skip navigation

The Hidden Game - St. Thomas Red Shirt Leaders

By Kerish Maharaj, Community Outreach & Grassroots Coordinator, 12/05/18, 9:00AM EST


Within the Ontario Volleyball membership, we have these moments that become critical turning points in how club culture, community programs, coaching philosophies and even leadership styles become defined. It ranges from person to person and program to program. It’s special, beautiful and unique but they are everywhere and these moments exist for all of us. When we happen to see one, we try to capture them, collect them and share them with the rest of our membership and the general public as part of the unseen aspects of volleyball in our province.

In 2011, the St. Thomas Spikes® volleyball program was started by two dads. That’s not very uncommon in Ontario sports, especially in volleyball. Like all new programs not concentrated in urban areas, finding coaches to maintain the 8:1 athlete to coach ratio was a challenge. By the time I was introduced to them in 2015, the founders, Dennis and Ken, established an efficient and inspiring youth coaching model to meet that challenge.

Many of the OVA member clubs utilize their older athletes to coach their grassroots programs to fill the gap in coaches. However, from 2011-2016, St. Thomas Spikes wasn’t a club. There were no higher age ranges of rep teams to pull 16-18-year-old ‘young coaches’ from. Instead, Dennis and Ken relied on their belief as teachers - that giving children meaningful opportunities to lead and patiently installing the love of the game through ‘joy and technique’ was worth the investment beyond their own kids and would help fill the coaching gap.

How did they do it? They designed what is now called their ‘Red Shirt Leader’ program because the first batch of Spikes® t-shirts they received from the OVA was red. The program developed kids as young Grade 6 to be the coaches on the court. By coaches, we mean coaches, not helpers, not assistants but actual coaches. In fact, in the current version of the Red Shirt Leader program all adults are the assistants i.e. they toss the balls, they look after the safety and well-being of the participants and address any parent issues. The Red Shirts’ are the primary delivery agents of joy and technique. Even if kids who were Red Shirts left the program (now club St. Thomas Express) to play for a rep team of other clubs - they always came back to be Red Shirts each season if needed.

This episode of the Hidden Game - Volleyball in the Community, explores the history of St. Thomas Express and the spin-off of the benefits of the Red Shirt Leaders. You will hear from the club executives, technical director, parents and the young people themselves about the impact of the culture of joy and technique.