Ever tried sitting volleyball? It's fast-paced, challenging and East London Lynx are looking for new recruits
PUBLISHED: 16:00 20 September 2019
Sitting volleyball, or paravolley as it's newly known, is much harder than it looks - it's fast-paced, challenges you to think outside the box and it's immensely rewarding.
Maybe it was the endorphins from a full body workout - you use muscles you didn't realise you had - but we left the training session with East London Lynx sitting volleyball club on a high.
Several players are part of the GB women's sitting volleyball team and the club took part in the European Championships in July as part of the team's roadmap to Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Four of us from the Ilford Recorder who went along to play were able bodied, playing with three amputees, Jodie, Stacey and Jeannette, and Ned, who used to play volleyball before he injured his knee and converted to sitting volleyball.
This set-up sums up the inclusivity of the club - it's open to everyone.
"We can take anyone with reasonable athletic background and we can get them up to a decent level in about six months," Ian Legrand, GB women's head coach for sitting volleyball, said.
Jodie, a Paralympian who lost her leg in 2010, travels from Winchester to train in Redbridge every week, while Stacey, who was in the army for 11 years, travels from Bedfordshire.
"The first time I played was with the GB team nine years ago," Jodie said. "I didn't realise the game was really in the Paralympics until then.
"The great thing about this is it's for all abilities and it's not just for amputees."
Ned Groj, who spent half an hour with us newbies teaching us how to dig, hit and volley before we took part in a match with the professionals, said: "It takes a long time to work out how to move on the court. The game feels much faster than when you are standing.
"You are using all your muscles. It's very misconstrued to think you are just sitting on your bottom and it's an easy sport.
"It's a very inclusive sport and welcomes able bodied people who might have something a little wrong with them, such as bad knees."
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But retention and recruitment is a big problem for the club.
"Sitting volleyball is a lot more difficult to do than it looks," Ian said.
"But it's the most accessible of the Paralympics sports. You don't need any equipment to take part, like a wheelchair. It's completely inclusive."
Ian used to coach GB men's volleyball before he moved to coach women's sitting volleyball.
"I worked in mobility for 40 years and I played volleyball so the two worked well together," he said. "The advantage I had was being around people with disabilities for most of my life."
The club trains once a week from 8.30-10pm on Wednesdays at Redbridge Sports Centre in Forest Road, Fairlop.
"We have people training at other clubs across the country too," Ian said. "But we have a big problem with recruitment and retention - and funding."
Ian points to the faded white lines on the court. "It's a good example of how badly we need funding," he said.
Admittedly, the team might have gone easy on us when we played a match at the end, but it was still tough.
But the encouragement and cheers from the rest of the team when you made a successful hit was so worth it. You felt supported and energised. But Ned was right - you use muscles you didn't realise you had.
"When you start out, you end up getting really red on the inside of your arms above your wrist from where you're hitting the ball," Ned said.
"I think I just permanently had a sore bottom for the first two months when I started playing," Stacey added.
We did walk away with red arms and a few aches, but we also walked away with a real sense of team spirit and satisfaction that comes with taking on a new challenge.
Let's just hope the club can find the funding and support from new players, including beginners, to keep this exciting sport going.