Growing up in the small community of Lucky Lake, Saskatchewan, Tiffany Dodds-Little always thought she was going to be an elementary teacher when she grew up. She had two exemplary teachers in her life to inspire this career aspiration--her mom and dad. Both were teachers—elementary and high school math respectively—and they were both very active in the sporting community of Lucky Lake, coaching every team the 300-person town had over the course of 30 years. Naturally, Tiffany also grew up loving sport and recreation.
Putting the term “multi-sport athlete” to work, Tiffany played hockey, ringette, softball, basketball, badminton, curling, track and field, and volleyball from an early age. While she excelled at all, volleyball was the sport that captured her heart the most. Her volleyball skills and abilities as a multi-sport athlete landed her a spot first on the Youth then on the Junior National Women’s Volleyball team. Tiffany’s performance on the court caught the eye of University of Alberta Pandas Volleyball coach, Laurie Eisler, and soon after the Lucky Lake product was on her way to Alberta to make Edmonton her home.
Tiffany arrived on the University of Alberta campus in 2004. Yes, you read that correctly, 2004. In 2004, the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation was still the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, and Tiffany was enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Recreation and Leisure Studies (BARLS), which is now the Bachelor of Arts in Recreation, Sport and Tourism. She wasn’t sure she wanted to be a teacher anymore, and Eisler thought the BARLS program was the perfect fit for Tiffany’s love of sport, recreation and leadership.
The first two years of her BARLS and Pandas volleyball program was a success—she did well in her classes, and her and her teammates captured what was then the CIS (now U Sports) National Championship in 2006. But, Tiffany’s desire to play professional volleyball was growing stronger. During the summers, she was on the Canadian Senior National Team, playing at the highest level Canadian volleyball offered. She was also unsure if she gave up on her childhood career goals of being a teacher, and was considering transferring programs. The competitive edge of being an elite athlete won out, and Tiffany made the very tough decision of leaving the University of Alberta to pursue a professional volleyball career.
For the next eight years, Tiffany travelled all over the world pursuing her dream. She signed her first pro contract with a team in Korea in 2007, making her the first Canadian female (and only second Canadian ever) to accept a contract in the country. She went on to play pro in Spain, Puerto Rico, Japan and Indonesia. In 2015, Tiffany decided to retire. Her husband, who also played professional volleyball, had also recently retired and they both made the decision to start the next chapter of their lives.
After an illustrious volleyball career, it was a tough transition for Tiffany to discover her new identity.
“For a large part of my live, volleyball defined me. I feel that it partially still does. I know so many people in the volleyball world who didn’t finish their schooling, and found it hard to transition back into the ‘real world’ once their careers ended. I didn’t want that to be me. The athlete in me knew I had to finish my schooling!”
Shortly after she retired, Tiffany contacted the Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation student services office to find out what she needed to do to complete her now Bachelor of Arts in Recreation, Sport and Tourism (BARST) degree. She met the requirements and returned to class in Fall 2015, almost 10 years to the day she first set foot on the UAlberta campus. This time, as a 30-year-old-woman, Tiffany had a whole new perspective on coursework, assignments and learning.
“I was a keener sitting at the front of every class, taking notes and participating in discussions. I admit that it was a challenge to write papers, read textbooks and study for exams again, but I found that my time-management skills I had gained throughout my career and my seriousness about my studies helped make it a lot easier. It also helped that I didn’t have practice and games to run off to after class as I had 10 years ago.”
While Tiffany found the transition back to school a challenge—especially when she was closer in age to some of her professors than she was to her classmates—she found the familiarity of campus and the Faculty comforting. Having professors she knew 10 years ago still here, and taking their classes was also invigorating for her.
“I was lucky to return to professors and instructors like Tom Hinch, Billy Strean, MaryAnn Rintoul, John Dunn, Judy Davidson and Brian Soebbing, just to name a few. They were wonderful and I truly enjoyed their classes and their passion for teaching.”
Before starting her final semester, Tiffany and her husband received the exciting news that they would be expecting a child in late 2017. She completed her last full semester and practicum while pregnant, and, on October 17, 2017, while taking her last two courses online, the Dodds-Little family welcomed a beautiful baby girl, Olivia Mae Little.
Olivia will be in the crowd with Tiffany’s husband, Gavin, and Gary and Lois on Wednesday, November 21 cheering on her mom as Tiffany walks across the stage to proudly accept her Bachelor of Arts in Recreation, Sport and Tourism degree.
While Tiffany isn’t sure what comes next for her career-wise, she is excited and ready to take the dedication, leadership, determination, pride, teamwork and positivity she developed as an athlete and translate it into a career in the recreation, sport and tourism industry. No matter where Tiffany’s life goes next, she is proud of the example she is setting for her daughter, just like her parents did for her.
“I will be so proud to tell Olivia when she’s older that I finished my last semester of university while pregnant with her, exhausted trying to write papers and study while in my first trimester. I will be proud to tell her that I finished my last two courses online, after she was born, to complete my degree. I did this to better myself, to get a better job and to give her the best life I am able to. I will be proud to tell her that I graduated from the prestigious University of Alberta!”