The Solution to Head Trauma in Sport: Pick the Right Sport

The Solution to Head Trauma in Sport: Pick the Right Sport

It's a classic Seinfeld bit that, as all comedy, is hilarious because it rings true. The helmet is a sign that there is the potential of fatal injury in a given activity. When it comes to astronauts, the necessity is obvious. When it comes to recreational sports, the concept becomes comedic.

There has never been a time in history where traumatic head injury in sport has been more prevalent. We know more and more every day. From the repeated examples of NHL hockey enforcers dying young, to champions in combat sports relinquishing their belts, to more and more NFL players stepping away from the game in their prime. We hardly even understand the full extent of the damage these athletes have sustained from their careers. It's a problem without an obvious solution. In fact, the Sports Concussion Institute's motto is "Concussions are a fact of life in today's sports world."

MMA fighter TJ Grant is one of many who have suffered a concussion.  Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

MMA fighter TJ Grant is one of many who have suffered a concussion.  Photo: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For combat sports like boxing and MMA, the damage is obvious and inherent to the activity. These athletes commit to sacrificing their body and mental future. A recent winner of the UFC's flagship reality show is currently sidelined indefinitely due to concussions. He seems an intelligent individual, recognizes the damage inherent even in his training regiment, but still intends on returning to combat as soon as he is deemed healthy enough. If a life of being punched in the head suits you, there is no helmet required. Fair enough. And not only are sports like boxing deeply entrenched in cultures across the world, but MMA is an infant sport that exploded into popularity within the last two decades. People want to see it.

For the NFL and the NHL, the issue is more complex. Both leagues have made incredible strides in creating concussion protocols, but the research in head trauma is so young that every current player is essentially agreeing to be a test subject for the future. Can penalizing contact directed to the head be enough to create a safe playing environment? Has the rhetoric around head injury been enough to scare the youngest generations away from participating?

Maybe the answer is to veer away from these sports. I speak as a diehard fan of MMA, dedicated participant of keeper fantasy football, and a product of the Canadian house league hockey system. It's an incredibly conflicting sentiment. But as our previous article discussed in detail, these aren't even the most popular sports in the world. Those are soccer, cricket, field hockey, tennis, and volleyball (or basketball depending on who you ask). But you can even point to research that headers in soccer cause neurological damage long-term. Is any sport safe to play?

Volleyball is a sport designed for a healthy future and active lifestyle

When it comes to playing soccer at the youth level, the frequency of headers falls drastically compared to the pros. The risk is really not as prevalent as one or two studies may attempt to claim. But football? I attended a SMALL high school with a strong football program. In just my own year, I know people who have had their knees entire reconstructed, shoulders reconstructed, concussion problems that haven't left a decade after the game, shattered fingers, persistent rib problems. And those are my friends that didn't even play collegiate level football after high school. When I think of how physically gifted, driven, and useful those athletes could've been at other sports (and many of them DID and DO participate in other sports), it baffles me. But for parents, they have the opportunity to direct their children's play; to define their future in sport.

Tennis is safe. Field hockey is safe, though for some reason men are commonly left out of it in North America (it is an Olympic event for both genders). Basketball is safe. Volleyball is safe. Right?

Cal Libero Robin Rostratter wearing a helmet during the 2010 NCAA Women's Volleyball Season.  Photo:  Ron Hall

Cal Libero Robin Rostratter wearing a helmet during the 2010 NCAA Women's Volleyball Season.  Photo: Ron Hall

Well. It sure is MOSTLY safe. There have been multiple examples of volleyball athletes wearing concussion helmets to prevent further injury. All of the cases I came across involved a player hitting their head on the floor diving for a ball. As the Sports Concussion Institute says, it's a risk in sport in general. But outside of extreme circumstances, volleyball is a sport designed for a healthy future and active lifestyle. The beach circuit has been dominated by veterans of the game for years. When you add the growing fanbase worldwide, volleyball seems the obvious choice for the sport of future generations.

Contact football isn't even really an option for the average person outside of high school. The boxing gym offers plenty of options outside of sparring, and jiu jitsu continues to grow as a sport in North America. Corporate softball will never stop being a joy for casual sporting, but baseball seems to be in the twilight of its fandom.

The sports of the future are volleyball, basketball, soccer and tennis. Teaching fundamentals to youth, recreational leagues, public availability, inexpensive base requirements, and a successful product at the professional level are key to sustainable sporting. All of those elements are there for basketball, soccer, and tennis. How does volleyball catch up with its peers at the professional level?

Volleyball is More Popular Than The NFL

Volleyball is More Popular Than The NFL
An outdoor FIVB World League volleyball game in Rome.  Photo: FIVB

An outdoor FIVB World League volleyball game in Rome.  Photo: FIVB

Recently, Viral Patel of The Cauldron, wrote an article about the most popular athlete alive today. In the end, he crowned Cristiano Ronaldo king. That's pretty difficult to disagree with. The man is worth something like $250 million dollars and don't we all agree soccer is the most popular sport on earth?

It's not the predicable result, but the data Patel discovered that you should be interested in. He cites this article as a base for sport popularity worldwide. The numbers weren't based on sport participants, but fans.  The top five was a bit surprising from a Western perspective, other than the obvious soccer and cricket. The break down:

The Most Popular Sports in the World

  1. Soccer
  2. Cricket
  3. Field Hockey
  4. Tennis
  5. Volleyball

Volleyball before Football (American), Baseball, Basketball, and Hockey. Patel's reaction sums it up:

"Wait, field hockey and volleyball?! I mean, I’ve caught some volleyball games during the Summer Olympics, but I am guessing few Americans recognize those sports as that popular."

The Top Athletes

He goes on to highlight, through listing the top 5 athletes by Google Trends metrics for each of the top 10 sports, that volleyball struggles from a lack of name power. The top volleyball athlete is Saori Kimura, who has an unofficial annual contract of about $1.1 million dollars. That's no Cristiano Ronaldo money.

No volleyball player even made Patel's final top 10 list. Even a field hockey player made the last spot. And yet it seems a fair conclusion to arrive at. In fact, most of us in the volleyball community probably take away a positive message about being placed so high in the top 5 sports worldwide. But, to me, this asks so many more questions than it gives answers.

The Most Popular Volleyball Players in the World

Sure, you probably know Giba, Misty and Kerri. But why isn't this translating into a more successful product? And why can't it seem to specifically translate to the North American market? Examples like Ichiro Suzuki, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel (the real-life inspirations behind the Disney film Million Dollar Arm) in baseball and Yao Ming in basketball show the huge success that international athletes have in this market. The diaspora fill stadiums anywhere that these athletes arrive. How else did the 2007 Blue Jays sell out the stadium a couple of times a year? One athlete could bring in more fans than the New York Yankees, all of a sudden. On a larger scale, many consider the MLS to have largely succeeded in North America.

Let's Talk About the Female Athletes

One other thing that needs to be spotlighted is the incredible success of female volleyball athletes. Four of the five names of the most popular volleyball athletes today are women, and they deserve every bit of that. The women's game in volleyball is right up there with tennis in terms of bringing an equal (and at times better) product as the men's to the court. This hasn't been the case with basketball in North America, as recently the best player in the WNBA was retained by her Russian squad that simply offered more money. There isn't a real professional women's hockey league in North America to speak of, for some reason women are pushed to softball instead of baseball, and the Lingerie Football League is bullshit (excuse my language). Why hasn't some massive corporation with nothing to lose taken a chance on a massive international, female fanbase? It's a nothing-to-lose, low risk chance to take. Instead, the same sponsors simply try to force a female audience into a pre-existing male fanbase, followed by quickly giving up.


I believe that volleyball is one of the five most popular sports in the world. But I'm imagining trying to convince my average buddy of that while we grab wings and watch the Raptors game. We all know how that would go. Yet we have young boys who look to the NFL like it's religion. They know if they are good enough, their education will be paid for. They could be a professional, revered and respected in their communities. Millionaires. They could have what we define as a successful life. Why aren't our youth given that same vision for volleyball? 

How do we give it a chance?

Video: Kristina Valjas

Video: Kristina Valjas

We sit down with Canadian beach volleyball national team member Kristina Valjas. Kristina tells us about her 2013 season, seeing her brother compete in Sochi and the effect hiring a personal coach has had on her team.

Volleyball Source Magazine: Issue #17

Volleyball Source Magazine: Issue #17

As usual, we’ve got all the big stories, none bigger than Manitoba and Alberta grabbing CIS Championships in early March. Of course, we have the full CCAA Championship story, too. You’ll also meet some interesting folks, namely aspiring Olympian Kristina Valjas and a veteran of the 1984 Games who’s gone on to rack up six CIS titles as coach at the University of Alberta, that being Terry Danyluk.

Strength: The Missing Component

Strength: The Missing Component

The high volume jumping, attacking and awkward defensive posture in volleyball place a ton of stress on the shoulders, knees, and lower back. Without proper recovery practices (including nutrition, sleep and time to heal) injuries will prevail.

Madawaska Volleyball Camp

Madawaska Volleyball Camp

Editor's Message

Volleyball Source had the great opportunity this past summer to visit Madawaska Volleyball Camp.  We had individually been to camp as guests, campers and as staff, but this summer was the first time all three of us were there together.  We had an absolutely amazing time up and camp and hope to be back next year.  

For more information, and to register for the 2014 season, visit their website at

Photos: Martin Paul and Shauna Cartlidge

It’s hard putting Camp Madawaska into words.

At least that’s what I tell people when they ask me about my favourite place. Actually, when talking about Madawaska, words come very easily. Most of my friends know not to bring up the subject, unless they want an endless stream of camp talk.

Sunrise at Madawaska Volleyball Camp

The cool thing is that I’m not the only one who shares this sentiment towards Madawaska. I’m joined by the thousands of people who have come to camp since its first year in 1972. Whether you are talking to a friend who’s been there 15 years straight, or to someone who hasn’t been in a decade, everyone gets the same excitement in their voice.

But what makes it so special? Why do Canadian volleyball legends like Paul Duerden, as well as casual high school players, flock to camp at the end of every August?

Maybe it could be because of the beautiful setting. Camp Walden, which hosts Madawaska, is a picturesquely Canadian place that deserves a postcard. From the beautiful waterfront with lounging docks, diving boards and even a slide, to the sprawling Field of Dreams filled with volleyball nets, to the beautifully unpolluted night sky that shines with the light of the Milky Way and shooting stars, it’s a sight to behold.

Even better, it is situated literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s so remote that there is no cellphone service at camp.

But there’s more.

The Dining Hall

Maybe it’s the incredible staff of coaches. Ontario’s best are always present, including Dustin Reid, Lionel Woods, the entire staff of Ontario’s 18U boys’ provincial team and, of course, Duerden. They guide campers through five and a half hours of volleyball each day. The mix of young and old coaches provides a perfect opportunity for idea sharing and mentoring, with the campers being the benefactors of this.

But there’s still more.

Maybe it’s the awesome evening programs offered by Madawaska. There’s campfire night, the sing along Hootenanny, a dance, and even an end-of-week talent show. Every night provides a new experience, allowing campers to leave their comfort zones and make new friends.

There’s still more.

Maybe it could be every little thing that happens at camp, from Togetherness at 6 a.m., dinning hall chirps between the beach and court sections, the Brownstein Cup (named after founder Paul Brownstein, see sidebar), singing a track to get your snack, banging on the tables for dessert, the cheer-off, or playing Kings Court after a two-hour practice.

Actually, all of these things are what make Madwaska great, but they’re not the reason that it’s so special for me.

What’s best is the fact that everyone around you shares one thing - the love of volleyball. The passion for the sport that’s shared by coaches and campers is infectious. It’s like a National Championships without the pressure. It’s the purest form of volleyball, because everyone’s there for the right reasons.

Everyone wants to be there.

Madawaska is a safe haven where campers can learn something new, make a new friend, develop new skills, and maybe even share things that they would never share in the outside world. It provides the perfect opportunity for campers to grow, not only as volleyball players, but into the best possible people.

And coaches want to be there just as much, if not more, than the kids they are helping. Many take a week’s vacation to work at Madawaska, and some have even quit jobs to attend. In fact, I’d bet you my entire camp salary that everyone would do it for free!

That’s because the coaches and staff at Madawaska GET IT. Every day, they put themselves out there, go that extra mile, so the kids have the best week of their lives. In turn, they do as well. Day after day, there are coaches who stay late after sessions to let kids work on their serving, or maybe help young campers perform at Madawaska’s Got Talent. And how about Terrel Bramwell giving a female fan one of his National Team jerseys, just to thank her for being a fan!

Shayne White of The University of Waterloo - One of the guest coaches this past summer.

Everything considered, Madawaska isn’t so much a place, it’s more of a family. The reason so many return is because of the people who bring value to camp. These are people with whom I have created a lifetime’s worth of memories. They are the reason I count down the days to camp every year, like a kid waiting for Christmas. The people are the reason I feel instantly at home every late August.

When campers and staff say their teary-eyed farewells on the final day, they aren’t crying because the volleyball is over, or because there won’t be any more dances to attend, or even because they want to go swimming one last time.

They’re crying because of the people they’ve met and grown with over one short week, relationships that will last a lifetime. They’re crying because they know that, for this year, the adventure is over. They also know that nowhere else in the world will they be able to experience what they had at Madawaska.

When I say I want to linger longer, I don’t mean just for a few more hours or a few more days. I want to spend an eternity at Camp Madawaska, making every day the Best Day of My Life.

Paul and Shelley got it started

No story on Madawaska is complete without a mention of camp founders Paul and Shelley Brownstein, who are now happily retired, spending much of the year in the States. Paul was Ontario coach at Canada Games way back when and saw a need to raise the level of the sport in the province.

Through the OVA, he launched a couple of camps aimed at elite athletes. He subsequently hooked up with Ted Cole, owner of Camp Walden. Cole convinced Paul to make Madawaska a “volleyball for all” camp, regardless of skill level. Soon, the Brownsteins were running the camp, with the OVA as sponsor.

For some 30 years, through 2006, Paul and Shelley operated Madawaska, welcoming players and coaches from across the province and even as far away as Japan, Czechoslovakia, California, Venezuela and Chile. They strived to make it a fun experience for all, which it remains to this day.

CIS: Canada West Expansion

CIS: Canada West Expansion


In 2014 Grant MacEwan University will join the Canada West conference in multiple sports, including volleyball. This will stretch the ever-growing conference from 9 teams in 2004 to 13.  For the past 25 years (if not longer) every other conference in Canada has envied the Canada West volleyball league.  For the first time since the 1993-94 season and only the fourth time since 1974-75, a team outside of the Canada West won the CIS championship.  This may be an indication of the improvement of the RSEQ and OUA or rather the regression of the Canada West.  The Canada West conference has shown a slow falling off in results may be stepping back, due in part to a dilution of a talent from a conference that would regularly take home multiple medals from nationals.

As was finalized by the Canada West and their Sports Committee, Volleyball in the Canada West will remain a single division sport with each team playing 24 games (12 home and 12 away).  There was discussion of splitting into two divisions but the geography of the teams in Volleyball likely brought the biggest problem for that schedule.  Dividing into two divisions would split the province of Alberta’s teams in half taking away historical or cross town rivalries. 

I cannot guess why the Canada West wants to continue to add teams and expanding, especially into cities that already have teams.  Bringing in both Grant MacEwan and Mount Royal not only stretches the talent pool further, but it is also removes the development opportunity for fringe athletes who need high quality programs to help them develop in the CCAA. 

The 2012-2013 Canada West Men's Volleyball Champions: The Brandon Bobcats.  Photo: Uwe Welz, U of Alberta

The 2012-2013 Canada West Men's Volleyball Champions: The Brandon Bobcats.  Photo: Uwe Welz, U of Alberta

The problem lies in the fact that instead of teams being able to have a stockpile of strong players, they will have a strong core of 6 or 7 players.  This impacts the development of players as they are not training in environments with the highest level of competition.  To develop the strongest possible athletes, players need to be pushed and have competition every day in practice.  Although this will give fringe players a better chance of playing for CIS team earlier in their career, it may not give them the best chance to fully develop as they will be forced into starting roles opposed to learning from the bench or in college.   There are already a handful of teams who are carrying an excess of players, and some of the fringe players in these cases may be better served to spend some time at the CCAA level.  Instead, the fringe players are getting thrown into game situations at the highest level right out of high school without proper development, which stunts their chance for improvement while they are chasing the higher-level athletes instead of learning to become one of them.

I am not saying that the programs being added are not credible institutions, or lack good facilities and coaching, as they all have excellent resources; but perhaps adding the teams needs to come with some sort of performance expectation.  Possibly dividing the Canada West into a Division 1 and Division 2  where relegation and qualification is required every year (see: Canada West’s new basketball structure that has the long existing members in one pool and the new “weaker” teams playing in another  I would like to see the best possible competition in a sport that will continue to develop top athletes of the highest possible caliber.

FIVB: Making History

FIVB: Making History

Photo: FIVB

Team Canada has made history. The Canadian men's indoor team has reached the World League Finals for the first time. The annual FIVB tournament is in its 24th edition and this is the seventh Canadian participation. Before this season, Canada’s best place in the standings was a 7th in 1992.  This was also the last time Canada qualified for the Olympics.

The Canadians finished first in pool C, with eight victories and only two losses. Six squads will play the finals in Mar del Plata, Argentina from July 17th - 21st.  Besides the host team and Canada, Brazil and Italy have already clinched a berth in the finals. The other two spots will be defined this coming weekend. In pool A, Bulgaria hosts Poland for two matches in front of their home crowd in Varna. Both teams fight for a place in Mar del Plata, while Team USA has a remote chances to make it, as they play group leader Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. In pool B, Germany has to win twice by 3-0 or 3-1 against the surprising Iranians in Tehran. Iran has won four matches so far defeating Italy, Serbia and Cuba, but has no chance to advance. If the Germans fail, the second berth goes to Russia.

Glenn Hoag.  Photo: FIVB

Glenn Hoag.  Photo: FIVB

Glenn Hoag spoke with us upon his arrival in Quebec, after a weekend in Japan where Canada beat the host twice to secure a spot in the finals.

Will be Gavin Schmitt be back to play the in the finals in Mar del Plata? Are you satisfied with the way Dallas Soonias has been playing?

We monitor Gavin's situation day by day. He is progressing well, but as far as going to Argentina we don't know yet. Dallas started a little slow in his first match after his shoulder surgery but got better and better as we played more matches, I am very happy with his performance.

Which match was the toughest for Canada so far in this World League?

I think the last one against Japan, as we knew we needed to win and we would qualify. This was a real test for my group, but they reacted well. But in the end all the matches were hard ones.

What are the main weaknesses of the team this season?

We need to improve on many things. However, since we don't have Gavin, serving is a little weaker. We still have to work on our offence, too.

Why those constant changes in setting? Sometimes Dustin Schneider, sometimes Josh Howatson was in the starting-six. Were they having too many ups and downs?

It's not because of ups and downs, it's just that I need to give Dustin more court time since he stayed in the training centre (in Gatineau, Quebec) this past fall-winter to rehabilitate his knee and now he needs to get a lot of matches to get his level back. We are going to play our continental championship and I have to get him ready. Dustin is a real big part of our offence, and he is getting closer to his best level. Josh played in the French league this year, so he was more ready. But I'm confident that we will improve this aspect of our game with these matches.

Besides that problem with Gavin, any other injuries make you worried for the finals?

For now everyone is pretty healthy, Fred Winters had some problems with his throat on the travel back, but he saw a doctor on Tuesday (July 9th) morning. But apart for small aches and pains nothing major for now.

When will the team be heading to Argentina?

We will likely leave on Sunday.

What are your expectations for the finals? You think about the podium?

We will fight for every point because we don't want to just go there to be there. It will be a tough tournament, but also a great opportunity to play excellent teams, to improve our game, and to compare to these teams and make a good analysis of our level and what we need to work on.
Freddie Winters hits over the Japan block.  Photo: FIVB

Freddie Winters hits over the Japan block.  Photo: FIVB

What are the other goals for this season and also for this cycle?

One goal was to win our pool in World League and reach the finals. We also would like to win our continental championship in September. For the whole cycle the main objective will be to qualify for the Rio Olympics in 2016.

Do you believe Team Canada is ready to challenge the powerhouses?

I think we are getting close. We have a good group and a couple up and coming young players will join us soon and add to the value of the team. The rest is about how I can bring the level of those players to challenge the powerhouses, it will be a big challenge for me, but a good one.

Injury Prevention of Jumper's Knee

ACL Drop Test- also a good test for patients with knee pain. Photo: joshheenan.comJumper's knee has to be the most common injury that results from playing the game of volleyball.  Josh Heenan is the Sacred Heart University Head Baseball Strength and Conditioning Coach and has written an article over on his site about jumper's knee and how to prevent it.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

When looking at patellar tendonitis for our athletes; the first area of concern is the ankle.  Acute ankle injuries make up a majority of volleyball injuries (Bahr & Bahr, 1997).  Injured ankles often lack the proper mobility, mainly in dorsiflexion (e.g. limited motion foot towards the shin).  As you can see in the images [above], poor ankle mobility can lead to poor landing mechanics and put more stress to the knee and can irritate any existing knee pathologies or create new ones.

Jumper's knee is something that I've had to deal with, and I'm sure many of you have as well.  If you are a player of any skill level or a coach, check out the article and follow Josh on twitter for more updates about injury prevention.

Read the full article on injury prevention of jumper's knee.

Feature: How to Increase Your Vertical Jump

If you're looking to jump higher on the court or on the beach, look no further.

Editor's Note: This is the fourth in a series of strength training articles written specifically for volleyball players.  Ryan Jobs B.H.K. of Coastal Fitness prepared this series with his staff and we will be posting new articles regularly.  This article is written by Johann Windt (CSCS B.H.K, PN-1) and focuses on jumping.  You can contact Ryan directly on the Coastal Fitness website, or send us a message on our contact page.

As a strength coach for a large number of volleyball athletes, the most common question I get is: “How can I jump higher?” This article breaks down the answer I give when that question is put forward, and aims to explain the reasons behind the different components of the answer.

Jump Properly then Jump Often

The first thing a person must learn to do in order to jump to their maximum capability is to learn to jump properly. If you are incapable of effectively making an overhand serve, it would be silly to immediately start working on your jump serve. One comes before the other. In the same way, trying to do effective vertical jump training must come after learning how to effectively jump and land. This alludes to the second article in this series, in that you need to learn to move well before you move often. The basic principles that must be present in a proper jump and landing include:

Knee tracking

The knees must remain in alignment with the ankles and hips. An inward collapse on the jump or the landing predisposes an athlete to knee injuries, and will cause issues if done repeatedly. Similarly, it is troublesome if the knees travel too far forward beyond the toe in jumping or landing.