Courtesy Suzanna Coffey
Volleyball’s emerging popularity in Kanesatake only seems to be growing thanks to one man’s efforts to consciously increase the youth’s interest in sports.
“In all honesty, most kids or adolescents would love to play any sport. As long as there is somebody to organize it and coach it, the kids will do it,” said Kanehsata’kehró:non volleyball coach Jeff Nelson.
At Lake of Two Mountains High School in Two Mountains, Nelson will once again be heading the girls’ volleyball program after yielding positive results the year before.
This year, he will be coaching two Benjamin teams (secondary 1 and 2) and one Juvenile team (secondary 5), totaling 34 girls with roughly 12 players per team. He started the program last year after his daughter expressed an interest in playing on a team.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm and the students are really looking forward to it, so that just gives me the drive to keep coming back and to keep doing it,” he said.
Now in his 35th year of coaching sports, Nelson is proud of the impact he’s left among Kanehsata’kehró:non. With help from his assistant coach, Suzanna Coffey, the duo expects to put another successful season in the books.
“Definitely there’ll be different results,” Nelson said. “I think we’re gonna do way better than last year because last year, I took 15 girls who had never played or touched a volleyball.”
The coach explained how last season started off a bit rough. The girls’ Benjamin team had only won one out of eight games in the first tournament, and by the end of the year, they had won six out eight – a major improvement.
“I’m expecting to do a lot better this year, knowing that half of the girls have already played,” he added.
The new season, which is set to start next week, will include four tournaments that’ll last until March 2023, but players already began practicing earlier this month. Nelson estimates that this season could accommodate up to 12 games per tournament.
Returning players have openly declared their excitement to the news of the program’s return this fall and accommodations are being made for new players joining the teams.
“A lot of the parents love it and we definitely get a lot of thank-yous,” said Coffey.
She recounted a few occasions where the coaching staff intervened in situations for players to feel more comfortable and at home with one another, which in turn increased their interest and participation in the sport while building team spirit.
“It’s not easy for every kid. I mean my daughter can jump in with anybody and make friends in f ive seconds, but not every kid is like that,” she said, recalling an occasion where one of the young girls was struggling with shyness.
“We do understand and things happen,” Coffey told the players. “There might be a home life that’s difficult, or maybe for whatever reason, you didn’t have lunch today – anything. Let us know because we will find a solution.”
Nelson will also be managing similar programs next week at Ratihén:te High School and the Rotiwennakéhte elementary school in Kanesatake.
According to Lizane Montreuil, a high school teacher at Ratihén:te, Nelson’s involvement at the school has helped promote inclusivity amongst students regardless of their gender.
“What’s really cool about volleyball that we didn’t have with basketball before is that, with basketball, we didn’t have mixed teams. It was either a girls’ team or a boys’ team, and sometimes we didn’t have enough players for an only-boys or only-girls team,” she said. “With volleyball, we can have actual mixed teams and it gets a lot of kids involved.”
Needless to say, Nelson seems to have struck gold with the volleyball program all around, not only because of his coaching skills, but also because of his ability to make players feel comfortable in their own skin.
“We’re not just here to tell you, ‘This is how you play volleyball,’” Coffey added. “We’re here to say ‘We’re here for you as well.’”