Celebrating Volleyball England's 2021 Annual Awards winners
27th July 2021
It is difficult to put into words just how much we treasure the volunteers that deliver and development volleyball in England. These selfless individuals have bags of enthusiasm and tireless energy, and we owe every single one of them a debt of gratitude for what they do.
These special people deserve a special celebration – especially during a difficult year like this last one – which is why we organise the Volleyball England Annual Awards each year.
The breadth and depth of nominations is always remarkable, and this year’s Annual Awards has been no different. From innovative coaches who have organised virtual fitness sessions, to club committees who have spent long hours navigating the ever-changing Covid-19 guidance, there have been so many remarkable nominations.
Tasked with the unenviable job of picking one winner and two runners-up for each of our eight categories was our judging panel:
- Richard Calicott OBE, President of the British Volleyball Federation and Honorary President of Volleyball England.
- Simon Kirkland, Founder and Director of education consultancy Sport Structures.
- and Joelle Watkins, Head of Commercial at BaseballSoftball UK and Trustee of the Volleyball England Foundation.
So, without further ado, here are our 2021 Annual Awards winners and runners-up:
YOUNG COACH OF THE YEAR - Jake D'Cruz
Student nurse Jake is a great asset to his club at the University of Leeds. On top of his full-time degree, he coaches 10 hours and plays volleyball a further four hours (at least) a week.
As the coach of the men’s second team and beginners and intermediate players, Jake, who has been awarded a coaching scholarship from Leeds Sport, identified a gap between intermediate players and the second team’s that needed bridging to allow for better progression. He now leads more organised training sessions which aim to develop players who are not quite at the standard for the teams. These sessions have already seen one player, who started playing volleyball in April, start for the men’s second team in a friendly match against Leeds Beckett.
Jake’s passion for volleyball and for coaching has greatly benefited the University of Leeds Volleyball Club.
On his award win, Jake said: "It’s such an honour to receive this award. I’m glad all my hard work through these trying times has paid off and I look forward to continuing to encourage more people to take up and develop their volleyball!”
Runners-up: Callum Chard, Jemima Wakelin and James Ratcliffe.
COACH OF THE YEAR – Richard Osborne
Richard has gone above and beyond to organise online sitting volleyball training sessions for South Hants SVC, the UK’s Invictus Games Team, and Great Britain’s Men’s Team this last year.
Not only did he create a programme that would keep players testing their fitness and technique, but he also continued to teach players about tactics, keeping them engaged and enthusiastic about sitting volleyball despite the obvious challenges.
“I have never felt as much part of a team as I have under the management of Rich” read one nomination. It continued: “Coaching a team that has an abundance of physical and mental health issues cannot be easy but his commitment to making a difference goes above and beyond.”
Richard added: “The last 16 months have made it practically impossible for clubs to train in the conventional way but, once again, sitting volleyball has demonstrated its unique qualities as a sport that is both adaptable and accessible even when we weren’t able to train face to face.
“With a bit of imagination, I have been able to deliver training via Zoom to both my club at South Hants, the UK Invictus Games team and Great Britain’s Men where we have worked on strength and conditioning and ball control. They have been great fun and I am hugely grateful to all the players who engaged with the programme. I have not been alone though, and I’d just like to pay tribute to Sean Poole and, in particular, Ian Legrand who have also continued to deliver virtual sessions to their clubs and both GB teams.
"While I will happily accept the trophy for Coach of the Year, I would like to dedicate the win to all coaches who managed to innovate and keep going during the most difficult of times.”
Runners-up: Vangelis Koutouleas and Jeremy Harris.
YOUNG VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR – Jack Reid
Jack has been a committed and hands-on President of Leeds University Volleyball Club, working tirelessly to ensure the success of the club and the safety and wellbeing of its members.
He introduced outdoor volleyball sessions for the first time to capitalise on heightened demand. He has been a key figure in the club’s community engagement, helping to raise £3,600 for charity and establishing an official partnership with Leeds Gorse. And he worked closely with the club’s Covid-19 officer to ensure members could safely return to play in both October and March.
Jack said: “It’s truly an honour to receive national recognition for my hard work in what’s been the toughest year for volleyball. This wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work and dedication from the rest of our committee.”
Runners-up: Lance Angelo Pérez and Helen Rushby.
VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR - James Murphy
James has given so much back to the volleyball community over the years. He is the Work Stream Lead for Volleyball England’s Competitions Working Group, helping to deliver and develop national competitions such as the NVL. Drawing on his experience in the field, he chairs the IT advisory panel and advises on digital transformation. Amongst other roles and responsibilities, in the past year he has also played a leading role in Volleyball England’s Return to Play Working Group. And he does it all as a volunteer.
“He is a fantastic asset to Volleyball England and deserves recognition for the time and effort he expends in support of the sport in this country,” said one nominator. They added that his contribution to volleyball has been “immeasurable”.
On being named Volunteer of the Year, James said: “I feel immensely humble and slightly embarrassed to be nominated for this award and would like to acknowledge the support of all the other volunteers out there; I am pleased to accept this award on behalf of all volunteers.
“It has been great to be able to give back to the sport that I have been a part and loved for the past 30 years.
“Volleyball always needs more volunteers and even if you only have an hour week, I would ask you to consider volunteering, your contribution will be so worthwhile and rewarding. Your volleyball community will be eternally grateful.”
Runners-up: Jeannette Adu-Bobie and Iulia Protesaru.
SERVICES TO REFEREEING – Nick Heckford
Nick is an experienced international referee and the Work Stream Lead for the Officials Working Group. During the past 12 months, he has shared his knowledge on the rules of the game through a series called ‘Let’s Talk Rules’.
Each session has needed a great deal of preparation of slides and video clips to illustrate the rules under discussion. The sessions have proved to be very useful and informative. During these sessions, Nick has been patient and encouraging, answering questions, and leading detailed discussions.
Nick has also maintained the workings of the Officials Working Group, preparing for when volleyball returns as a competitive sport to ensure that both the administration and appointment of referees goes smoothly, and that referees are prepared to take up the whistle again.
Upon finding out about his award win, Nick said: “I am delighted and honoured to be recognised by Volleyball England with the ‘Services to Refereeing’ Award. It has been a difficult year and I know all the referees have been disappointed not to be able to get on the stand. I hope that through ‘Let’s Talk Rules’ and in the re-vamped Officials Academy e-learning we have been able to be stay connected to our wonderful sport.
“I cannot wait to get back to refereeing and to see my colleagues again and continue the fabulous journey that volleyball has taken me on over the last 20 years.”
LONG SERVICE AWARD - Sean Poole
Sean’s volleyball career has spanned more than four decades as a player, coach, referee, volunteer, mentor, and overall steward of the sport. He is one of a few people to have made a significant impact across all three disciplines: volleyball, beach volleyball, and sitting volleyball.
His volleyball career began in 1979 when, as a 20-year-old, he joined Nottingham Trent Polytechnic. Between then and now he has played for Barnet VC, Central London YMCA, Britannia, Montana Red Dogs and Polonia Capital City to name but a few, winning two NVL titles, one National Cup and appearing in the European Cup too. Not only did he play and/or coach at these clubs, but Sean also often took on additional responsibilities as treasurer or organised and supported tournaments.
Sean’s illustrious coaching career started at around the same time as his playing career. He initially coached Trent Polytechnic (1980-82) before going to coach Southgate Women (1987-90), with notable success. Coaching roles at VK Barnet (1987-present) and Southgate Juniors (2010-present) have since followed. In addition, since 2015, Sean has been the assistant coach for the GB Men’s sitting volleyball team. Added to that, since 2018 he has been the assistant coach for the Team UK Invictus Games sitting volleyball squad. To complete the set of Sean’s coaching accolades, he is also a beach volleyball coach at SideOut.
Sean has mentored many players, even providing voluntary support to students undertaking GCSE and A-Levels to help them gain good grades and has, as a result, played a leading role in the development of many England athletes. He personally established several clubs too: Southgate School; St. Ignatius College; Whitefields; Southgate College; Bishop Stopford’s School; Highlands; and Woodhouse; and more. If this wasn’t enough, Sean has also been refereeing since college and has since picked up his Sitting Volleyball Refereeing Award and Grade 4 Referee qualification, as well as delivering Young Leaders and Young Referees courses.
The above provides only a brief overview of Sean’s vast contribution to volleyball. You could write a book on the full extent of his achievements.
One nomination read: “…it’s not just the longevity of Sean’s career that sets him apart from others, it is his total investment in the individual and almost insatiable appetite to help.” They added: “Put simply, Sean has dedicated his life to volleyball, in all its forms. “
On his award win, Sean added: “I have to say this is totally unexpected and a lovely surprise.”
Runners-up: Ian Legrand and Ron Richards.
COVID HERO - Valeria Romero Soriano
When the Covid-19 outbreak started last year and all social contacts were restricted, Everton VC Chairperson Valeria Romero Soriano worked hard to keep the team connected.
Valèria prepared and delivered hour-long online strengthening sessions three times a week for the team to continue training, arranged Friday game nights, managed a schedule to send virtually signed birthday cards to members, and closely followed the Covid-19 restrictions so she could update the club’s risk assessments to allow activity to resume on the grass and sand as soon as possible.
One nomination read: “The team benefited both physically and mentally from the virtual connection as our stamina was maintained and we stayed united during the lonely quarantine times.”
Valeria said: “I am really thankful to my colleagues at Everton Volleyball for nominating me and for being chosen as Covid Hero.
“Although it is nice to be recognised, the last year has been hard for many people within the volleyball community, and I feel we all deserve a Covid Hero award for facing the pandemic - teamwork has been key for navigating through these difficult times. Hopefully very soon Covid Heros will no longer be needed!"
Runners-up: Michelle Conway and Andy Edwards.
CLUB OF THE YEAR – Newcastle Staffs
Newcastle Staffs are a thriving community volleyball club that are known across the country for producing exceptional athletes that have represented England and secured professional contracts abroad.
In an extraordinary year that has, at times, brought volleyball to a halt, Newcastle Staffs have gone above and beyond to continue to deliver and develop volleyball in Staffordshire.
They have seized opportunities to appear on BBC radio and spread the word of this sleeping giant of a sport. They have continued to forge strong partnerships that have firmly embedded the club into the community. And, with everything the club does, they put members at the heart of their approach, which has led to a growth in membership this past year.
Newcastle Staffs have been great ambassadors for the sport over the last 40 years and so this award is very richly deserved.
Will Roberts, Club Chair, said: “In 2020 we were intending a big celebration of our 40th anniversary but Covid prevented that. Our mentality was to take the silver lining of less playing, coaching and competitions, and to focus our volunteer time on developing the club.
“We prepared our 'Ambition 2030' plan which sees us aim to double the size of the club by our 50th anniversary, and we set the wheels in motion this year, growing by 20 members during the season and progressing ambitious facility development plans indoor and at our beach courts.
“Being the Volleyball England 'Club of the Year' is really exciting news for us and is a great reward for our dedicated volunteers. We have benefited hugely this year from the generosity of other clubs sharing their ideas with us and will happily do the same as we all try to grow the volleyball community in England.”
Runners-up: University of Leeds Volleyball Club and Skyball Beach Volleyball Club.
Richard Callicott OBE, President of the British Volleyball Federation, said: “The whole process of judging is extremely challenging because there are so many outstanding candidates especially in the Long Service Award where I know all the nominees. I congratulate all the nominees and thank them for what they do. I am just sorry that someone comes out at the top of the list in each sector, but every candidate should be proud of their contribution to our wonderful sport.”
Joelle Watkins, Head of Commercial at BaseballSoftball UK, added: “In over a year of suspended play, an astonishing amount of activity was undertaken by a range of volunteers across the country and across our playing formats. People worked tirelessly to motivate one another mentally and physically, and also worked hard to retain and even grow their teams, clubs, leagues and organisations.”
She concluded: “Judging the nominations was a pleasure and gave me a valuable insight into how volunteers power our sport. Kudos to all nominees with a special shout out to the 'lifers' (Long Service Award nominees), the roots of our Volleyball Family tree."
Simon Kirkland, Founder and Director of Sport Structures, agreed with Richard and Joelle on the quality of candidates. “I was honoured to assess the application and the quality of volunteering was outstanding with the passion for the sport and the development of people shining through,” he said.
Once more a huge congratulations to all of the winners and runners-up and thank you to all of the Volleyball Family volunteers that help make our sport possible.