While some of the country’s well established codes’ growth look redundant, one of the country’s codes, Volleyball, continues to steadily make an impact on the international scene.
At the moment, the code ranks among the top ten in Africa both in the men and ladies rankings, a pattern that has been consistent for a couple of years now.
The sport has also been able to produce two players who are currently plying their trade in the professional league in Algeria. The two women, Dipolelo Nkele and Tebogo Sejewe were spotted playing in the national team setup before they were snatched to the paying league of Algeria.
According to the President of Botswana Volleyball Federation (BVF), Daniel Molaodi, the change in the fortunes of the sport can be traced as far back as 1995 when the association sought the help of the then Kenyan-based Technical Director and Consultant, Hussein Imam Ahli, to look into the status of volleyball in Botswana.
He says with the help and insight gained from the report and recommendations of the consultant, who was partly funded by the Federation of International Volleyball and the Confederation of African Volleyball, his association then streamlined its structures and development plans.
He says the consultant’s report, coupled with the arrival of Cuban coaches, has since helped catapult the country into one of the best in southern Africa where they are only rivaled by South Africa.
“Before then, we used to lose to teams from Zimbabwe and Zambia, both at club level and at International level. But as we speak now, these people benchmark from us,” Molaodi told Standard Sport.
While admitting that money is a problem to the development of volleyball and sports in general within the country, the BVF chief says money alone cannot and will not be a solution to sports development in the country. He says good development structures as well as adhering to strategic plans go a long way in making a sporting code successful.
Mr Molaodi says watching from the teams that usually beat them, his federation realized the importance of height in volleyball and started working on this aspect of their teams.
“If you look at the dominating teams in our league and in the international arena, they have one thing in common, their players are tall. We realized this and started recruiting players with good height and as we speak, we are able to compete with the best in the international arena,” says Molaodi.
This, however, is not an easy task as Batswana are mostly not bestowed with height and physique.
To top it all, they also have to compete for the small pool of players with other height sports like Basketball and Netball, with the latter taking girls. The recruitment of players with height advantage proved a masterstroke for the BVF as it started competing fiercely against even Africa’s volleyball powerhouses like Egypt and Algeria, who are playing professional volleyball. Despite having been, at times, not able to run their leagues due to lack of sponsorship, volleyball has managed to hold their heads above the tide. Molaodi told Standard Sport that should the sport have enough sponsorship for its league, the country would be able to compete and win against some of the best in the world.
He says as part of their developmental plan, they have partnered with primary schools through the Botswana Primary Schools’ Sports Association (BOPSSA) and secondary schools through Botswana Integrated Sports Association (BISA) which ensures continuity in their development.
To show commitment, he says his association has recently started a database for potential players, both at Primary schools and Secondary Schools to make a follow up on their progress and to ensure they don’t get lost to the sport should they fail at school.
For his part, BVF’s Technical Director, Mission Mereyotlhe, told Standard Sport that the volleyball federation is working hard to ensure there is growth in the sport. He says as part of their development plan, they have requested companies to sponsor schools’ volleyball, which JB Sports have gladly taken. The BVF Technical officer concurred with his president that development from grassroots level is proving to be the best way to do things in sports and volleyball in particular.
He says while attending the recent BISA games, he was pleasantly surprised to notice that most of the players competing had been playing the sport since primary school. On the domestic league, Mereyotlhe says the stature of the league has grown tremendously since his playing days. He says players now are better than those of their time as they are much better tactically and technically than they were. While just like any other sport they are facing sponsorship shortages, BVF’s continued steady growth goes to show that although money is essential, good strategical planning and development are as equally important.
A game played by height advantage, Botswana’s sport of giants is on the rise.