Pakmen Influence Growth of Volleyball

Published in the May 7, 2012 edition of The Mississauga News. Written by Iain Colpitts.

Kelly Smith has never played volleyball. And, since he’s 51 years old, he doubts he ever will.

Despite his lack of playing experience, Smith is the head coach and founder of Mississauga’s Pakmen Volleyball Club, the largest and most diverse community volleyball club in Canada, with some 1,500 members of various cultures from Mississauga and the surrounding area.

Smith, a David Leeder Middle School teacher who has been running the Pakmen program out of the school since 2002, feels because of the club, volleyball has evolved into the most-played sport in Peel and, possibly, Ontario.

“It’s catching on, there’s no doubt about it,” Smith said. “As far as participation, I don’t think there’s a sport with more kids playing than volleyball.”
Smith believes volleyball is such a popular sport because it’s commonly played in physical education classes from elementary to high school and practically every school in Ontario has multiple boys’ and girls’ volleyball teams.

At David Leeder alone, Smith says there are six teams from grades 6 to 8 and the school also has a popular houseleague development program.
Smith got into coaching volleyball 15 years ago as a teacher at Ramer Wood Public School in Markham. He volunteered out of necessity, but quickly fell in love with the game and eventually developed the Pakmen program as an avenue for his Grade 8 David Leeder students to continue playing after they graduated.

Although volleyball requires great athleticism and strategic thinking, Smith is a big advocate for the sport for another reason.

“It’s the ultimate set of life lessons and skills,” he said. “It teaches people teamwork, goal setting, communication and how to deal with pressure and adversity. If you think of everything you’d want your kids to learn about, you’d learn it all in volleyball.”

Pakmen originally started with 140 players and only one rep team. Over 10 years, membership has increased steadily to 1,500 and there are now several rep teams for both boys and girls.

Since 2004, Pakmen teams have captured more than 20 Ontario Volleyball Association titles and seven national championships.

Andrew Ceolin, an assistant coach on Pakmen’s under-17 boys’ team, gives full credit to Smith for building the club from the ground up.

“It says a lot to start up a club like that,” said Ceolin, who also coaches at The Valleys Senior Public School. “Being that successful doesn’t happen overnight. He’s got a lot of qualities you’d want to see in a great coach, but the one thing he really has is the passion.”

Smith speaks proudly of the club’s track record, but he’s even more impressed by the club’s diversity. He feels the club is a reflection of Mississauga, a city with many ethnic and cultural groups within its boundaries.

“(Volleyball) really lends itself to diversity and inclusiveness,” Smith said. “The costs are relatively cheap and it’s a sport where there’s no body contact, which is appealing to a lot of kids.”

Smith may be the first person to tell you that volleyball is booming in Canada, but he won’t be the only one. Last October, Volleyball Magazine, an American publication, printed an article entitled Volleyball on the Rise in Canada.

The story cites Pakmen and the Durham Attack, Canada’s second-largest program, as big reasons for the game’s popularity in this country. It also says volleyball is the sixth most-played sport in Canada with some 773,000 active players.

After they’ve moved on from Pakmen, many alums have enjoyed success at the collegiate level.

One of the top graduates from Pakmen is Terrel Bramwell, who led the Humber Hawks to the Canadian Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) championship in March and was named the CCAA’s Player of the Year in the process.

Four other members of that team (Andre Smith, Mack Robertson, Derek Quinn and Jason Mascoll) are also Pakmen grads and Humber coach Wayne Wilkins also serves as Pakmen’s under-18 boys’ coach.

In addition, Pakmen grad Niko Rukavina recently led the Queen’s Golden Gaels to the Ontario University Athletics championship in February and fellow Pakmen alum Kristian Kuld is a member of the UCLA Bruins, the fifth-ranked collegiate team in the United States.

Meanwhile, Nathan Murdock and Ricky Brar, both members of Pakmen’s under-17 boys’ team that Smith coaches, are sure to be post-secondary stars in the near future.

Each has already led their respective high school teams to a Peel championship. Murdock was part of the Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association champion Mississauga Lions in 2010 and Brar was instrumental in the Brampton Centennial Bucks’ championship run in 2011.

Both consider Smith not only their coach, but a mentor as well.

“He teaches us about gratitude,” Murdock said. “Sometimes when we’re down (in a tournament), he brings us all in and asks us what we’re thankful for. That hypes us up and makes us want to compete harder.”

“I think he just knows what to say at the right time,” said Brar. “He’s always pushing us forward and never back.”

Smith oversees his practices as if he’s teaching a classroom full of students. He makes sure no one talks while he does and at one point during a Thursday night practice in April, he singled out a player for chewing gum while he was talking.

He works with players individually and continuously informs them what their roles are with the team.

Murdock says Smith can be tough, but he’s always fair.

“He gives us freedom,” he said. “He’s strict, but he’ll also tell us jokes and old stories. He knows exactly what to do with us.”

The key aspect of Smith’s agenda is to provide a fun environment for his players. Club practices are typically high-tempo sessions and players often show a lot of intensity during scrimmages.

Brar appreciates Smith because he continuously goes out of his way to develop the program.

“He cares for us,” Brar explained. “He built two beach courses at (David Leeder) just for us, he puts together extra practices on the weekends and gets special coaches for us.”

Running a successful program like Pakmen requires a disciplined coach. And while Smith admits he’s a serious person, he makes sure he never yells at his players.

“I want to treat these guys with respect,” he said. “They all know I’m serious and passionate because I put a lot into this program. They put a lot into it too and I just keep reminding them what our goals are.”

The club is renowned for its rep teams, but some 90 per cent of the club’s 1,500 players are involved with developmental programs in both indoor and beach volleyball.

Smith said he’s still surprised by how much the program has grown over 10 years.

“I never thought it would have grown and turned out the way it did,” he said. “The intention when I started it was to provide an avenue for my Grade 8 team to keep playing volleyball. The kids fell in love with the game and I had no idea that everyone else would fall in love with the game as the years went by. It just caught on.”