The Leaside Volleyball League kills it with fun and learning

Christian Redmann and volleyball team
Photo by Daniel Girard

Christian Redmann has ample firsthand experience with not making the team.

In the early days of his volleyball career, long before playing the indoor game for the University of Toronto, wearing a Canada jersey on the Beach Volleyball World Tour or competing for a spot at the Summer Olympics, Redmann was cut from his share of school and community club teams.

“I was always overlooked,” says the 35-year-old, who jokes that the only reason he made his high school team in Oro-Medonte township on the northwestern shores of Lake Simcoe in Grade 11 was that the coach found a spot for everyone who tried out. “I’ve been cut a lot, and I never had a place to play.”

Born of that personal experience, Redmann co-founded with 1996 Olympic bronze medalist John Child the Leaside Volleyball League, a 90-minute Sunday session of skills development and games designed for children looking to learn more about the sport without the time commitment a rep team involves.

“It’s not ultra-competitive,” Redmann says. “It’s let’s go play and have some fun.”

It’s proven to be a successful formula. From around 100 kids in the first house league in the fall of 2010, participation has grown to about 350 in this spring’s league, which began play on March 26. There are now four sessions annually – nine weeks in each of the fall and winter, eight weeks in the spring, and, for the second straight year, a six-week summer one, which runs on Wednesdays and starts on May 24.

Each session is broken into three divisions – Junior (Grade 5 and under), Intermediate (Grade 6 to 8), and Senior (Grade 8 to 11) – and culminates with a Championship Day tournament.

“It started modestly, but it’s just continued to grow,” says Redmann, who is a two-time Canadian Beach National Champion, competed in the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico and has the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics on his radar. “We try to make it a place where people like to go.”

There are no tryouts, so when kids sign up to play with their friends they end up on the same team. At 90 minutes once per week over a two-month stretch, it tends to fit more easily into the schedules of busy children and their families than other more competitive sports. And, though it’s a relaxed atmosphere, the entire session is mapped out by coaches so it’s up-tempo, fun and instructive.

“The energy and enthusiasm the coaches convey is exactly what you want kids to experience,” says Pamela Robinson, whose two daughters have enjoyed the house league – Ruby, 13, spent two sessions in it last year before making a rep team this year, while Hilary, 10, is in her first year of house league.

Even though the family lives in the Roncesvalles area, Robinson says they make the drive across the city to play at Leaside because the ratio of players to coaches is sometimes as low as four to one and never above seven to one, while the quality of the instruction is excellent.

“The coaches are high-level players themselves and they create such a great atmosphere for the kids,” says Robinson, whose daughters also play house league hockey, basketball, softball, and swim and dance competitively. “They’re trying to coach people to be good sportspeople. It’s really good and it’s definitely worth the drive.” ?

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