After a season of visits across the length and breadth of Scotland, Belgium was the location for my last report of the season. Marr College, Londerzeel Volleyball Club and Gooik Volleyball Club were the hosts for the European leg of my “Meet me at the Net” project. The Londerzeel and Gooik tournaments are both international events attended by a number of teams from a variety of different countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Holland and of course Scotland. Scotland was represented by 4 teams from Marr College who travelled from Troon in the early hours on 1st April 2010 and I was lucky enough to be asked along.
My hosts for the trip were the incredible Jess Reid and her husband John. Jess started Marr College Volleyball club 20 years ago after retiring from playing with 54 International Caps to her name. She started with a handful of kids who trained for 2 hours on a Wednesday night. Today Jess has 2 U19 girls teams, 3 U16 girls teams, 1 U19 boys team and 1 U16 boys team. Her teams are at the forefront of Scottish Schools and Junior Volleyball with 4 of the 6 Scottish Schools Cup Final teams being from Marr College
In recent years Allan Thomas from Kilmarnock Volleyball Club has joined the Coaching team and is head coach to the U16 boy’s team who recently won the U16 Junior National League and Graham Houston also works hard coaching the U19 Junior National League team who recently reached the semi finals of the Junior National League.
As Jess continues to build up the club she encourages her seniors to take an active role with the coaching of the juniors at a series of Summer Camps she organises. The Marr College players are also encouraged to attend the UK Schools Games Trials to participate for Scotland in the Games in September. Last year 7 girls and 5 boys from Marr College Volleyball Club represented Scotland West at the UK Schools Games in Cardiff.
Marr College have been participating in the Londerzeel and Gooik International Volleyball tournaments in Belgium for the past 11 years and the organiser and Coach from Londerzeel VC, Guido Robberechts kindly took some time out to speak to me about the set up they have over there. Londerzeel VC is in the Province of Brabant. The club has 3 women’s and 3 men’s teams in the provincial league and 5 girl’s and 5 boy’s teams in the junior league at a variety of different age groups. The kids in Belgium start playing volleyball at the age of 6 but there are no school teams. The links to the clubs are made by volunteers in their senior teams visiting schools and inviting the kids to join their clubs.
Their average subscriptions are 100 Euros (only 100 Euros!) a year but in return the players receive all their kit and coaching and participate in a junior league every Saturday or Sunday. There is a massive league structure with 3 divisions in the provincial league which is a local league, then division 1 and division 2 Flanders which is a regional league, progression is to the national League and then finally the ERE division which is the Professional League. They have the Cup of Belgium and the Cup of Province at Senior and Junior Level. They also have 1 Volleyball School in Belgium where the kids have to pass certain criteria to be enrolled and it is expected that at the end all of these players will receive professional contracts. Quite a set up!!!
Guido explained to me that the support from the local council is very good. The club receives financial support which is linked to the number of members in the club- the more members they have, the greater the financial support is. The club also receives support which is based upon the level of coaching expertise that the club has at their disposal. This encourages clubs to develop their own coaches as much as possible and also to continue their ongoing training. The biggest difference to Scotland however relates to the incredible sports facilities that are available to the volleyball clubs. These are either given free of charge to the clubs or are let out for at most 10 Euros an hour. Maybe one day we will have something similar in Scotland!!
Both tournaments were extremely well organised. We arrived at the games hall on the Saturday and Sunday mornings at 9am to an incredible atmosphere with 8 team’s at all different levels already warming up. Both days ran to schedule with some great games and talent on show from all teams who had entered. Some of the volunteers from the host clubs who had been at the event in past years commented to me that the teams from Marr had greatly improved this year and it showed in the results. The U19 women reached the final of the tournament on the Saturday only to be beaten by a very strong Dutch side. The U15 girls took third place at Sunday’s tournament and went from strength to strength as the tournament progressed. The U17 girls continued to fight hard in all of their games despite losing some key players due to injury and finally the U19 boys excelled and took the gold medal in Sunday’s tournament.
Overall I had a fantastic weekend with the players and coaches from Marr College volleyball Club who all excelled. If these players are an example of the future of Scottish volleyball , then I for one am very excited by the prospect of what can be achieved. The spirit the club has is second to none and we all enjoyed the social activities which were organised by the hosts from the Cowboy and Cowgirl night on the Friday, to the Ten Pin Bowling on the Saturday (Forbes particularly exceeded all expectations at this!!) to the rave night for the seniors and the sightseeing trip of Brussels for the youngsters on the Sunday!!
All this would not be possible without not only Jess and John Reid but also Laura Forbes for her commitment and passion to help develop Marr College Volleyball club, and Lesley Workman and Alan Moore for their coaching skills, enthusiasm and support. Let’s not forget about the efforts of the Marr College players, for their hard work fundraising to pay for the trip, from their bag packing in Morrison’s which raised £1700, to organising and selling tickets for the Club Ceilidh last month and for their boundless energy, commitment to volleyball and their desire to become the best that they can be. They are all a credit to the club and their school and of course their coach “Mrs Reid”.
Finally my thanks go to Guido and Marc for their fantastic hospitality and making me feel so welcome. Guido and Marc saw to everyone’s needs from the moment we arrived to the moment we left while at the same time running 2 excellent International volleyball tournaments.
Thank you to Marr College for this great experience and my final thought for the weekend was “wouldn’t it be good to have some of this in Scotland”!