Dedicated to helping next generation of volleyballers

27th June 2019

Dedicated to helping next generation of volleyballers

Guest writer Ron Shillingford writes about the great impact Stuart Fullerton is having on the next generation of volleyball players in his area...

The London Youth Games is approaching, and it will be an opportunity for a former England volleyball star, now devoting his life to promoting the sport, to gauge how well the teams he coaches are doing. Since he started coaching, youth volleyball participation has seen a huge spike.

Stuart Fullerton travelled the world competing for England and now the 59-year-old former pricing analyst in the telecommunications industry is found in sports halls and gyms around Brent, north-west London, coaching the next generation.

He was made redundant in his last job and decided to leave the corporate world for good. “I’m really glad because it’s given me the opportunity to dedicate the rest of my life to volleyball,” Neasden-based Fullerton said. “I’m so thankful I’ve got the chance to do this with the kids, going to schools. I get the same buzz and feeling as with the club.” He enjoys boosting kids’ self-belief and sense of accomplishment.

Besides the enjoyment of playing, another reason for teenagers to take volleyball seriously is that it can lead to fully paid scholarships in American colleges, something that Fullerton’s daughter achieved. Paige, 21, has been at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida since August on an 18-month master’s course in digital media. As a child she was determined not to follow her parents into volleyball and tried every other sport. But, inevitably, she took it up and excelled from the age of 12 which led to playing for the England senior team.

After attending Queens Park Community School (QPCS) Paige studied for ‘A’ levels in Bournemouth at a volleyball academy. Then it was a degree at Northumberland University in Newcastle playing with the top club there. After graduating last summer she enrolled in Florida on a full scholarship on the strength of her volleyball credentials.

“I love it out there,” Paige said. “It’s a new country, new environment and I’m out of my comfort zone and love a new challenge. I’m getting to know new players and have a great coach from Brazil. Meeting new people and developing my skills is brilliant.” When she graduates in December, Paige is considering playing pro.

Like his twin sister, Nathan started volleyball at Willesden VC. After QPCS he too gained ‘A’ levels at Bournemouth and attended Newcastle University, earning an Environmental Science degree. After graduating he signed a professional volleyball contract with top Austrian side Waldviertel. Nathan had a great debut season and helped his club finish second in their national league.

Since 1993 Willesden Volleyball Club has supported Brent's entry into the Under-18 London Youth Games volleyball competition. Volleyball at the London Youth Games is on July 6 and for the boys’ team, representing Brent, Fullerton hopes they get through the group stage and into the playoffs to finish at least fourth. The girls’ team is not as strong this time as a few senior girls are no longer eligible. However, the current team has performed well in friendlies and believe they will be competitive.

Last year they came fourth, but Fullerton has high hopes too. “The girls train hard and work hard, a dedicated bunch, so you never know,” he said. “As a coach it’s a shared journey, shared experience.  I have a great bunch of kids to work with in Brent. I can’t ask for more from their work ethic.

“Some of these kids have come through the junior ranks and are now playing with the adults at only 14, 15 and that’s because they turn up every Sunday and train hard.” 

The club has always managed to secure points for the borough. In 2010 the boys finished joint third. In 2016 the girls finished runners-up to Westminster. 

This year the club has high hopes for the boys’ team, as two members already have winners’ medals from regional competition. “Even if they don't win this year we expect them to grow in confidence as they’re only 15 years old playing in an Under-18 competition,” said Fullerton. 

Willesden Volleyball Club was formed in 1988 by a group of local women wanting to get fit. The club evolved and now has men, women, junior boys’ and girls’ teams who play in regional and national competitions. They see themselves as a platform using volleyball to foster community spirit.

The club is currently running a school volleyball project in Brent to spread its awareness.  “Our aim is to offer volleyball as an alternative to those kids who feel excluded from traditional sports like football, basketball, rugby and all the others,” said Fullerton. “The sport also gives kids the opportunity to develop leadership and team working skills. It gives them the chance of achieving the sense of accomplishment.”

In the two years he’s played, Noah Barnard, 15, has excelled. He discovered the sport through his PE teacher at QPCS and was so inspired, when the teacher left, Barnard joined Willesden VC. Progress was so rapid, he has already played for a London youth side along with club mate Nikolas Tan.

“I love the atmosphere of volleyball. It’s a game where you combine physical power and intelligence,” Barnard said. Unlike football, which he sees as a team game of individual skill, volleyball has more unity. The best rallies confirm that. Barnard acknowledges that in Britain it is hard to play the game professionally, so he may concentrate on rock climbing which he is also superb at.  

Soley Mancilla, 17, moved to Harrow two years ago from Bolivia where volleyball is immensely popular. Her mother was a keen player there and inspired Mancilla to pursue it here. She plays setter, so her lack of height is not a hinderance as agility is her biggest asset. Swimming and gymnastics are other sporting interests although volleyball the passion and becoming a professional a realistic goal. “In the UK it’s kind of difficult,” Mancilla said, “because it’s not a popular game. So I might go to America or back to my country where it’s very popular.”

She thinks coach Stuart is “amazing and is the best coach I’ve ever played with”. She added: “When I came here I didn’t know how to play properly. But we went to the London Youth Games last year and finished fourth. I thank him for everything I know.”

Fullerton said: “Noah is not just very good at volleyball, he’s also got good leadership and organisational skills. He is one of the focal players in the group, encouraging others to join and making sure they come to training. Amazingly, at school he was never noted for his leadership skills. By joining volleyball he’s been able to demonstrate other skills which would have otherwise been lost had he done some other sport.

“Soley, as well, is very dedicated. If you believe volleyball can help someone, she is a perfect example. It’s helped her to find herself. She’s been at tough tournaments, crying on court. I said: ‘You’ve got to go out there and do it.’ And guess what, she’s gone out there and done it. She’s rock solid.”

Anyone wanting to attend a Willesden Volleyball Club training session should go to the sports hall at Willesden Sports Centre on Sundays 3-5pm, cost £1.80. Wednesdays 3pm, teenagers are free as it is paid for by Queens Park Community School.

Dedicated to helping next generation of volleyballers