Bournemouth to Qatar: The journey of England’s late bloomer

2nd July 2020

Bournemouth to Qatar: The journey of England’s late bloomer

Experienced beach athlete Mark Garcia-Kidd shares the highs and lows of competing on the international stage. Nicknamed ‘England’s late bloomer’ for finding his best form after around seven years of competitive play, the 30-year-old defender, who stands at 191cm tall, last played for England in March at the 4-star FIVB World Tour event in Doha, Qatar.

How did you get into beach volleyball?

I was an indoor player for Wessex VC and played beach volleyball throughout the summer. Sandbanks in 2005 was my very first beach tournament – I took gold in the U16 competition – and in 2008 I entered my first ever national tour event at Margate Main Sands with Mark Richardson. That event coincided with the U21 British Beach Volleyball Championships, which was a qualifier for the FIVB U21 World Championships that took place in Brighton later that same year. We lost in the final to Luke and Jake Sheaf but, despite qualifying for the FIVB event, other commitments prevented us from participating.

It was a community that I didn’t know existed, but I was so warmly welcomed by everyone, in particular tournament organiser Mark Kontopoulos who encouraged us to come back to the next event. I haven’t looked back since and have now played on the national tour scene for 12 years.

Can you recall your England debut?

My England beach debut was in 2014 at the indoor beach facility LeAF in my hometown of Bournemouth. I played with Carl Butcher and we had to secure a country-quota to qualify for the NEZVA event in England later that year.

It was in October and it was very cold – credit to our referees for spending long hours in the centre when the temperatures were as low as six degrees Celsius. I remember warming up for a 9am game wearing multiple layers and struggling to get warm, and wondering where the other teams were. We walked outside and everyone was warming up for their respective matches, which I found to be quite comical.

We played Norway, who were among the top 30 in the world, and it was an incredible experience and just fueled my desire to play a higher level. I don't remember the specifics, but we lost the match 21-13, 21-13. That experience opened the door for me and since then I’ve traveled to multiple events across the world.

Thinking about your playing style, what do you bring to the game?

I like to think I bring a consistency to my game, that my strength is always siding out of the serve and taking chances on defence. I’m not someone who is going to block or dig 8/10 balls a set. Instead I take chances that present themselves in the matches.

…and what do you look for in the people you play with?

Finding a partner who is committed to embracing the challenge of international volleyball. A partner who’s able to step out of their comfort zone, explore new countries and meet new people and compete for England.

I’ve been lucky to have several different partners throughout my time playing for England. I’ve embarked on seasons with some of my closest friends in Carl Butcher and Andy Clayton and I had my first taste of the FIVB World Tour with Matt Hunter in 2017, which was a great season of firsts. That year I played a CEV Satellite competition in Mersin, Turkey – my first international event outside of a NEVZA – and then, on my World Tour debut at a 1-star event in Montpellier, France, Matt and I won our first World Tour match against Italy.

More recently I had two years with Freddie Bialokoz who has huge potential. I was without a partner and asked if he would be willing to pair up. It was a great experience for me having the chance to watch his progression and be a part of it. It was a new challenge having a more senior role and trying to share as much knowledge as I could, almost like a big brother role. It became my most successful season too as we won a bronze medal in September 2019 at the CEV SCA Beach Volleyball Finals in Perth, Scotland. Fred and I are still the 2nd highest English Men’s team in the FIVB’s beach rankings.

The first tournament I played in 2020 was with Mark Baechli in Doha, Qatar. It was Mark’s first ever FIVB event and his competitive spirt and outlook certainly embodied everything you would want in a partner. It was hugely refreshing and just reminded me of what a privilege it is to play for England on the world stage.

What has been your proudest moment representing England as a beach volleyball athlete?

There are two moments that stand out for me. Firstly, going to the 2016 World University Championships in Estonia and representing Great Britain with Rob Poole. It was a real honour to represent Great Britain, which is such a rarity outside of Team GB and the Olympics.

Secondly, qualifying for my first main draw at a 1-star in Montpellier with Fred Bialokoz. Not only was it on my 29th birthday, but we also made history by joining the other two English teams (Chris Gregory and Issa Batrane; and Javier and Joaquin Bello) in the main draw by beating Romania and then the Swiss during qualification. I believe it was the first time we have ever had three English teams in the main draw at a World Tour event. It was a hugely proud moment after years of playing NEZVA Zonal events and World Tour qualifiers.

What are you most likely to be doing if you are not playing volleyball?

I’ve recently picked up a tennis racket again after spending over 10 years not playing and couldn’t be happier playing on the tennis court in between beach volleyball training and competitions.

There are obviously ups and downs in sport, what keeps you motivated?

I enjoyed my best domestic season in 2018 and that was unfortunately followed by a year in which I was plagued by a persistent shoulder injury, so I’m motivated to find that good form again. I’m currently without a stable partner on the international stage, so being in the best possible place I can be will hopefully entice a partner to continue playing with me for England.

Playing with Mark Baechli earlier this year gave me the motivation to continue because of his excitement and desire to play for England. He helped me to realise that it's a special thing to put on an England shirt and that I should try to do it for as long as I am able to.

Do you have a volleyball role model?

I’ve been very lucky to meet some of the top players in the world and I really try to emulate their humble nature and the way they are willing to help those around them. In terms of playing styles, I enjoy watching Kantor/Losiak because of the way they move the ball around. I also enjoying watching Gibb/Crabb and I had the chance to watch them in Doha twice in March – you learn so much from watching them.

What are your sporting ambitions?

I would love to be playing pain-free and to continue competing for England. I want to be playing more 3, 4 and 5-star events and qualifying for the main draws. Looking beyond that, I’m not sure, but I am excited about the possibilities for English beach volleyball in the future.

What is the best piece of advice you could give to younger players?

If you have a desire to play internationally then don’t wait, particularly as there are a lot of opportunities to play NEZVAs as a starting point. Finally, don’t let anyone’s opinion stop you from playing or pushing past your own expectations. Beach volleyball is a sport with a fantastic community and you’ll be surprised by who will support and help you on your journey.

I have many coaches I should thank who gave me a chance when others didn’t. I feel like I’ve constantly surprised myself throughout my volleyball career by achieving things I never thought I would. If you had told me that I would have an international medal to my name in 2014, I would have never believed it.

Bournemouth to Qatar: The journey of England’s late bloomer