The Unlikely Coach

Published in the Spring 2012 edition of Sweat Magazine, the official magazine of the OCAA

Right on time, the small gym at David Leeder Middle School in Mississauga, Ont. starts to fill with Kelly Smith’s current under-17 Pakmen team. A small crowd of players start to gather, looking focused and ready to work. They’re currently the defending national champions, which isn’t shocking considering the club’s history of winning championships and moulding start players. What might be surprising is that the club’s coach and founder, Kelly Smith, started this group without ever having played in a volleyball league or having much interest in the sport.

Smith, who’s been coaching this particular team for four years, welcomes his players and makes friendly chit-chat with the parents as everyone gets ready – after that it’s all business. When the last player suits up, Smith starts a coaching regimen that has propelled a number of athletes to the forefront of college volleyball.

“Smith had a ridiculous impact,” says Jessy Satti, former member of the first Pakmen team, currently playing for Sheridan and now a development league coach. “Back in grade eight we had never played volleyball before, then Smith came along and introduced us to the sport. He taught us a real simple and efficient way to play volleyball. We started winning and were hooked ever since.”

The Pakmen club has been the cornerstone for building some of the best volleyball players in Ontario and the country since being established in 2002. Terrel Bramwell, another member of the first Pakmen team in 2002 is a great example of a star player who came out of the club. He was recently named the OCAA’s player of the year for his work on the Humber Hawks, which won the 2012 nations. Other Pakmen players, Andre Smith and Derek Quinn, also play for the Hawks.

“Pakmen Volleyball Club really started my career,” says Bramwell. “Smith cared about his players a lot. He worked with us on and off the court and gave us opportunities to work and grow as individuals.”

Smith is modest when it comes to discussing his role in the coaching of these players, saying there’s no “secret formula” for developing star players.

“I take the [coaching] courses just because they’re mandatory. I love the game so much. I read books, watch videos, talk to other coaches and just try to improve as a coach,” says Smith. “I know it’s working.”

Satti says that Smith made sure to drill the basics of every position into every player, assuring flexibility on the court.

“He just takes really good young players, teaches them the basics of volleyball and they just start to excel at their own rate. A lot of those guys that Kelly continues to coach throughout the years on his Pakmen team continues to excel.”

Despite not having much experience in the sport, Smith stepped up to fill a need for a coach at his middle school. His students enjoyed playing so much that he decided to form a club. Since then, Pakmen Volleyball Club has grown to more than 1,500 players from various backgrounds, making it the largest and most diverse club in Canada.

“I never thought it was going to grow like this,” says Smith. “The intention was just to have one team, maybe two and then it just kept growing and growing. That’s why we’re producing so many good players now, because of the sheer numbers.”

Another of those star players is Kristian Kuld, who started traiing with Pakmen during his under-17 team beach volleyball season, helping them become the top ranked beach volleyball team in Canada. After another year, with Pakmen’s under-18 indoor team, he became the first walk-on tryout player to make the UCLA Bruins in a decade.

In his relatively short time with Smith, Kuld helped win a multitude of tournaments, including the 2008 CanAm Championships, and the 2008 Junior Olympics for beach volleyball. While Kuld was a volleyball player before coming to Pakmen he credits much of his success to his time being coached by Smith.

“He deserves all the credit in the world for the experiences we had,” says Kuld. “Without him there was no way we would have won.”

Kuld also gives Smith credit in his current position wiht the UCLA Bruins.

“He was able to contact the coaching staff here at UCLA and he got me the opportunity to try out for the team, which is very difficult. I feel like he probably put in a pretty good word for me.”

Satti says he uses Smith’s techniques in his current coaching routine.

“I coach what I learned and what I learned, I learned from Smith,” says Satti. “All the basics I was taught are, to a tee, what I teach my kids. I know how successful and how fast I learned to play, so I wouldn’t change it at all. Everything I learned when I was 14 I’m teaching these kids.”

“Smith is the sole reason why we are the players we are today, and why we played as well as we did. Most coaches wouldn’t do what Smith did for us.”