Growing arms and legs

So it’s Thursday night in St Andrews Academy and it the 5th night of the Renfrewshire schools mini volleyball league. The tournament is getting ready to begin and the tournament has 10 teams. The hall is absolutely packed with boys and girls getting ready to represent their schools. As I look around the gym and consider its beginnings, I realise that the event has grown arms and legs.

Rewind three years to august 2014, I had just been appointed to the RDO post. I embarked on a journey, setting up a partnership that would hopefully bring volleyball back to the local authority. At this early stage I had quite a task on my hands as the current position was that there were no affiliated schools, no competition and no community clubs. My goal was to increase affiliation in the high schools and see if we could encourage the schools to get more involved with the SVA.

I organised a meeting with the local authority to discuss the strategic involvement and establish a strong partnership also it was important to inform the management about the role that I would fulfil as RDO. I then was introduced to the fantastic Active schools team who were passionate about this partnership. Lastly I was given the opportunity to link with the Principal PE teachers of all 11 high schools via the PE lead officer. I only had 15 minutes to pitch the benefits of affiliation to the staff. At the end of the pitch all 11 schools agreed to a two year affiliation.

With the schools bought in my next task was to get out to the schools and do some delivery. The aim was to see what level of activity was there and to gauge the support of the development of an interschool competition in the authority. As I suspected the ability of the staff and the pupils was fairly high and the desire to compete was also there. I met up with Donnie Wood, competitive school sport officer and we hatched a partnership development plan to pilot an inter school event into his yearly calendar of event. This turned into 3 dates inside the year which schools could send seniors to play mixed 6v6.

With the plan in place, halls secured, PR completed we waited for entries. The first event took place with only a few teams. However this was the starting point and we pressed on to ensure that they quality of the event was high, after all if the product is good then the word would spread, and spread it did. With social media playing a big part and word of mouth news of this mini league spread and interest continued to grow.

After the year 1 review and discussions with the PE staff, we were able to increase the number of events from 3 to 6 across the academic year and take the league on a road show tour of the local high schools in the Renfrewshire authority. This had the desired effect as the number of teams grew rapidly. I was still delivering in the curriculum and working with young leaders delivering workshops on coaching and working with Renfrewshire School Sport Excellence to build a network of coaches and young leaders to support this growth.  Year two was a great year with 7 out of the 11 schools sending teams. After 6 rounds Johnstone high were crowned High Schools champions.

So here I am standing in the gym of St Andrews Academy in year 3 of the project, looking at 10 teams playing fully competitive 6v6 volleyball, the young leaders are supporting the refereeing of the games, the teachers a fully engaged with their teams. There are parent volunteers helping with the school teams. There are a number of player who I have established a school club links with Su Ragazzi. Players like William Neil, Daniel Okungbowa and Joshua Akinunmi all having gone along to the Glasgow based club.  This partnership has definitely grown arms and legs. The Renfrewshire schools mini league has developed perfectly and continues to grow, with 1 round left in this year’s competition I am already looking to next year and the next steps for Renfrewshire. I hope to try to develop a community club in the authority and establish more regular training for the pupils. The success of this project is down to the great work between the SVA, Renfrewshire Leisure, active schools, the schools and the pupils. I am delighted with the progress and am beginning to look to develop a new younger strand of this League.

Andrew Fleming
SVA West Regional Development Officer