My introduction to sitting volleyball was made via a friend who had lost both her legs following an illness. I had played indoor volleyball at school in the 1980s but had been away from the sport for a long time. Sitting volleyball reminded me how much I had enjoyed playing, although this style was different – it was faster and more challenging in terms of speed of thought and movement. I had only been playing a few months when our coach died suddenly; as I was the only player who had experience of playing before I offered to step into the coaching role until a replacement could be found. Needless to say, I’ve been doing it ever since but I have subsequently picked up my coaching qualifications and I absolutely love it.
A recent highlight has been my work with the Georgian Armed Forces Sitting Volleyball team which I met at the Invictus Games, in London. They had never played SV before and had learnt from watching YouTube! They adopted me as their coach - together we progressed to the semi-finals. I’ve been to Georgia twice in 2015 and the team has subsequently gone on to win a gold medal at the US Wounded Warrior trials.
To anyone thinking about becoming a SV coach, consider this: Firstly, give it a go. Get on the floor and move around, but not only in a way that works for you – try moving from the perspective of a single or double leg amputee, or just with one arm to push yourself around. That will help you gain a better perspective of the challenges facing the people you are going to work with. Secondly, I think there is a natural tendency not to want to talk about a player’s disability with them, but it is important that you know their strengths and limitations so that you can maximise their potential. In my experience, players are happy to talk about their disability and although it might sound odd they are generally laid-back and talk with humour about themselves. For example, I once invited a football team to play against my SV team. The footballers were all able-bodied and were slightly nervous interacting with disabled players. One of my players had taken off his legs and propped them against a wall. A footballer accidentally kicked one of the legs, knocking it over, and immediately apologised, to which the owner of the legs said, “don’t worry, I didn’t feel a thing!” It broke the atmosphere instantly.
Finally, take every opportunity to shadow other coaches who specialise in disability sport. It doesn’t necessarily have to be volleyball but there are always new ways at looking at things and no single coach has a monopoly on all the best ideas.
If you are thinking about setting up a sitting volleyball club then you may be interested in this case study I wrote on my experiences with Portsmouth.