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World School Volleyball Championships

By John Kessel | June 10, 2012, 12 a.m. (ET)

I have returned to the Mediterranean Sea, where almost 30 years ago I played volleyball in Italy, only this time I am up the coast, in the town of Toulon in France. I am here to make a presentation at the International School Sports Federation (ISF) Sports and Education Symposium and attend the World School Volleyball Championships.  This is part of USAV’s continuing development of the sport projects, in this case to help others understand the opportunities of disabled volleyball and sport – Paralympic, Special Olympic and Deaflympic primarily – and  to support the high school teams in both the beach and indoor versions of our sport for a lifetime.  In two weeks I will be presenting in Indianapolis to the National Association of Coaching Educators. There, I will meet with our Affiliated Organization, the National Federation of State HS Associations to see what we can develop for all sports including volleyball and Arizona’s varsity program in beach volleyball.

It was a wonderful large group of sports leaders, including former Sardina Italy volleyball player and current ISF President Andrea Delfin, Nick Fuller, current Director of Education for London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics, and Konstantinos Georgiadis, Honorary Dean of International Olympic Academy in Olympia Greece, and Gudren Doll-Tepper, Vice President of Education/Olympic Education for the German Olympic Sports Confederation. Sadly Freddie Sanchez, who I helped produce the Puerto Rico video “Learning Volleyball Through Games” back in 1997 (CLICK HERE to watch that, in Spanish of course), was unable to attend due to a serious family illness.

Nick’s work was seen in the 2012 Games in London where annual National Sports week has 20,000 schools and 7 million kids in the UK doing an Olympic or Paralympic sport. Their bid over the others was far more youth oriented and they have been putting action behind the promised words of their bid, including starting their legacy work back in 2008. One of their new ideas was a recipie contest, with 6,000 entries and the winners knowing their creation will be served inside the Olympic/Paralympic Village dining hall. I also appreciated that he noted they apply the Olympic values to their Organizing Committee and are very friendly and supportive of their Rio 2016 compatriots: http://www.rio2016.org/en.

Konstantinos presented a detailed summary of Olympic history – Baron said in 1897, accurate for the times. Gundren is a good speaker, and she spoke English well so as to make my break times more interesting. Her groups session, entitled “Girls, Encouraging their presence in sport at all levels”  had a quote from the Olympic boxer Myriam Lamarre that was intriguing  - “The blows that I take shake my opponents and the foundations of society.”

Eric Micoud, a popular French professional basketball player closed out the first long day. He came to the Washington DC area as a junior and played two seasons at Georgetown before turning pro and playing many times for the French National team. As he spoke very good English, and has a 6 year old daughter, we had lots to talk about and I want to thank him for his hospitality.

Being in France always makes me wish I had learned French....even knowing Spanish and Italian well does not seem to help me get the essence of what is usually being said. Of course, the Symposium was translated by headset in real time, but I had meals with the one representative from Burkina Faso and was having to pantomime a lot. No doubt I have likely made some sort of “promise by gestures” that I will send him my first born and a car if he only can send me an email.

The USA and Canada used to be members of the ISF, and we are now working on what needs to be done to rejoin the group for our sport and others. Of course the challenge is determining how, with 22 boys and 49 girls volleyball states with varsity programs or state championships, who is the lone USA representative, but we will figure it out.  I find it interesting that in one place in France, you are within less than 20 miles of the German, Belgium and Dutch borders – Thus the relative ease of staging international competition in Europe compared to the challenges of even a single state championship in most states in America.

My presentation I will email to you as a powerpoint pdf if you request a copy – apparently it was well received, with a lot of “Super!” comments with a thick French accent after it was over.  My program’s moderator, Alexander Schischlik, Team Leader of UNESCO’s Social and Human Sciences Division, said he had never considered using sitting volleyball as a way to let both disabled and able bodied players share the game together – and few had even seen the game played, so that alone was worth the four days of travel to get to and from Toulon. The overall topics can be downloaded by CLICKING HERE.

The second part was World School Volleyball Championships, from Jun 2-10 with 61 teams from 34 different countries and 196 best 3 out of 5 matches.  More can be seen here: www.unss-medias.org/volley   Toulon’s rugby team played in the French Championships in Paris, the French Open was going on at the same time (congrats to Nabal….again….) and all the nations had soccer matches in the quadrennial event, the Euro 2012, to those dominated the airwaves, but the event made front page news as you can see below.

Each nation’s team is “adopted” for the event by a school (from elementary to high school level), and most nites are a family meal nite with those from the hosting school families as the cultural experience is a big part of this event. This includes a big “Nation’s Nite” where all the teams share information about their country with the other teams, through food, dance and talks. Their trophies for both all tournament team players and the top four finishes in both divisions, were hand made locally.  Host nation France and the UNS were especially proud of the 80 youth aged officials they had working throughout the event as part of the UNSS program “Towards a Responsible Generation.”

Wearing USA Volleyball in an event without USA teams is an interesting experience. When I walked into the volleyball venue, the first person to speak to me was Karen Schwartz, formerly playing for San Diego State University when my wife then, Laurel, was their setter. After graduating, she left to play professionally in Toulon, fell in love, married a French computer wiz, and had a daughter, who is a swimmer but was there helping host one of the visiting nation’s teams. Quite a trip on the wayback machine Mr. Peabody…. Then the Greek team coach said he had worked with Lloy Ball and asked for my card, then looked shocked at reading it and said “I read your blog all the time!”

The level of play was strong, similar to that seen in our 17 and under open division at the US Jr. Nationals.  A seesaw battle went on between Chinese Taipei and Poland, and in the end, thanks to the aggressive jump serving of a lefty, #8, from Poland; it ended 15-13 for Poland.  The girls division was a showdown between Spain and Brazil, with the Spaniards winning in four well played sets. Taking third was China for the boys and Lativa for the girls. The Taiwan boys celebrated points a bit differently than most by running as a team to the endline around the server to come. Meanwhile, the Brazilian girls were clones of their Olympic champion’s team in both celebration and mannerisms….the power of having their national teams on TV all the time down there, and being such heroes.

I have a photo gallery I took of the action which can be seen by clicking HERE. My favorite part other than the nice long rallies was the closing ceremonies spontaneous dancing –CLICK HERE to see the clip I posted. The dancing inspiring song they are playing is Cheri Cher by the African group from France known as Magic System, worth a fun warm up music set for any nation’s team, so download it!

I spent one evening meal sharing ideas with the staff present from Peace and Sport (based in Monaco), who made me aware of this ball, which they were quite impressed with… The reality of the lack of balls (and pumps, along with rough conditions), and other resources in this area, this TEDx speaker addresses quite well. Since we are USAV, helping everyone, not just one group, I wanted to throw out the idea of a volleyball version….tho it might not make electricity….I have been rereading Daniel Kahneman’s newest book Thinking Fast and Slow and love the sentence “ I enjoyed the extraordinary good fortune of a shared mind that was superior to our individual minds and of a relationship that made our work fun as well as productive.”  So if you have 15 minutes to learn about a remarkable new soccer ball, go click these two links…. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2llYQqrmZwA and http://unchartedplay.com/

Next up…playing one last time in the King of the Mountain Father’s Day tournament with McKenzie before she gets too old for the division we helped Leon Fell start about a decade ago. This year’s KOM is the 40th….and I was there for the first one, playing on the sand in the Open division. Where the heck did my jump go over the last four decades anyways? 

So a big shout out to the Greek coaches reading this, and to all other nation’s coaches, especially those right here in the USA, who are working to be better teachers of the sport, and growing the game together.  Holler- john.kessel@usav.org - if you have any questions and meander thru the other blogs and areas of our USAV website which contains so many helpful areas to your volleyball journey. 

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