As a people, we Scots have a tendency to avoid making bold claims for fear of derision and consider those who do as being somewhat conceited. Back in 2011 the Scotland Senior Women’s National Team was in the position of not having qualified for the CEV Small Countries Division Final since 2007. In that instance qualification came about by virtue of hosting the Finals. So, in 2011, the decision was taken to put our heads above the parapet and state publicly our intentions for the next ten years. By 2021 the Scotland Senior Women’s National Team would be competing consistently at the equivalent of European ‘B’ Division level.
That statement in itself was ambitious but we went even further to claim that we would qualify for the Finals in 2013 and finish in the top two in 2015. While people outside of our immediate circle may have thought we were audacious in our belief we knew that with the right planning and application of effort it was achievable.
By achieving a bronze medal in the 2013 Final in Malta we not only achieved our first objective but surpassed it. It was this success that acted as the catalyst for the next two year cycle and cemented our feeling that the next objective, a top two finish, was within our reach. Playing and winning in front of our home support in the qualification tournament in Perth last year provided a further injection of belief as we qualified for the 2015 Final and pushed Cyprus, the reigning champions, in the process.
Going into the beginning of our preparations last September we knew that we would have to increase our attention to detail to ensure that we were as well prepared as we possibly could be. Not only did we feel that we could attain a top two finish but we truly believed that we had an opportunity to win the gold medal. In order to do so we needed to look at other performance factors and so we made the commitment to engage with Strength and Conditioning, Performance Nutrition and Sports Psychology. We drew upon the expertise of a number of external providers who were prepared to give up their time to support the Programme. Why? Because they could see the belief in the players and staff and they wanted to contribute to it.
The journey wasn’t an easy one as plans were thwarted primarily by a lack of playing opportunities. Having not played at international level since June 2014 there was a nagging doubt that this may come back to bite us. We did manage to fit in some good quality scrimmage matches with English National and BUCS Champions Team Northumbria, but our efforts to play against European opposition fell through. However, one of the areas that we had been focusing on over the previous months was on ‘controlling the controllables’ and ignoring the issues that we could not impact upon. Even the announcement of the much earlier date for the Finals than we had planned around did not dent our resolve. The proximity of the Finals to the tail end of the domestic season was seen as a boost as we knew the players would be coming off the back of National League deciders and Cup Finals where the intensity of performance would be at its highest.
The last few weeks of our preparations increased the intensity even further but we still weren’t quite sure how we would react to playing again on an international court after a gap of 12 months. But the waiting was over and we were about to find out.
As part of our planning strategy we made the decision to travel out a day earlier than we would normally do for we knew the travel logistics could have a bearing on how the players felt on the first day of competition. This decision proved to be critical not only in our immediate preparations before Game 1 against the Faroe Islands but throughout the competition in general. Indeed, reflecting back on how we coped with the demands of the Finals as a whole and comparing ourselves to our opponents, we believe we were the best prepared of all five countries. That was a direct product of the work that the staff and players had put in over the preceding months.
Having support in the hall from our hardy band of supporters who travelled out to share the moment with us was a huge boost to the squad and we are greatly indebted to them all for giving up their time to be there. Having contact with the volleyball community back home through Livestream and other social media outlets was equally encouraging as we knew people were following our every move with interest. The feeling that this generates cannot be taken lightly. It was another key factor in our performances.
But what about our performances?
The raw data says we missed the gold medal by 6 points. In other words, had we reversed the score in the fifth set against Cyprus and won 15-9 then we could have achieved our ultimate goal. But that’s a negative and there is no need to be negative about any aspect of our performances.
The opening match against the Faroe Islands was always going to be difficult. They had shown in the qualification round that they were a strong side with several players playing with Danish clubs. The first match always has the potential to be a bit of a banana skin but despite a blip in sets two and three we showed just how much we had progressed by taking the match in five. If we had any reservations about how we would play having not had an international match for quite a period then this performance banished any self doubts that remained.
Day two was clearly a tough call. Cyprus and Luxembourg on the same day with only a few hours between would be a stern test of our powers of recovery and resolve. The disappointment of losing out so narrowly to Cyprus was etched on the faces of the players immediately after the game. However, by the time we sat down in the squad meeting prior to the Luxembourg match a matter of hours later there was no disappointment to be seen, only a clear determination. This came through in abundance during the match against Luxembourg and it was difficult to detect that the players had been involved in a two hour battle against the tournament favourites earlier in the day. The quality and precision of play during the 3-0 win was evident for all to see. Our target, set back in 2011, was still on track.
As the days unfolded it was interesting to see how others began to perceive us. For many years Scotland had been considered ‘cannon fodder’ and would have never merited a second glance. But that perception was very definitely changing. As we entered our final match against Liechtenstein there was anticipation in the hall that we would produce a performance. And that is what transpired. The players played with freedom yet were controlled and even clinical at times. It no longer came as a surprise to anyone in the hall. It had become what everyone expected.
To see the twelve players step up onto the podium to receive their silver medals was a moment that we will remember for some time to come. To then have three players recognised in the individual awards simply further underlined the progress that has been made over the past four years. And that’s the key point.
It has taken four years to create. It has taken forty six players to create it. Each player who has been part of the Senior Women’s National Team Programme since 2011 has contributed in one way or another to what we achieved in Liechtenstein. Scotland Women’s volleyball is no longer the subject of ridicule. It is very definitely looked on in high regard. Indeed, Detlev Schonberg, Head Coach of bronze medal winners Luxembourg, went so far as to say the wrong team had won gold and that Scotland played the best volleyball of all the finalists.
We could not have reached out target on our own. We have been supported and encouraged by a whole range of people from the outset and for that we are extremely grateful. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Active Stirling through their provision of The PEAK and Forthbank Performance Centre as our base. Thanks too goes to the all the SVA staff for the support provided through the office and the various commissions who have worked with us. Thanks to you, the Scottish Volleyball community, for your ongoing encouragement which has been so vital in our drive to succeed. We also would like to acknowledge the support of the friends and families of the players. The sacrifices made are significant and without the backing of those at home the players would have an even more difficult challenge to face.
Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to record my personal thanks to the team of people who have given up a huge amount of time to help in building the Programme. Firstly, I’d like to thank my fellow coaches who have acted as a sounding board and offered advice. It’s always good to be able to dissect and discuss things with a view to making them better. This has always been a strength of the Coaching community and long may it continue.
We have had the pleasure of working with a number of external staff who have added to our performance environment and helped us in taking the next steps. My thanks go to Ryan King and Neil Shanks (Strength and Conditioning), Sophie Wardle, Lindsay Macnaughton and Nidia Rodriguez Sanchez (Performance Nutrition) and to Will McConn (Sports Psychology). You have all helped greatly in making the Programme more professional
In particular I am indebted to Jillian Galloway, Gail Wilson, Leigh Watson and Dave McEwan for the unbelievable commitment and sacrifice they have made both recently and throughout the past four years. You should all be immensely proud of what you have contributed to this success. I cannot thank you enough.
And last, but most certainly not least, the players. It is difficult to capture in words what these players (and I mean the whole squad) have achieved. It is even more difficult to convey what they have sacrificed and committed to over the past four years. But I do know that they have only achieved this success because of what they have sacrificed and committed to. They have never deviated from our agreed goal. They have accepted that success is not only about what happens in practice or match play. It is much, much more than that. They have grown as a squad over the years and have developed a greater understanding of how to play the game. Their ability to make effective decisions under pressure has improved beyond belief.
Girls, you are no longer simply players who happen to be playing on an international volleyball court. You are international volleyball players!
It has been a pleasure to share this journey with you!
Scotland Senior Women’s Programme
22 May 2015