Demand for junior volleyball in the Royal Wootton Bassett and Swindon area suddenly exploded four years ago, so how did a small club grow rapidly from five junior players to 50, all with a clear development pathway?
Explosion of interest
Until 2019, Royal Wootton Bassett Volleyball Club (RWB) had around 30 adults playing in a sports hall with a single volleyball court and catering for only a handful of members’ children.
However, inspired by Volleyball on TV – including the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and the Japanese manga and anime series Haikyuu!! – the club unexpectedly started receiving lots of enquiries from young people wanting to play volleyball.
A growth opportunity
To develop RWB’s junior provision from a very low base required willingness plus innovative solutions for space, time, equipment, funding, staffing and club structure… and, importantly, some business acumen to turn the Covid-19 Pandemic into a growth opportunity.
RWB had always aspired to be welcoming and inclusive for players from many backgrounds, origins and abilities, but now the club was challenged to extend this philosophy to encompass a younger age range.
So, in 2019, the club started a dedicated weekly session, separate from the adults, for 20 young players aged 11 to 15 using cheap outdoor nets taped to badminton posts.
Then came the Covid-19 Pandemic, which presented inevitable challenges, but also new opportunities. As the only club in Wiltshire to provide COVID-safe volleyball between lockdowns – within Government and Volleyball England guidelines – RWB provided much needed health and wellbeing benefits which were hugely appreciated by young players and their parents
This further enhanced the club’s reputation… and stimulating yet more demand and waiting lists!
Securing extra court time
Post-pandemic this gave the club more leverage with their venue, a council-owned public leisure centre. As usage by other groups diminished, RWB became a major community customer able to negotiate access to more sports hall space and time.
In partnership with Lime Kiln Leisure Centre, and backed by a grant from Swindon Sports Forum, the club invested in a wall-mounted junior training net running the entire length of the hall. This spans 5 badminton courts and extends capacity to 30 or more junior players at a time.
Catering for the increased demand
To accommodate growing capacity the club also enhanced its structure to provide a continuous development pathway between age groups:
RWB Minis – ages 9-12 – learn through 1v1, 2v2 and 3v3; play South West Junior Volleyball Tour (JuVoTo).
RWB Juniors – ages 13-15 – develop through 3v3, 4v4 and introduction to 6v6; play South West JuVoTo.
RWB Seniors – ages 16-18 – train with RWB adult 18+ squads; play 6v6 in Wiltshire Leagues (Open, Ladies & Juniors), Volleyball England Junior Grand Prix, and South West League.
Summer outdoor sessions – providing opportunity for juniors age 15+ and new players to stay engaged and break the ice by playing casually with existing adult members.
Developing a pool of coaches
All this activity and growth has only possible thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of a large team of volunteers covering welfare, administration and coaching.
RWB has developed a pool of adult coaches, plus teenage helpers and role models, who deliver safe and effective – and above all enjoyable – volleyball activity for the aged nine to 15 age groups.
To accommodate larger ‘adult’ groups aged 16-plus, and spanning performance levels, the club has moved from a single coach model to multiple coaches for each squad. Lead coaches focus on performance, while assistant coaches support 16 to 18-year-olds as they train with adults.
Greater all-round success
Already RWB is enjoying greater success in terms of participation, player retention and performance results across junior age groups, while also enhancing the age-profile and potential of the club’s adult teams.
The club now hosts junior events on a regular basis, including South West JuVoTo and the Volleyball England Junior Grand Prix Series.
The benefits have been a joy to experience for everyone in the club, while raising the club’s profile locally. This success was recognized in 2022 when RWB received Wiltshire Volleyball’s Club Achiever Award.
Key attributes through this journey of growth and development include: forward-thinking; openness to new people, ideas and opportunities; and willingness to volunteer – embracing all RWB’s members, adult and junior.
The club is still grappling with some ongoing challenges – for example to create further capacity for adult beginners and casual players (to reduce those waiting lists),capacity for adult beginners and casual players (to reduce those waiting lists), while maintaining momentum and volunteer capacity – yet the club looks forward with optimism.
Royal Wootton Bassett is happy to be approached by other clubs for advice and discussion.
Phil Heads email@example.com