Women in Volleyball - the Italian job
12th April 2017
Until now, our Women in Volleyball stories (inspired by Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign) have been about women who have already done a huge amount within volleyball. We’ve spoken to coaches, referees and club administrators, all doing their bit to keep building the sport they love. Today, we switch tack somewhat to look at a regional initiative which is hoping to deliver the stars of tomorrow as 12 talented young women head to Italy for a volleyball-packed five day trip.
When the leaders of the North-West’s junior development programme decided to reinvent their programme recently, they were well aware of the competition they were up against.
As Steve Kerr, one of the local coaches, explained: “We knew we had to have a good product. We’re not just competing with other sports for these girls’ free time. We’re also up against school and family commitments. If the product isn’t good enough, you’ve got no chance. There’s too many other ways these talented athletes can spend their time.”
Clear that their junior development programme had to comprise more than just a few ad hoc training sessions in the run-up to the annual Inter-Regional Championships at the end of May, the North-West administrators set about creating something far bigger. What they wanted to deliver was an immersive volleyballing experience which would go above and beyond a junior club player’s typical expectations.
The net result was a 140 hour, year-long training programme for U-14 and U-16 girls. With 20 training sessions for each age group, plus weekend and holiday training camps as well as matches against the Scotland Juniors and Cadets, this was an extensive undertaking.
However, arguably the crown jewel in the schedule is the chance to train and play abroad during an Easter week trip to Ponte San Marco in Italy. For the dozen U-16 girls fortunate enough to be selected for the trip, an intensive few days beckoned when they flew out of the UK yesterday, with double training sessions most days as well as four matches against local club and school opposition.
During their time in Italy, the squad is being hosted by Real Volley, the former club of one of the juniors now enrolled on the North-West programme. Their itinerary includes a trip to meet Pomi Casalmaggiore, the current CEV Women’s Champions League holders, who are based nearby.
If the trip can become an established part of the North-West programme, the intention is to compete in the annual Tutto Volley Figaroli junior tournament. For this first year though, it’s just about laying the foundations for years to come.
Not that the young women don’t have plenty to compete for. Every one of the 12 knows there are still places in the North-West’s inter-regional squad to play for, as Steve Kerr explained: “This trip was never about just bringing the 12 best players along. We wanted to use this trip to reward players for their effort and commitment; to recognise those who’ve really improved throughout the year. There are a further 13 U-16 girls back at home, plus another 39 in the U-14s, who can all now see that we’re trying to do things differently here. Yes, we’d like to win the inter-regional competition but we also want to raise the standards within regional volleyball. We’re getting the infrastructure in place and now we want to create an experience for these girls that will help them develop as young people, not just as athletes.”
Unsurprisingly, such initiatives never come without a price tag but Kerr and his regional colleagues have done everything they can to keep fees for the girls as low as possible, recognising that they’re already paying fees to their local clubs. A Sport England grant of £9000, secured last year, has helped the regional association to heavily subsidise equipment purchases, coaching fees and hall hire. Fund-raising activities have also been put in place to help top up the subscription fees which the girls pay.
Kerr, who travelled to Italy along with head coach Richard Jump (recently honoured with Volleyball England’s Long Service Award), assistant coach Sarah Hallam and team manager Liz Clarke, concluded: “When we outlined the ambitions of this programme, we always wanted to include an overseas trip. We’ve been really fortunate to hook up with Real Volley as they’ve done so much to organise this from their end in a relatively short space of time. Fingers crossed now that the girls get as much out of this trip as they possibly can.”
The inter-regional championships, featuring U-14 and U-16 girls as well as U-15 and U-17 boys, take place at the National Volleyball Centre in Kettering on the weekend of May 27-29.