It’s getting close to a year since the Olympic Games in London and its now almost-completely-forgotten brother, the Paralympics. Remember all those wacky sports you’d never heard of before? Goalball? Boccia? Wheelchair Fencing? No? I wouldn’t blame you, Channel 4 decided against showing much coverage of these minority sports (did they even bother with boccia?) in favour of athletics, swimming and cycling – events we’d already stuffed our faces with during the able-bodied festival of sport.
Sitting volleyball was another that struggled with its more popular cousins. It’s a sport that shouldn’t work; six blokes (or lasses, if you like) perched in front of what looks like a table tennis net, shuffling along in an attempt to stop a ball from hitting the floor below. It’s basically the same as “normal” volleyball, without all the sitting down. At the time, I still didn’t appreciate it, thinking it to be goofy and deserving of its status as “I’m not going to watch that”. Now I’ve had the time to get all nostalgic (and clouded), I realise how much work they need to put in, only to receive no congratulations in return.
The main hurdle for the majority of these athletes is their complete inability to walk (which, if you were able, would probably be some sort of foul in sitting volleyball). Those without feet have to slide across the floor, using only their arms and momentum to propel themselves across the court in a sometimes futile battle to reach the ball. Great Britain captain Rob Richardson puts it better than I could: “The trick here is understanding your abilities, so if you have feet use them to help you move faster. If you are a double-amputee, don’t try and use your feet, as I imagine they will be in the changing room still.”
Richardson has expressed the challenges his team-mates faced at London 2012. Writing for the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the ParalympicsGB skipper has compiled a how-to guide when it comes to three vital aspects of his sport – movement, passing and, uh, trick shots. Perhaps not such a vital skill. It’s an odd piece, written to help people get into the sport, despite the majority of people reading it being highly unlikely to want to play it. Able-bodied youngsters interested in volleyball are likely to want to try the standing version – me included.
Even so, it’s a highly informative piece that stops me sniggering at a sport I’m uneducated in. Instead, my laughter’s directed at the way he writes about what he does, brushing off the idea everyone has that “sitting” volleyball must require wheelchairs, before advising players not to “move like you are riding a pony”. Then there’s talk of volleyballing tricks and forfeits and you soon get a much better insight into this disability sport. Why can’t all player-written articles be this engaging?
Whether you’ve ever been remotely interested in sitting volleyball or think you’ll be unlikely to, I’d suggest reading the article and checking out the linked videos – including a full replay of Great Britain’s men taking on Morocco (the only team, men or women, that we beat).