By Nicole Ban
Para High-Performance Manager
Women’s Sitting Volleyball Head Coach, Team Canada
The first thing that I did before I learned the sport, was to sit down and play.
It was 2015, I had just been hired as the assistant coach of Team Canada Sitting Volleyball and although I played indoor volleyball at the university level and was in my Masters of Coaching, I didn’t know anything about sitting volleyball.
So, I sat down, asked a lot of questions and learned the sport from the beginning. I thought that if I am going to learn a new sport and coach para-athletes, I better begin by playing and asking about everything I was unsure of.
Four and a half years later, I am now the Head Coach, am fully immersed in the para-world and am completely comfortable with the culture of sitting volleyball.
I currently coach at MacEwan University as well, so I am familiar with both the able-bodied and para-side of volleyball and can definitely list all of the differences. Sitting volleyball is lower to the ground, extremely fast and incredibly dynamic. The majority of our athletes have a prosthetic leg or two, so when they play, they take their prosthetic off and sit on the ground. There is no real equipment outside of shoes, a net and a volleyball, but those are the few similarities.
You sit on the ground and your butt becomes your feet. Your butt has to be behind the service line. There is no jumping, so if you dive your hips need to be on the ground. Passing, setting and attacking are the same, but in terms of rules, the main change is that you can block the serve. If you haven’t been out to a game, I highly recommend it because it’s played on a smaller court, the ball comes at players very quickly, ball is control is essential and it’s very entertaining to watch.
I won’t lie, sitting volleyball isn’t a huge sport in Canada, but it is gaining popularity. We are currently ranked 5th in the world and are continuing to climb the rankings. But this sport is so much more than rankings and isn’t just a game of volleyball. We get a range of athletes, most who have played a sport but then have an accident or some type of injury and are now unable to play able-bodied sport or volleyball.
So, whether it’s through the hospital, through rehabilitation or through word of mouth, we get athletes who seek us out to return to team sport.
Recently, we had a young girl who was in an accident and lost a limb. She was a soccer athlete before joining us and picked up the sport quickly but struggled with her serve. She kept working on it and when she finally did get her first serve over the net, the entire team stopped to celebrate her success; cheering, clapping and congratulating her.
That’s what I love about this parasport.
As a coach, you want to see your team achieve at the highest levels and we definitely focus on high-performance, but it’s more than that for this team. It’s not only winning and losing; it’s about life.
I could honestly write a book about what I have learned from these women. They face much more than most of us ever will and yes, they struggle but they never complain. They show up every day and they put in the work needed. All they ever want or ask is that they are treated like any other athlete.
Being on this team is so much bigger than just the sport. It’s part of their identity, their belonging, their recovery and on top of all that, they get to represent Canada and fight for a medal. This sport and this team have made more of an impact on me, than any other team I’ve ever coached.
This February we will fight for the last spot to compete at the Paralympics in Tokyo and we hope that we can not only secure the last qualifying spot but compete for a gold medal at the games.
These athletes have changed my life and my perspective as a not only a coach but a person, I am grateful, every day, for this opportunity to work with these exceptional humans.
See you on the court,
Feature Image Photo Credit: Canadian Paralympic Committee