Education doctoral students head to Tokyo Paralympics as volleyball coaches

Kate Rozendaal recently completed her master’s degree in counselling psychology and, before she embarks on her doctoral studies, she and fellow doctoral student Chelsea Hobbs are taking a little side trip. Later this month they’re off to the Tokyo Paralympic Games as assistant coaches for the Canadian Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, these are some ladies I’ve invested a lot of time in, I really care about them, and it’s amazing to see their progress and development,” Rozendaal said. “That alone has been very gratifying, and I can’t wait to see what they can do in competition. We’ve been preparing for four years, so it will be interesting to see what they will bring.”

team photo of the Canadian Women’s Sitting Volleyball TeamRozendaal says she got a foretaste of high-stakes competition when she traveled with the team to Halifax in February 2020 to qualify for the Tokyo Paralympic Games.

“The atmosphere is really cool because the athletes are surrounded by others with the same experience of limb loss and limb impairment. So there’s that sense of belonging in the background of all the competitiveness. There’s a shared understanding of things like rehabilitation and challenges with prosthetics,” she said.

“As an athlete myself, I love the competitive atmosphere. I love to walk into a gym that has a hum, where you can hear every ball bouncing and everyone getting ready for the action to start.”

There are fundamental differences between the volleyball she played and the sitting version, Rozendaal admits, but that just calls on her and her fellow coaches to be as adaptable as the players they’re helping to be their best.

“We’re taking knowledge from the indoor game and trying to apply it to sitting volleyball, which is different. There’s pushing and pulling of limbs instead of running and jumping. Movements can change based on the athlete’s limb loss or function, so we have to provide feedback based on what the individual is capable of doing. It also calls for a lot of humility—para-athletes know their bodies best.”

While fitting coaching duties into the busy schedule of a graduate student hasn’t always been easy, Rozendaal says the benefit she derives from working with elite para-athletes outweighs the occasional time crunches. In fact, it’s inspired her to focus her doctoral research on mental health challenges faced by para-athletes.

“I find it’s a space I have a lot of energy for, I never get tired of it, and that’s why I chose it as a research topic from my doctoral studies, because I see it as an area for professional development and to gain psychological knowledge,” she said.

Restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 will limit opportunities to experience the scenery and culture of Japan, but Rozendaal says that doesn’t diminish her excitement about supporting her team at the pinnacle of international competition.

“I just love the game and I love helping players to improve,” she said. “I’ve experienced the feeling of winning a game, so winning a qualifying game that puts you on the podium, I want to be part of that.”

The Tokyo Paralympic Games take place Aug. 24 - Sept. 5. For more information and the full schedule of events, visit

Photo caption: Chelsea Hobbs (left) and Kate Rozendaal (photo supplied)