Sitting volleyball - busting those myths
9th August 2017
Despite the fact that it is reckoned to be thriving in over 75 countries – and is a low-cost sport to start playing - sitting volleyball remains a minority sport in many people’s eyes. A critical factor in this may be the many common misconceptions of the sport which still prevail.
To dispel some of those myths – and using the excellent resources available from VolleySlide as our starting point – we asked London 2012 GB Paralympian Vicky Widdup to set the record straight.
Myth #1: Sitting volleyball is played in a wheelchair
I understand where this one comes from because people do associate a lot of Paralympic sports with being in a wheelchair (think basketball, rugby, tennis). People seem genuinely surprised to find that I don’t play in one. If an athlete who is a wheelchair user can transfer out of their chair, they’re actually better off playing on the floor anyway. Playing in a chair is very difficult. I do run sessions in schools where we adapt the game so that children who are unable to transfer out of their wheelchairs can get a taste of what volleyball is like and can play in this way with their friends – but you won’t see that at clubs or in official competitions.
Myth #2: Sitting volleyball is a sport for disabled people only
This is only true at international level, where you must have a disability in order to compete. However, from local club level right through to European club competitions, players with no disability are able to take part. I wish more would – as it would help promote the game to a whole new potential market. When you combine this with the fact that it’s typically played in mixed teams, you see how sitting volleyball really is such an inclusive sport.
Myth #3: People with an arm impairment or amputation will struggle to play sitting volleyball
Some of the best players in the world have arm impairments. All this does is affect how you play the game, rather than how good you can be. Many such players will have no problems affecting either of their legs, making them incredibly mobile. Therefore, they add value to their team in a different way, compared to someone like me who has a leg disability and finds it harder to get around the court.
Myth #4: Beginners really struggle with sitting volleyball
That would only be true if you threw them in at the deep end, introducing the full set of rules from the outset – but why would you do that? Stripped down to its absolute basics, volleyball can be seen as a game of keepy-uppy; the sort of thing you might have played as kids with a beach ball or even a balloon. If you introduce new players to sitting volleyball in that fashion, introducing rules and techniques slowly after that, then it will seem far less daunting.
Myth #5: Sitting volleyball is slow as the athletes are disabled
This is so far from the truth, it’s unbelievable! Before the accident which damaged my leg, I played a lot of sports, including football and rugby. Yet none of them are as fast as sitting volleyball. Watching novice players might make you think the game is slow because they won’t tend to move that much. However, at the higher levels of the game, players are flying all over the court. You have to be fast because of the low, flat trajectory the ball often comes to you on. Reaction times are minimal, especially bearing in mind how you’re often switching between having your hands down (in order to move yourself around the court) and having your hands up to play the ball.
Myth #6: Players just sit on the floor and only play the ball when it comes to them
It does make me laugh when I’m coaching beginners as they often ask, “Am I allowed to move?” Of course you can! However, as touched on before, the amount that players move will, to some extent, be determined by their disability and physique – but that’s what makes it fascinating. You can have great match-ups between a team that is super-mobile and covers the whole court versus a team with far less mobility who rely much more on great court positioning.
Myth #7: All athletes have the same physical impairments and limitations when playing sitting volleyball
At the international level, there are just two categories of disability. The disabled category (D) includes a whole host of obvious disabilities while the minimal disability category (MD) includes disabilities which are far less obvious but which still prevent the athlete from competing in the non-disabled versions of the sport. Only two MD athletes are permitted in a 12-player squad and only one can be on court at any given time. The chances of having a whole team with similar disabilities are minimal. In fact, the vast array of disabilities contained within the D category gives the sport huge variety as each athlete will adjust for their disability in a very different way.
Myth #8: The ball cannot be played with your feet or legs
Just like in non-disabled volleyball, any part of your body can be used to play the ball. Sitting players have to make full use of that rule because of the speed at which the ball is travelling and the fact that you’ll often have to contact the ball very close to the ground. You’ll see lots of ‘messy’ plays in sitting volleyball with players keeping the ball up in whatever way they can, so the feet do come into play.
Myth #9: Very few countries play sitting volleyball
Incorrect. It’s played in over 75 countries – and still growing! It’s well established in pretty much all the powerhouse volleyball nations. I think that France is one of the few exceptions. Clearly, the UK isn’t thought of as a mainstream volleyballing country; something which, in turn, has slowed the development of sitting volleyball. I found it almost by chance. After my accident, I was told I would not be able to play sports but that if I tried, I had to avoid contact sports. A friend introduced me to volleyball but it was soon clear that I couldn’t cope with the running and jumping. However, because I only very occasionally used a wheelchair, the wheelchair sports weren’t great for me either. Sitting volleyball provided the ideal solution.
Myth #10: The majority of players are victims of conflict or war
Admittedly, many players do come to the sport this way, with the British Army doing a particularly great job at using sitting volleyball as part of the recovery process for injured servicemen and women. However, there are just as many players who are born with disabilities, who develop them as a result of illness or who are involved in a bad accident. That final point is why I have seen quite a few bikers come into the sport after being injured on the roads. All of this just reinforces quite how inclusive the sport is.
Vicky Widdup only started playing sitting volleyball two years before the 2012 Paralympics. Fast tracked into the GB women’s squad, she had an exhausting couple of years holding down a full-time job, alongside an extensive training regime and studying for her Masters. Making it onto the court in London made it all worthwhile but she still wishes she’d had the opportunity to experience the sport at school. It’s something she’s now trying to rectify, taking sitting volleyball into schools whenever she can.
If you want to get involved with sitting volleyball, either as a player or a coach, email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.