11/25/2014 02:00 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST

Johanne Begin named first female head coach of Canadian women's water polo team

Former Canadian water polo player Johanne Begin knows what it's like to compete on the sport's biggest stage.

Her mission now is to get the national women's team back to the Olympics for the first time since 2004.

Begin had the interim tag removed from her title Tuesday as Water Polo Canada named her the first women's senior head coach in the organization's history. She had served in the position on an interim basis following Guy Baker's departure last August.

"It's giving back to the athletes what I learned (as a player)," Begin said from Montreal. "I want this team to become a reflection of what I believe in."

The 43-year-old native of Quebec City helped Canada to a fifth-place finish at the Sydney Games in 2000 when women's water polo made its Olympic debut. She was also on the Canadian side that finished seventh at the Athens Games in 2004.

Canada did not qualify for the 2008 Beijing Games or the London Games four years later. Begin, known for her strong leadership and work ethic as a player, is determined to change that.

"Right now we're concentrating too much on the results ... but we're forgetting about every day at the pool," she said. "Why are you there every day at the pool challenging yourself and your teammates? This is what's going to make the difference between the top teams."

Begin said she has already seen positive changes from her players — a lineup that features a mix of youngsters and veterans — since she returned to the program. She has spent the last few months planning the upcoming season and will get started next month with games in Hungary against the national side and pro teams.

"What's going to make the difference?" Begin said. "Your heart and passion for the sport. Why you're there. The results will come from that, for sure."

Begin was a member of the Canadian team from 1991 through 2007 and also played on several European pro teams over her career. She also previously served as an assistant coach for the national side.

"She has a very real and intimate knowledge of what to expect over the next 18 months and how to get to where we want to go as a team," high performance director Roger Archambault said in a release. "At the same time, she has shown dramatic growth and development of her coaching skills since being hired with Water Polo Canada and she really has the potential to bring this team to the next level."

Begin has competed at four world championships and two Pan American Games. The two highlight events on the 2015 calendar are next summer's Pan Am Games in Toronto and the world championships in Kazan, Russia.

"During the (months ahead) we have to share how to prepare to go there," Begin said. "This is where my experience can be very useful. The girls are looking for that. This is exactly what they're expecting from me.

"Yes, I'm the coach on the pool deck. But I need to be there for them as a person and as an athlete."

The Rio Olympic qualifier will be held in April 2016.


Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.