“Think training is hard? Try losing.”
These are the words painted on the wall of the Brock Sports Performance (BSP) Centre. It’s a facility that trains not just Brock athletes, but athletes from all over the world to achieve their best results. Vicki Bendus is at the centre of it.
Walking into the weight room, Bendus is not hard to spot — she is entirely focused on her athletes and the testing that they happen to be doing on a particular day. Everyone seems to default to her expertise.
Bendus is a lead sports performance coach at BSP.
She began her career as a hockey player, attracting attention from Mercyhurst University while leading the Aurora Panthers in scoring during the 2006-07 season. Bendus spent four years with the Mercyhurst Lakers, being named an alternate captain in 2010-11. She finished her NCAA career with 69 goals, scoring a career high 28 in 2009-10. Bendus won the Patty Kazmaeier award in 2010, which goes to the top women’s hockey player in the NCAA. That same year, she earned the NCAA Elite 88 Award (now the Elite 90 award) which is awarded to the student athlete with the highest grade point average participating in an NCAA championship event.
It was while playing at Mercyhurst that Bendus developed an interest in strength and conditioning.
“I got really passionate about it because I was trying to find ways to better train myself and to find an edge over my competition and really just make myself better,” said Bendus.
She started researching, reading books, watching educational videos, all while also competing at the NCAA level and pursuing a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology.
After graduating in 2011, Bendus was selected fourth overall in the CWHL draft by the Brampton Thunder. She scored 15 goals in 27 games in her first year and was selected to represent Canada in the world championships. Bendus played five games in the tournament and won gold.
She made the jump to coaching while still playing full time with the Thunder. She decided to pursue a master’s degree at Brock because it allowed her to play full time while studying and doing research. Bendus says she was at the right place at the right time when Steve Lidstone started the Sports Performance program nearly four years ago.
“I was lucky that I was already working with the hockey teams for my master’s research and it was the right place at the right time and I got hired on full-time to work with the teams at Brock,” she said.
Bendus made the jump from playing to coaching, playing her last full season with the Thunder in 2012-13.
“At the start of every hockey season in September you definitely can feel the heartstrings pulling a little bit, wanting that feeling of being out there. It gets a little bit, I would say, less [intense] every year.”
Bendus now finds fulfillment through her athletes.
“I am fortunate that I get to feel a little bit of that through the coaching and you get to feel that with the athletes,” she said.
The athletes themselves have an enormous amount of respect and appreciation for her. Athletes mention BSP as a catalyst for their success, often mentioning Bendus herself by name.
“We’ve been here for four years almost,” said Bendus. “We’ve had players who have come through our complete program from their first year in university to graduating as seniors.”
Bendus and BSP work with Brock’s varsity teams but they also work with hockey programs in the area, volleyball programs, basketball programs as well as Wrestling Canada. Bendus, along with BSP, works to tailor the training to the athlete. It’s incredibly clear, speaking to Bendus, that she understands the human element of sports. The need for personalized attention and training is not lost on her.
“We don’t train a youth athlete the same as a high school athlete and we don’t train a high school athlete the same as a university level athlete,” said Bendus. “We treat them as a developing athlete and at each point of that development stage we try to give them the appropriate training for what they need at that time point.”
That training varies based on the demands of the sport a particular athlete is training for. Bendus works with the Brock soccer teams. The soccer players who come to her typically have limited experience in weight rooms doing strength and conditioning training.
“The progress that we see with them is quite incredible because they’re so raw. So we see huge developments in their strength in their speed in their overall fitness level and their overall comfort in the weight room.”
She also works closely with the Brock hockey teams. The training plans she develops for them can end up being quite different. Men’s hockey players typically start their university careers later than other varsity athletes, many of them being eligible to play in junior leagues as old as 21.
“For them it’s just kind of optimizing their strength and power and speed and making sure they stay as healthy as possible,” said Bendus.
It’s the progress that Bendus takes pride in. Training is hard, losing is harder, so Bendus gives her athletes the tools they need to give them the best shot at winning. She’s watched athletes go from first years to seniors and worked with them the entire time.
“You get to see them not only mature as athletes but mature as students and as adults and it’s kind of neat to see that whole process and how it develops because it’s different for each athlete so I think it’s neat to be able to see that and get to be a part of it and contribute to it in whatever way I can.”