The competition/participation conflict

I coach in a country where volleyball is a developing sport. I also coach in a country where there is a big government focus to have a more physically active society. This creates a bit of a conflict. I brought this up before in different ways. A recent Volleyball England blog post highlighted this (to my mind), though.

The short article speaks of the gains made in volleyball participation at the university level of the sport. It talks about what the Higher Education Volleyball Officers (HEVOs) are doing to bring more people into the tent. This is all fine and good. A big part of Volleyball England’s funding comes from the government in the form of participation-linked moneys. Naturally, they will push programs and efforts to increase the number of people playing the sport.

As a coach on the competitive side of university volleyball, however, I can’t help but look at something like that and ask, what about the BUCS side of things? Where are the discussions of ways to increase the competitiveness of BUCS teams? What about how to turn beginners into competitive players? Or about ways university clubs can succeed when they are usually a lower priority sport? How about ways to attract more English players (BUCS has a strong international participation rate)?

Generally, those who push the sport forward are those who come through the competitive ranks, not those who are just recreational players. Volleyball in England will only benefit from a stronger BUCS volleyball structure.

We face this competition vs. participation conflict constantly at Exeter. The club is about 130 members strong – only around 30 of which are BUCS players. The rest are Beginners or Intermediates (our Intermediates do compete in the local area adult club league). The club only has a certain amount of gym time available. That must be split between BUCS training and Beginner and Intermediate sessions. The club is judged both on the success of the BUCS teams (3rd overall in BUCS points last year) and in the size of the club. We’re up against a wall, though. We’re in a Catch-22 where we need to get bigger to be seen as a more important sport at the university, but we can’t do it without more gym time, which we’d only get by raising our profile further.

The position of the sport at each university varies, though. At some schools, such as Northumbria and Durham, it is a performance sport. They offer scholarships to attract good players (some schools more than others – see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball). Exeter is not in that group, which obviously puts us at a disadvantage. Some schools have coaches while others don’t. Some schools get better support from their Athletic Union (or the equivalent) than others.

I would like to hear from BUCS coaches, club captains, and the like about their own experiences. How do you balance the demands of competition and participation?

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman

John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women’s team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women’s professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women’s Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

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