As I sat on the bench at the conclusion of our match against Cyprus and watched their players and Coaching Staff dance in celebration of their victory over us, all I could feel was a sickening sensation in the pit of my stomach. The well used cliché ‘It’s the taking part that counts!’ doesn’t have a place in performance sport.
The players’ faces said it all. They knew they’d had an opportunity to put down a marker against Cyprus for next year’s final in Liechtenstein and they knew they had let it slip. But that in itself speaks volumes for the progress this group of players has made over the last three years. How many times in the past has a Scotland Women’s team felt so gutted at losing to Cyprus?
Three days have passed since then and this has given us all our own time to reflect on the overall tournament. Despite the disappointment of losing to Cyprus there is no need to feel anything other than deep satisfaction in having produced one of the best series of performances by a Scotland Senior Women’s squad. To have done so on our home court was even more special.
Wednesday evening set the tone with our warm-up match on the competition court against the American Collegiate Select ‘Athletes in Action’. The speed and power of the Americans caused us serious problems from the outset and soon we found ourselves two sets down. I didn’t fully appreciate at the time, but the fact we then turned it around to level the match at 2-2 was an indication of the resolve and determination that we were about to demonstrate in the tournament proper. The hall let ran out and so we didn’t have enough time to play a fifth set. The players were frustrated at not being able to finish the job off but we most certainly finished on a high.
The opening day of any tournament is always difficult. If you don’t notch a win on day one then you give yourself a significant obstacle to overcome. Play is often scrappy and unpredictable as players deal with nerves and come to terms with the special awareness that is needed to perform on an international court. The feeling that you normally have when playing in a conventional sports hall is one of close proximity of walls and ceiling. On an international court these reference points are non-existent and it takes time for players to adjust. The fact we had played on the Wednesday evening was a big plus as we went into our opener against Malta. We were still nervous and this was reflected in our early play but we soon got into our stride and once we opened up a gap in set one the result was never in doubt. 3-0…step one complete!
At no point throughout the build up and during the tournament did we show any complacency. We spoke at length about playing to our systems and processes. We knew that we couldn’t afford to play off the cuff at any time and especially on day two against Northern Ireland and Ireland. As a coach you try to ensure you can control as much of the game as you can and both matches on Saturday demonstrated our ability to do just that. Northern Ireland proved stuffy at times but were unable to hold out against the pressure of our hitting and serving. 3-0…step two complete!
When the Irish players sang their national anthem unaccompanied before the game on Saturday evening it stirred a huge wave of emotion which was reflected in the round of applause they received after it. As a squad we had talked on numerous occasions about shutting out the emotion of playing at
home and focusing on the task. But after the preamble to the match it was hard to not let the moment affect you. The Irish players used it to their advantage and probably played some of the best volleyball they had up to that point. But we eventually managed to refocus on our systems and strategies and completed a comprehensive performance. 3-0…step three complete and qualification guaranteed!
One of the moments that will stay with me for a long time was seeing the players celebrate with their friends and families. They have worked so hard over the past three years and never had the opportunity to show others just what progress they have made until last weekend. What was even more refreshing was the way they celebrated. It was a happy moment yet quiet and controlled. Why? Because they all realise that the job is not complete. That has been one of the most significant changes in the ‘growing up’ of this squad of players. We have a clear goal and we will celebrate when we have achieved it and not before.
But the weekend wasn’t just about success on the court. It was about the whole spectacle that was Perth! I’ve been privileged enough to coach in halls across Europe and I can honestly say that the arena in which we played from Friday to Sunday was one of the most enjoyable and exciting I’ve experienced. There are so many people to thank for that and there is always a danger you miss someone out.
On behalf of the players and staff of the Scotland Senior Women’s National team Programme I would like to express our sincere gratitude to Perth and Kinross Council, Live Active, Scottish Open Volleyball Tournament and all the fulltime staff and volunteers of the Scottish Volleyball Association and in particular the Events Team. The fact that I never once heard a complaint or moan from anyone speaks volumes for the planning and organisation that went into staging the tournament.
Thanks also to all the ball retrievers and floor moppers for going about their tasks so diligently; the NTOs including the line judges and table officials who added an extra ingredient of professionalism to the whole occasion; the international referees who were the best I’ve experienced in my time as a national Team Coach; to Kenny Barton for ‘pumping up the volume’ and for being brave enough to give a solo rendition of ‘God Save the Queen’ for the Northern Ireland national anthem when the technology failed. To all the staff who worked away from the venue to liaise with hotels and restaurants and to transport referees to and from airports, hotels and the venue, many thanks. A huge thanks to all the friends, families and volleyball supporters who came along to support the event and especially for the support we received in our matches. It was something quite special. Success not only happened on the court it permeated throughout everything thanks to so many people.
And so it’s time for a bit of a well earned break for everyone concerned but the planning for Liechtenstein 2015 is already underway. Our focus remains the same…Eyes on Gold 2015…and the hardwork that we will need to put in to achieve it.
As Head Coach I have been in the fortunate position of working with a very special group of players who have helped to take the performance level of women’s volleyball in Scotland to a new height. They deserve all the praise and congratulations that they receive for what they have achieved but I also know that they now truly believe what they are capable of reaching. I am also fortunate enough to work with and be supported by four unassuming yet exceptionally hard working staff in Gail Wilson (Manager), Susan Fotheringham (Physio), Leigh Watson (Assistant Coach) and Dave McEwan (Assistant Coach). None of this would be possible without their help and their belief in our vision. I thank you all, players and staff, for making my role as Head Coach such an enjoyable responsibility.
You all did Scottish Volleyball proud!
Scotland Senior Women’s Programme
11 June 2014