“The game will find a way”, John Kessel assured me at the 2015 AVCA Convention during his presentation on growing the game internationally by sharing resources abroad. Coach Kessel, USAV’s Director of Sport Development, taught a plethora of unconventional ways to play, teach and grow the sport in underprivileged countries without critical resources. He shared stories about USA Volleyball’s “Leave a Ball Behind” program and illustrated how to hand-craft volleyball courts cheaply out of scrap wood and ribbon.
Among the many altruistic ideas that Kessel shared that day, it was those regarding sitting volleyball that resonated the deepest. Having never witnessed a sitting volleyball game or practice, I felt a bit unqualified to introduce the sport in Nicaragua and yet I couldn’t quite let go of the belief that it absolutely must be done.
Not more than three months later, I received an email from Kessel saying that Northwest University Head Coach Steve Bain was qualified to lead a sitting volleyball clinic.
The Northwest University women’s volleyball team was scheduled to tour Nicaragua in March of 2016. Hosting Nicaragua’s first ever sitting volleyball clinic quickly climbed to the top of our tour agenda. Northwest University graciously confirmed their willingness to teach, play and share whatever resources they could offer. The Nicaraguan national team jumped at the opportunity to create a learning environment to teach the sport to people with disabilities in their community.
On March 6, 2016 in Nicaragua’s capital city of Managua, several disabled athletes rolled into the gym to find a lowered net strung across a sized-down volleyball court. We kicked off the clinic watching a video of the USA Women’s Sitting Paralympic team compete. Afterwards we turned attention towards the whiteboard where Coach Bain broke down the primary differences in sitting volleyball: a shorter net (1.15m for men and 1.05m for women), a smaller court (10 x 6 meters), blocking a serve is legal, and one’s bottom must remain on the ground at all times.
The disabled athletes in the gym were eager to get the ball in motion. As the women’s team from Northwest University sat down on the court, the athletes without legs slowly and carefully lowered themselves down from their wheelchairs. Warm-up drills quickly turned into friendly competition on our mixed squad of volleyball players. Language barriers and feelings of discomfort dissolved as the games progressed. Standing 3 feet tall on one’s bottom has a way of making eye contact easier, high-fives natural and smiles contagious.
As the games came to a close, emotions welled up in the eyes of many in attendance. The clinic was the first of its kind in Nicaragua and the joy it brought to the gym was palpable. The disabled athletes, many of whom are war veterans, thanked the team for giving them an opportunity to play volleyball for the first time ever. The Nicaragua national volleyball federation agreed to launch a sitting volleyball program for the future development of the sport. And Bring It USA has agreed to facilitate that development with aid and resources attributed by future volleyball service tours to Nicaragua.
With limited resources, language barriers and willing hearts… the game found a way.