Back in the latter part of 2014, while coaching in England, I wrote about the participation vs. competition conflict. It was mainly from the perspective of English volleyball, but with wider implications. Later, I received an email on the subject from Amy Dennis, the Young People Manager at Volleyball England. I want to share what she said.

This isn’t the full text of the email Amy sent me. It’s the stuff that I think speaks to the main points and will be of most interest to readers, though.

A defense of HEVO

Since the HEVO programme has been in place (over the last 4 years) there has been an increase in BUCS teams. While this will not all be due to the programme, there is link to universities starting recreational activity and then linking to BUCS. Albeit, it’s at the lower end of the leagues. Still, it is increasing the number of competitive opportunities for students to play volleyball. It could be argued that a competitive player does not just apply to experienced players. You can still be competitive as a beginner. Beginner players can be developed through a strong club structure that supports the player to progress into a BUCS team (depending on what the Club Development plan focuses on).

However, the students view point needs to be considered. They may be happy just being a recreational player and have no desire to play competitively in the BUCS league. I have some great examples from Universities where volleyball started as a recreational sport through the HEVO programme, developed into BUCS competitive teams and is now a performance sport at the university. The University of Derby and University of East London, to name just two.

Changes and developments

The recent changes to the league structure, introducing the Premier league has allowed for motivation and a goals for institutions regarding volleyball competition in BUCS. Many of these players also play in the National League teams in the Super 8s/ Div 1, so the level is clearly high. It is also important to offer competitive outlets for all levels of students, though. We have found where there is entries into local leagues this has both retained students and increased the ability of those playing. You have this set up already within Exeter so this is great and will develop the club for the long-term.

The English player verses international player debate is a difficult one. There are developments in place both within Volleyball England and BUCS to look at this. Volleyball England just launched our Senior Academy Programme. That will extend the athlete pathway within England. BUCS have also recently shared a proposal for an English Universities structure, which is due to vote on in December. It has not been confirmed which sports this could involve, though.

My points hold

This response obviously defends the HEVO program and the participation side of things. That’s totally fine. They are fair comments. I wasn’t really attacking it. I just said I’d like to see more effort put in to help develop and improve the competitive side of things. I’m talking about things like sharing best practices, etc. between and amongst university volleyball clubs. HEVO was, in my mind, in a prime position to facilitate.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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