It’s strange when I look back and think that only 6 years ago, I hadn’t had any involvement in any form of Volleyball and now I run my own business delivering the sport full time! I will now try to share my journey and explain some of the things I have learnt along the way.
I think relatively unusually for a person with no disability, I actually started playing Sitting Volleyball before I had ever played any other form of the game. I was studying Sport at Loughborough University when a relative began playing for the Great Britain sitting team and I went along to watch their training session. As they were just starting out, I was invited to join in with the session and immediately enjoyed playing the sport and the new challenges it brought me.
I remember being coerced into taking part in a fitness session in which we did some speed movement drills. I attempted to follow the future London 2012 Paralympic 200m Gold Medalist, Richard Whitehead around the court, which was an incredibly eye opening experience. As a fit (ish), ‘able-bodied’ 20 year old, I was confident that I would be able to hold my own but that wasn’t really the case, certainly not compared to Rich! His movement and speed around the court amazed me and instantly my perceptions of fitness and ability/disability were challenged and widened.
I was then ‘volunteered’ by my relative to get involved with the local Volleyball Club, Loughborough Lions, who were keen to develop a sitting volleyball team in the area and I began facilitating sessions. Steve Jones, the chair of the club and more recently the Head Coach of the GB Women’s team at London 2012, coached the sessions until one week he was stuck in a meeting and I was thrown into my first experience of coaching! To this day, I am still coaching this team although I hope that my sessions now are slightly better than that first one!
After my newfound love for volleyball, I graduated from University took up a job working for Volleyball England (the National Governing Body for all Volleyball) as a ‘Business Support Administrator’. I quickly moved to be the ‘Coaching Administrator’ and then in January 2012 I became the Sitting Volleyball Development Officer. I saw this as a fantastic opportunity, as it allowed me to work with the club network around England, supporting their development and bringing new people, particularly young people, into the sport. One of the most rewarding aspects was delivering sessions with Limb Power at their Junior Amputee Games. Seeing so many young people, many of them experiencing sports for the first time, having so much fun and starting to realize the potential that they have.
I have also been involved with the Great Britain Sitting Men’s team as the Assistant Team Manager, which gave me the opportunity to learn a huge amount about being involved with an elite sports team and to see first hand a range of different coaching. I have supported a number of training sessions delivered by Ian Legrand and Ashley Trodden and enjoyed learning from their difference in styles as well as from the philosophies and activities that they used. It has also given me the opportunity to watch other international coaches in match situations and I have looked to take something from each one.
In 2009 I went with a group to Saudi Arabia, which was my first real opportunity to travel with a squad and experience a trip abroad. As well as seeing a whole other side to sitting volleyball, the trip also fell during Ramadan, which provided an interesting insight into the culture of the Middle East.
Without doubt, the highlight of my involvement with sitting volleyball was London 2012. Firstly, I was a Games Maker, delivering the technical requirements of the sport and I will always remember minutes before the teams came out for the men’s Gold Medal match between Iran and Bosnia when we checked the court and discovered the 2m line was ‘scuffed’ and in need of changing. The training paid off and we replaced it with what seemed to be the world watching, leaving the court looking worthy to host the incredible game that followed. Perhaps the biggest privilege about being in this role was the chance to be up close and personal with games of the highest level. Again, watching the interaction between coaches and their players fascinated me, both within the games and on the warm up court before hand. I was, like many others, very impressed with the German Men’s team. The young, athletic players seemed to work well together as a unit and were enjoyable to watch.
During the Games I was invited to be a part of the Paralympics GB Inspiration Programme offering a ‘mini Games experience’ to those who had the potential to be involved in the Games in the future. We explored competition venues, Paralympics GB House and the athlete village, including eating in the food hall! The experience opened my eyes to the number of people who are involved behind the scenes in performance sport and gave me an appreciation of some of the many differences between other international competitions and the Paralympic Games.
My final role last summer was back with the Great Britain teams, helping out with general organization and social media posting, but predominantly I got to be a fan! The highlight was the Men’s team beating Morocco to record the first ever GBR sitting volleyball win in a Paralympic Games. I was fortunate to be able to share the moment with one of the players in the squad, John ‘Wozza’ Worrall who sat alongside me. I first met him on the trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010 just after he started playing and his journey epitomized the journey of the squad as a whole. Through hard work and dedication, both on and off court, Wozza and the rest of the squad came a huge way in the 2 years before the games. The squad performed at their highest level to date in London and I was incredibly proud to have played a small part.
Unfortunately, following a decrease in funding for volleyball, there have been some staffing changes at Volleyball England and I have recently left the organization. I have now set up my own business, the ‘Sitting Volleyball Experience’ to enable me to continue working in the sport full time. Some people may think this is crazy, but in the run up to the Paralympics, there was a huge surge in interest in Paralympic and particularly inclusive sports, largely from within the education sector. Following the Games there is more awareness than ever before for Paralympic sport, and Sitting Volleyball has certainly benefitted from this. I am hoping to capitalise on this and generate even more demand as I move ahead with the business. I offer coaching to schools and community groups, teacher and leadership training, competition delivery and corporate team building activities. My aims for the business are to provide as many people as possible with a positive experience of the sport as well as being lucky enough to earn a living doing something I love.
My experiences over the last 6 years have allowed me to develop a huge passion for Sitting Volleyball and I feel lucky to have been part of its huge growth over that time. In the beginning, many others and myself had never heard of the sport where as now many people have experienced it or at least aware that it isn’t played in a wheelchair. The 2012 Paralympic Games has inspired me to continue my involvement with Sitting Volleyball, developing the sport, attracting new players to it and strengthening the GB teams to allow them even more success in the future. The journey so far has been pretty special but I hope it is only just beginning!
I am learning all the time and would be very interested to share thoughts and ideas with anyone else around the world that has taken this step and become a full time community sitting volleyball coach?
If you would like to find out more about the work I am doing with the Sitting Volleyball Experience, check out our website: www.sittingvolleyballexperience.co.uk and follow us on:
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