With team registrations for the 2023-24 Ontario Volleyball indoor season having been open for over a month, this OVA season is shaping up to be the largest one yet as Provincial Cup tournaments have been registered by an astounding 1,221 teams. The number marks a 23% increase in registrations across both boys and girls teams with this season tracking 299 and 922 teams, respectively.
The 16U age group has seen the biggest shift in participation with a 58% increase for the boys and 33% for the girls. A breakdown of the age category changes can be viewed in the table below.
|Provincial Cup Division
|Of Age % Change from 2022-23 Season
|Total % Change from 2022-23 Season
The uptick in teams can’t happen without the passion and hard work of OVA clubs by accommodating for the demand of and creating the supply of volleyball opportunities in their communities. They have done this in numerous ways, whether it be through word of mouth in their communities, securing access to more gym time, creating more interest though club-run programs or increasing their coach and administration staff bases.
For the Bluewater Ballistix Volleyball Club it was simply asking themselves 'how can we make this happen?'. The club, tucked away in Region 3's Grey Bruce area, went from 3 teams to 12, a staggering increase.
"There's a dedicated group of volleyball enthusiasts," said Matthew Pickett, President of the Bluewater Ballistix. "We've planted a lot of seeds and drawn a lot of the skilled people together."
These seeds come in the form of area-wide development programs, most notably with Momentum Volleyball community camps and with the Big Bruce Volleyball Club which has been providing opportunities for the areas youth for nearly 40 years. Big Bruce for Boys, run by OVA Hall of Fame inductee Barry Mutrie, operates like a house league; there are weekly practices for the players to develop tactical skills, and play in four tournaments and interclub tournaments with other house leagues from Huron, London, Chatham, Stratford - though any year can bring a different group.
Pickett said that for years there were comments about the lack of a girls team. That was resolved this year with the introduction of Big Bruce for Girls.
"We now have girls and boys Big Bruce, both of which will have upwards of 50 members," the girls camp will run on Monday nights in Walkerton, Pickett added. "It clusters some coaches, local people who love volleyball - they'll help out and volunteer and kids will get a taste, so hopefully that'll grow our girls program moving forward."
Bluewater Ballistix, which has been operating for over a decade, is the next step for the athletes of Big Bruce looking to further develop their volleyball game at the club level. Both of Pickett's children are alumni of the Ballistix and now play for the University of Guelph: Jonny, the captain for the Gryphons and Daniel, a starting Libero. In 2022, Jonny and partner Steven Abrams won gold in beach volleyball at the Canada Summer Games in Niagara.
"We want other kids to have that chance (to play post-secondary) if they want, but it's not all about going to university or college - you just hope that they're still playing in 20 years," said Pickett.
While the end of an athlete's club career culminating in a spot on a university or college roster is appealing, it's still only one of the many other reasons why kids join a club or stay in the sport. Changing the outlook on what it means to play club volleyball is something Patrick Gervais and the Northern Chill Volleyball Club have been working on the last few years.
"We're trying to change the mentality, at least here in Sudbury, that 'oh, well all club teams are the best of the best'. We can see that, but everybody has to start somewhere," he commented. Gervais is the Director of Administration & Media for the club. "Our youngest age groups is where we were happy - we have three 6v6 teams, two TLS teams, two 15U and 16U. The fact that we have more age groups this year was a huge part of our success in getting more kids into the sport."
Getting the word out was instrumental in their efforts, from their Mini Volley program, setting up clinics, developing a social media presence and establishing connections with primary schools in the region to let them know that their club teams exist. Of course getting some name recognition affiliated with your club doesn't hurt either and they've found this in their hiring of Richard Faucher as Technical Director. Faucher is a Sudbury native who played volleyball in the city before competing in Europe where he also did some coaching (Austria, Denmark, Portugal). His coaching experience also extends with coaching roles in Western Canada.
"When he joined the club his name and recognition brought over new coaches and was the one who introduced the Mini Volley Program," said Gervais.
The Mini Volley Program is Northern Chill's grassroots program offered for kids in Grades 1 through 8. Emphasized heavily on the fun, the program provides age-appropriate learning and teamwork building skills for the players as well as functioning to coach coaches. Starting in-tandem with Mini Volley, the Coaches in Training program was created and allows parents to come out and coach with the league coaches. It is an effort to help Northern Chill grow their base of qualified coaches.
Creating these positive - and fun - learning environments for coaches and athletes can help sustain the interest and keep a higher retention for many clubs. Pickett acknowledges that many of his club's alumni come back to help run camps and other initiatives, creating an ongoing cycle founded in positive memories and experiences at Bluewater.
There are multiple reasons why a kid might choose to play volleyball. The introduction of the Early Contact age groups and rallyball style of play might be appealing to those first getting their footing in the sport by being able to focus on touches. Additionally, having fair play rules ensures equal playing time for all in those younger years.
"It's the only sport where you can't body check the person off the ball, you can't take the ball or the puck and run with it and do it yourself...you can only touch the ball for an instant and you have to play as a team," said Pickett. "That's the beauty of it, you have to play with your teammates and build that team environment."
He spoke with one of his 16U coaches who recently competed in a pre-season tournament in Keswick.
"Just the feeling of playing in a new team with everybody working together, seeing who can perform under pressure, the kids all left pumped up".
The 2022-23 OVA indoor volleyball season begins the first weekend of November.