Young talent needs to be identified now if British volleyball is to move on from a recreational sport to feature in the London Games, writes Roddy Mackenzie
If Scotland's young volleyball players are to make a fist of competing at the Olympic Games in London in 2012, then talent needs to be identified in schools now.
The awarding of the Games to the UK creates a unique opportunity for a sport that has been played largely for recreational purposes and has no history of Olympic participation, at least indoors.
British players are some way behind in one of the world's most popular sports, but the chance to have a team at the Olympics will provide access to financial resources that have only been dreamt about in the past. The sport's governing body sees this as a chance to become part of the British sporting tapestry, but it will mean getting it into the schools.
The Scottish Volleyball Association has looked increasingly beyond its borders, not only in terms of taking part in the world championships for the first time this year, but also in the key appointments it has made.
Erik Milowski, a Frenchman, was appointed development officer for the sport in Aberdeenshire in 2003, and has now moved to an identical position in Edinburgh.
The national youth development officer is a Canadian, Jenni Lloyd, who took up the post last month. The 26-year-old, who plays for Lenzie in the Scottish League, has lived in Scotland for the past three years and is hopeful of taking the game forward.
Having played since the age of 14 in her native Ottawa, it was something of a culture shock arriving here to find we had some catching up to do.
"In Canada, we had gym four or five days a week as part of the curriculum and every school played volleyball," she says. "It was a sport that everyone enjoyed and anyone who went on to play for a team would train after school.
"I went on to join a club, the Ottawa Kangaroos, which was quite small when I first started but by the fourth year I was there, there were over 100 girls training.
"Facilities were never an issue, as every high school or university had equipment. It was only when I came over here that I experienced a problem going into schools and finding some did not have equipment. It was just taken for granted in Canada.
"Clubs did not have to go directly into schools to recruit. The sport was so popular that players went along to clubs on their own.
"Ice-hockey is the big sport in Canada but because you can't really play it in schools, other sports had a chance. Volleyball was as popular as basketball."
Miss Lloyd's remit is to spread the volleyball message as widely as possible. Within the first few weeks of the job,, she has visited Orkney to help cement a thriving junior programme there.
She will look primarily to schools. As well as setting up in-service courses for teachers, she aims to get the game on to the curriculum in areas where it is not established.
"I think there is a concept over here that volleyball is difficult to teach. That is really not the case," Miss Lloyd says.
"An indoor sport like volleyball is ideally suited to the Scottish climate, and I have been impressed by the number of teachers who have a real enthusiasm for it and do such great work. I want to build on that.
"The main difference between Canada and here is just the ease with which everything is available to you in Canada, whereas here, in some ways, you have to go out of your way to play."
Miss Lloyd agrees that a national centre for the sport, with custom-built facilities, would help the game, but believes it may have to wait a while.
"Any sport would jump at the chance of having a national arena which was a focal point for the game. That would be the ideal," she says. "But there would be no point in having a great facility if there was no one to use it.
"I think we should first be looking at getting more people involved in the sport."
Volleyball does not have the luxury of role models in the media, but the beach game has given the sport a boost in recent years. The only Scot to have played at the Olympics, former Whitburn Academy pupil Audrey Cooper, represented Great Britain in the beach game at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, with English partner Amanda Glover. The pair finished a creditable ninth.
"It's unfortunate that we don't really get the media exposure," says Miss Lloyd. "I've been surprised at how much coverage football gets in the newspapers, where you can virtually read about what a third division player had for his lunch!
"It's a shame when other sports are squeezed out, but beach volleyball is starting to get good coverage and if that can be used to draw people in, so much the better.
"There are a lot of exciting things happening in the beach game, even in Scotland, and a number of high-profile events are planned.
"We're still some years away from getting schoolchildren involved on the beach on a regular basis but I'm sure it's something that will be looked at."