brown universities.  

“This was our strongest year ever,” says Ms. Coates. “I am so proud of all of them.” 

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