The Scottish Volleyball Association is taking steps to net primary school teachers in a bid to strengthen the game's foundations, Roddy Mackenzie reports
The Scottish Volleyball Association will host its first 5-14 mini-volleyball course at Inverclyde in two week's time, from June 8-10, in what is the initial step in a major initiative aimed at targeting primary schools.
For the past eight years, the governing body has concentrated on offering courses for secondary school teams to include volleyball in the curriculum and has had a fair degree of success, with more than 300 teachers taking part in the Standard grade, Higher grade part 1 or Higher grade part 2 courses.
It is anticipated that the SVA will offer a fifth course, 5-14 mini-volleyball part 2, next year.
"It has been difficult to get primary school teachers involved in the past," acknowledges Rona Brodie, SVA staff tutor and team sport co-ordinator for Sportscotland. "This is really an unknown area for us and there are still places available on this mini-volleyball course. But we see it as a growth area."
Mini-volleyball involves a lower net, a softer ball, fewer players and a smaller court: it can be accommodated easily on a badminton court. "I think the beach game has helped the small-sided game, as there are more people playing two-a-side," Miss Brodie says.
"It has taken us almost 10 years to train and generate new expertise in the game at secondary level and it is likely to take the same length of time in the primary sector."
The SVA has found that while school festivals are attracting record numbers and there is no shortage of school players interested in the game, the number of registered players in the senior game has been declining in recent years.
There is now a move to address that from the grass-roots level up, by plugging what is a recognised gap between the schools festival format and the junior national league, and a sharp step up in standard between the junior (under 19) and senior (over 19) national leagues.
The SVA is piloting four mini-volleyball leagues next season, in Aberdeen, East Lothian, Glasgow and North Lanarkshire, for S2-S4 children. These tie in closely with the areas that have volleyball development officers: Edinburgh, East Lothian, Glasgow (all full-time) and North Lanarkshire (part-time).
"There is already a mini-volleyball league in Glasgow that runs successfully," says Miss Brodie.
The leagues will run from September to December. "We're hoping that each schoo involved will have four or five fixtures. But it will not be a case of schools picking their best teams. We want everyone to come along and get a game."
The P7-S1 tournament at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh at the end of last month attracted 40 teams. This Sunday, more than 500 schoolchildren will play in the Scottish Junior Open at Meadowmill Sports Centre in Tranent, East Lothian, with 100 school teams from all over Scotland involved. A total of 23 courts will be in use.
Margaret Ann Fleming, the development officer in East Lothian, believes the event provides a catalyst for the game in the area. "There are now a lot of kids playing the game here, especially in the P7-S2 age-group," she points out. "Every year there are more children taking up the sport.
"This is now the biggest schools volleyball event in Britain, as there is nothing like it in England and it is the highlight of the volleyball calendar here.
"It also acts as a bonding exercise for local clubs, as adults and children have to work with each other to ensure everything comes together."
Melissa Coutts, who plays with Scottish champions Su Ragazzi, recently took over as development officer for Edinburgh after the job had been vacant for almost two years. The schools game in the Edinburgh area is still catching up, but secondaries such as Queensferry High have played a prominent role in recent years in developing players, with Scottish schools co-ordinator Jim Ferguson overseeing that.
Miss Brodie believes that volleyball offers a unique opportunity for children to develop not only their ball skills, but also those of co-ordination and balance.
"The importance of movement fundamentals is something we have been stressing for the past 10 to 12 years and now others are taking it up," she says. "The sport lends itself well to developing such things.
"And I think it is perfect for the school gym hall. It is non-contact, girls and boys can play it together and it is relatively inexpensive in that all you need to do is string up a net across the gym."
If the SVA can get the game into more primary schools, almost the last piece of the national volleyball jigsaw will be in place.
Miss Brodie admits that Scottish league clubs take on junior sections only very sporadically and that they have to rely heavily on a strong volunteer framework. However, she is optimistic that the enthusiasm generated by the schools festivals and the development officers will help the school-club links strengthen.