Kia Orana

By John Kessel | Jan. 05, 2013, 10:31 a.m. (ET)

Long before Spock split his fingers and said “live long and prosper” the people of the Cook Islands said in greeting and thanks “May you live long/well” It is on their license plates, and even means thank you. We drove one nite around the whole main island – there are others where the black pearl is found – taking 45 minutes if that. Our journey was slowed by the “Egg Lady” truck which moved gingerly along the rougher sections of the one lane highway. Gas is about $8 a gallon, so lots of scooters, but surprisingly not many bicyclists. Ever present are the “Tsunami Route” signs and arrows, and the harbor has a large tsunami warning device hooked up to the main site in Hawaii. Hugh Graham, my host and President of the Cook Island Volleyball Federation, said there are about 11,000 people on this main island, and about 18,000 total people in his country. So the chance for impacting is great…

Only one direct flight a week goes to the Cook Islands from the USA, so I caught a flight first to Auckland, and got a chance to see the all black All Black Air New Zealand plane. Having shared many ideas of the last four years with the All Blacks, I was pleased to see their success in the World Cup, finally winning it…after decades of coming up short. The campaign by Adidas, called This is not a Jersey” I think is a brilliant one, and an adaptation of this would be appropriate for many other programs beyond the All Blacks. In their case, they wove the names of the fans, using fibre imprinting nanotechnology into the thread that made the jersey….so search and learn online for more video and posters on the program. This and another of my favorite signs from the main road are favorites of mine from this trip…

Beginning with the end in mind, we seek to send a Cook Island beach team to the Olympics – male or female. There have been Olympians from here since 1988, and two of the athletes I am working with were in London, both in the 100m dash. - That this volleyball success might be possible to happen, for the athletes are quite strong here, is seen in both the success of the Latvian men in London (bronze) and the number of Olympians and medalist coming from Hawaii and Outrigger Canoe Club courts, as covered in my blog “Ohana and the Value of Play”. So part of the trip is about building and enhancing both a men’s and women’s court, as well as a kids court – just like they have at Outrigger.

Another challenge is lighting the courts, for in this longitude, the sun comes up, complete with the chorus of crowing free ranging roosters that fill my bedroom’s back yard, at about 6 and sets about 12 hours later, leaving just a couple hours of sunlight training time after work ends.

The main groups we trained were the Cook Islands Sports Academy – about 20 coaches, and the High school teachers at all three high schools – six PE teachers in all with each class getting training – totaling about 250 players, who then taught what they learned to the primary school teachers, as part of the “that which you teach you learn. That ending event was for over 100 kids from the primary schools in the capital city where 6-12 year olds spent the afternoon learning the skills from the CISA coaches and playing on various height nets.

The Oceania Games happened a month after my visit, and there is one strong doubles male player, who needs a partner. The plan was to have them train 2 vs 6 in November, to work on how to put the ball down no matter how big a block or defensive group might be.

The Cook Islands Sports academy coaches were eager to learn, on the court then on the sand, and at the end on the grass courts. School volleyball is played, culminating in championships that are being restored, January thru March, but the PE teachers brought their classes to learn. Like my trip to Barbados, these Commonwealth connected nations focus on Rugby and Cricket for the guys, and Netball for the girls. It just so happens that a solid netball station is perfect for putting up the netband width white ribbon, and then sliding it up and down from the men’s to the women’s net heights, as well as lower for badminton and of course sitting volleyball. I left behind a set of four nets on a rope so that our hosting school could get lots more kids playing.

Twenty Cricket is a big program, with an on site full time staff member from the international cricket federation. I never did see a single person on crutches, in a wheelchair or with a prosthetic – most wear shorts so I would have seen it. I just think the population is too small. I did see a LOT of 3 legged dogs as they and the free range chickens are all over, and many have been hit by cars and are hopping around. I guess the people are just that much smarter – not faster…lol.

I finished the journey with two days of training coaches in Auckland, New Zealand - where the greeting gets shortened to Kia Ora, but with the same intent.- I coached 15 more coaches and 25 Maoris athletes – and worked with the NZ Paralympic Committee as my host, James, who runs some excellent leagues decided after hearing about sitting volleyball, to add the option to his adult program and support ParaVolley.