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Growing the grassroots: Rallying support for Volleyball

As a sport that has seen its funding reduced, Volleyball is looking to volunteers to aid its progression. Volleyball England’s CEO, Janet Inman, talks to Steph Eaves about overcoming the challenges

by Steph Eaves, Health Club Management and Sports Management | Published in Sports Management 2018 issue 1
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Volleyball England CEO Janet Inman
Volleyball England CEO Janet Inman

What’s the current state of Volleyball in the UK?
Volleyball in England has in the region of 30,000 regular players who take part in training and competitions. The recent Active Lives survey, carried out by Sport England, found that over 60,000 people had played volleyball in the last six months. This reflects the vast number of people who play recreational volleyball at the beach or park, or play while on holiday.
There are three formats of the game: indoor, beach and sitting volleyball, which are all played in England. Snow Volleyball is being developed by the International Federation (FIVB) and is becoming popular.

Volleyball England (VE) is responsible for the sport at all levels in this country. It’s led by a board, who are all volunteers, and there are nine regional associations.

What is Volleyball England’s current focus?
We’re working to better understand and connect with our core market. Our current focus is on providing opportunities to play volleyball at various levels.

As a volunteer-led organisation, supported by a small team of staff, our ‘Join Us at the Net’ campaign asks people to help us to build a new way of delivering the sport. We’re working to build a more sustainable sport that is less reliant on grant funding, and then we can help it to thrive.

What are you doing to increase participation?
The Higher Education Volleyball Officer (HEVO) programme is our flagship scheme for increasing participation. Students volunteer as HEVOs in universities to put on recreational volleyball sessions. Last year, over 5,500 people participated in the sessions.

The biggest increase, however, has come through European migration. Volleyball is popular in Eastern European schools, and when people from these countries come to England they want to find their local club.

How are you engaging with your core market?
We’re currently reviewing all our pathways – player, volunteer, coaching and competition. We’re carrying out consultations with our membership to ensure that the programmes and events we deliver meet their needs.

What’s happening at the elite level?
We receive no funding for our elite programmes from UK Sport. At the moment, our elite programmes have been put on hold until we can ensure we’re able to develop squads in all three elements of the sport.

The great news is that the men’s and women’s beach volleyball pairs have qualified for the Commonwealth Games 2018, in Australia. We hope that their success will help to develop a performance culture.

What’s the elite pathway from grassroots to the top?
We’ll be launching a new programme in 2018 that will help us identify talent at an early stage, known as ‘Volleyball Futures’. This will be delivered by volunteers.

We don’t have a professional platform for outstanding volleyball athletes in England, so when we find players with potential we support them to look abroad for professional contracts or scholarships.

What engagement campaigns have you run?
Recently we ran a campaign that was a call to volunteers to help to build the sport. We’ve created a ‘Pool of Experts’ – a group of people who have offered their skills and support for our new way of working.

What challenges do you face?
The biggest challenge clubs face is finding sports halls that are available at a reasonable time with the required equipment. The other challenge is the length of time a match takes; often teams book two-hour sessions, but some matches cannot be completed in two hours.

How have recent funding cuts impacted the sport?
We receive no performance funding from UK Sport. Our funding from Sport England in this four-year cycle 2017-2021, like many other organisations, has been reduced. We understand the reasoning behind this and have to accept that sports don’t have a right to government funding to continuously underpin the work we do.

As an organisation, we’re working to increase our income generation. We’re looking at innovative ways to raise funds and provide a quality service to our membership and the wider communities involved in the development and delivery of sport.

What are your future plans for the sport?
We’re focusing on supporting our membership through the development of both clubs and volunteers. We’re also working to make volleyball more self-sustaining and less reliant on grant funding in the future.

We are already making progress in developing our new way of working, but we need to keep engaging with people and the more people who engage with our ‘Join Us at the Net’ campaign and help us, the stronger the infrastructure will become at Volleyball England.

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