Sitting Volleyball Player Recruitment

By Matt Rogers

At a recreational, club and domestic level anyone can play and compete in what is widely renowned as one of the most inclusive sports out there, Sitting Volleyball.

Of course at an international level all players need to classify by disability [as well as Nationality] according to the World ParaVolley Classification Handbook.  During this process players will be given one of three different categories:

VS1 – Impairment is more significant on any of the measurements, and the impairment should result in observable functional limitation on court.  This covers any major impairment, either congenital or acquired, such as an amputation or significant lack of movement or power of their body or 1 or more limbs.  Other disabilities that affect an individual’s body control can also count.

VS2 – Meets minimal eligibility criteria, but impairment is minimal in terms of volleyball – may be difficult to see the functional limitation on court.  This category is aimed at anyone [although doesn’t include everyone] who for whatever reason is unable to play the Olympic, standing, running, jumping version of Volleyball.

NE (Not eligible) – meaning this player cannot compete internationally.

Within a match squad there can be up to 2 VS2 players, and 1 of these is allowed onto the court at any time.

For more information look up the World ParaVolley “Who Can Play” resource.

Although at the top end there are a large number of disability groups that are eligible, there is a smaller number that have the physical capacity to excel at the top end.  There is a clear domination in the World’s leading teams of athletes with a disability in the lower limb, where they are still able to support and move themselves across the floor.

Looking back at the introductory/beginner end of Sitting Volleyball, a version of the game can be played with any group of individuals regardless of their situation, age, gender, ability, and disability.  I have always said, ‘the floor is a great leveller’.  I have played Sitting Volleyball in each of the following environments and in all situations the participants have fed back that they have enjoyed the challenge of the game as well seen the wider benefits of getting involved.

  • Elderly individuals
  • Pregnant individuals
  • Obese individuals
  • Mainstream schools
  • Special schools
  • Community groups
  • Physiotherapist and rehabilitation staff development sessions
  • Corporate team building sessions
  • Visually impaired groups
  • Wheelchair using groups
  • A mix of any of the above

Of course, in some situations you have to change the structure of the game and/or amend the rules to make it fun and engaging, but with our sport this is possible.

The biggest factor I see as currently restricting the development of our sport in Great Britain is a lack of status that Volleyball has within our sporting culture.  When introducing people to Sitting Volleyball you first have to explain the concept and principles of Volleyball, then how it is adapted when played on the floor.  If this is not the case in your area then you’re in luck and off to a great start.

The dream scenario we are surely chasing is that anyone growing up with a disability, or those who acquired a disability at any point throughout their life is attracted, sign-posted or even pushed by family, friends, colleagues or randoms in the street towards Sitting Volleyball.  I see the first step towards achieve this is to grow the status of Sitting Volleyball from where we are now by showing what it as a sport and a community has to offer to those that play it, are part of it or just watch it.

When looking for markets in which to try and recruit, you need to find an environment where there is a medium to high chance that we will encounter eligible individuals who fit the Talent ID profile.  There seems to be a trend in disability sport of focusing on the educational setting and yet a more likely setting is through the medical route.

Whilst I am not opposed to putting effort into mainstream schools (where I accept that there is a small chance of finding a young disabled individual) or special schools (where there are significant numbers of eligible young people, however very few that fit our talent identification lists) we don’t see it as the best way to invest resource, time and effort.

Of course, at a domestic level able-bodied individuals are able to play and compete at Sitting Volleyball.  Yet even if you were to raise interest in Sitting Volleyball in schools to the point that they wished to join a local club, unless they have an special situation/motivation to play (i.e. a brother, friend, partner who is disabled etc…) then are they realistically going to pick Sitting Volleyball over Volleyball or other sports Football, Cricket, Hockey, Netball, Rugby etc… And if they do, what is the point as beyond domestic competition they have no-where to go in the sport.  Unless one day there is an international competition where disabled and able-bodied individuals can compete side by side?  That’s the ultimate isn’t it – true equity.

For someone to commit to Sitting Volleyball, realistically you are looking for someone who:

Enjoys sport, has a disability (ideally a lower limb one), who isn’t already committed to another sport, with the time, resource, support and motivation to properly try out a new sport, lives close enough to somewhere that they can regularly access the sport and if we find them we are then hoping they enjoy Sitting Volleyball and wants to seriously commit!?

But what method of recruitment has worked in the past?  Looking at the 22 players that were part of the Great Britain Sitting Volleyball teams at the London 2012 Paralympic Games:

5 were introduced to the sport by a friend

6 were sign-posted by someone inside disability sport

6 were sign-posted by someone from a Medical background

4 were picked up at a Talent ID Day

1 saw the sport in the media and approached us

Only 3: Approached the sport themselves

People play sitting volleyball for a number of reasons, the most common that I have heard are:

  • I wanted a team sport as I wanted the community and social side that comes with them
  • I love that I can play out of my wheelchair/without my prosthetics, is it just me against them. No technology.
  • It really is the most fun sport to play, who doesn’t love rolling and sliding around on the floor
  • Everyone watches it and thinks it must be easy, but it’s only when you try to play it you realise just how different it is to all others out there
  • I love the fact that I can compete against anyone and everyone, even more that I have an advantage over able-bodied players do to my speed of movement as a lower limb amputee

What is it that we’re actually after?  The variety of individuals that play Sitting Volleyball is big, with it being a team sport ‘requirements’ vary from position to position.  Below is my attempt at a generic talent ID list.

Physical – ‘you can’t coach someone to have a big reach!’

Essential Desirable
Core body strength (able to hold themselves upright when sat unaided on the floor) Long upper body
Strong upper body Long arms
Good manual dexterity Big hands, strong fingers
A physical disability Lower limb disability ideally on the opposite side to dominant arm (i.e. if right handed, then left leg disability)
One fully functioning upper limb Two functioning upper limbs
Decent eyesight Good, fast reactions
Previous conditioning Current conditioning
Good power generation with dominant arm Power generation using a whole body movement

Skills and Experience – ‘you can’t buy experience!’

Essential Desirable
A good learner A fast learner
A team player Strong leadership qualities
A history of playing Sport A history of Performance Sport
Hand eye coordination A history of playing Volleyball
Ball flight tracking ability A history of ‘Ball’ sports (e.g. Basketball/Netball/Rugby/Handball etc…)
Good coordination A history of ‘Net’ Sports (e.g. Tennis/Badminton etc…)
Agile and Quick A history of individual arm ‘Striking’ sports (e.g. Rounders/Softball/Tennis/Badminton etc…)
Discipline, Drive and Determination A competitive nature
Aggressiveness Comfortable under pressure

Personal Situation – ‘Someone’s personal situation is as important as their spike!’

Essential Desirable
Able to commit to evenings training locally Financially able to cover some travel costs
Able to commit to weekends for Competitions/Training Camps Able to be flexible around competition requirements with School/Work
Able to dedicate time away from the court to learn about the game of Sitting Volleyball Have the support of a Family to help prepare and cover things when away from home

I believe any mixture of the above would make a good high level Sitting Volleyball Player.

From all of this, it is clear that the bigger your network of recruiters armed with the right messages the higher the chance of recruitment you have.  So the first objective is to build a relationship/partnership with institutions [ideally medically based] close to your club and then these individuals can start to sell the sport of Sitting Volleyball to their audiences.  Then hopefully the next time they come across a player who at all fits the Talent ID Lists above, Sitting Volleyball is the sport they promote over others.  If this can be achieved around a club network then recruitment will happen over time and competition can then drive player development and team evolution.