Nelson nets the A team
Allan Brodie and Ross Baldwin both believe in what they perceive as volleyball's addictive qualities.
They just wish more people could see it.
Internationally, volleyball has traditionally held an esteemed position in countries like the United States and Brazil and in Europe, where Italy, the Netherlands and countries from Eastern Europe have been major forces since the late 1980s. Russia, China and the rest of Asia are also among the world's leading exponents.
In New Zealand, though, volleyball's relatively high participation numbers don't necessarily equate to any corresponding prominence among the country's most high-profile sports. It remains a minor sport, despite beach volleyball's best efforts to popularise and promote the game.
Not that Brodie and Baldwin haven't played their part in promoting the sport over the years. Both have earned prominent national profiles within volleyball circles, and earlier this month they were made life members of Volleyball New Zealand.
Taranaki-born Brodie has built a reputation as a highly respected administrator, although his initial entry into the sport was as a losing college coach.
He was teaching at Mt Maunganui College at the time, and with the Bay of Plenty secondary schools championships looming, he decided on a whim to take charge of one of the college's junior teams.
"A bunch of boys signed up, and we went to the tournament and we got absolutely thrashed - [the opposition] swept the floor with us," Brodie recalls. "I said, ‘This will never happen again'."
And it didn't. The following season, Brodie's much better prepared and focused young team finished third in New Zealand.
"I was in, and have been in ever since."
He has since dedicated over 30 years of his life to coaching, organising and administering the sport, including helping to run the first ever beach volleyball tournament, in 1979, setting up programmes for youngsters, and serving as the sport's national president from 1995 until earlier this year.
He's served on the New Zealand Federation of Volleyball Clubs management committee and the Volleyball New Zealand Board, and for more than 10 years has represented New Zealand at Asian and world volleyball congresses. He's also a vice-president of the Asian Volleyball Confederation, representing the Oceania Zone, and is a member of the Asian Volleyball Confederation executive board, and the board of the Administration and Events Commission.
In 2007, he was responsible for the reintroduction of the men's Commonwealth volleyball championships, and has been instrumental in organising the Federation Internationale de Volleyball world championships qualifying tournament, which was held in New Zealand for the first time in 2009.
Brodie's services to New Zealand volleyball were duly acknowledged in the 2010 Queen's Birthday honours, when he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit.
Originally from Golden Bay, Baldwin has been based in Darfield for the past three years and is now part of the Canterbury volleyball setup. However, his Nelson roots saw him involved as a player, coach, selector, team manager, referee and VNZ board member.
His rather self-effacing description of his playing ability belies the fact that he was part of the New Zealand men's squad for five years, having played at Nelson College, Canterbury University (as player-coach), and with the Trafalgar Volleyball Club on his return to Nelson in 1977.
"Initially I thought [my New Zealand selection] was a bit of a geographic selection to help balance the proportion of the North Islanders," Baldwin jokes. "I got one test match [against Racing Club de France]. I was enthusiastic but not super-talented."
Baldwin continued playing through to the 1980s before acknowledging that "playing volleyball with youngsters was hazardous to your health". After "an achilles injury or two", he turned most of his efforts towards coaching.
He's subsequently coached boys' and girls' teams at Nayland College and Waimea College, and since his move to Canterbury he has been involved with coaching at Aranui High School.
"I think the most satisfaction comes from coaching, and particularly secondary school kids, seeing them progress from [ages] 13 through to 17. And on those occasions when you get that opportunity from third form through to seventh form, or nowadays year 9 to 13, you can actually make a difference and probably achieve something."
Brodie says Tasman's junior volleyball programme is virtually unique in the country.
"We've got something like 100 teams of pre-college players playing volleyball, and and that really only happens in Nelson, Blenheim and in the Bay of Plenty."
According to Baldwin, much of that can be attributed to Brodie. He says the ASB Nelson Pines' stunning 3-2 victory over defending champions Sparta, of Auckland, at the national club championships in Nelson in August validated the programme's success.
"The reason Nelson are having the success they are having, from what is just a provincial area, is because Allan's got this system going where kids [aged] eight or nine are playing volleyball. In Canterbury, that doesn't happen.
"Of the Nelson men's side that won the national title this year, seven of the 10 New Zealand players [involved] had started in the Badminton Hall in Richmond, or the Nelson College for Girls' old gym. Ten or 12 years later, they're winning the national title.
"[Nelson's] Pat Shone, Ben Glue and Jack Redpath - those three players are clear evidence, examples of those who have gone through that system."
Both acknowledge the critical role played by an exhaustive list of top-quality coaches in the region.
Baldwin says Nelson's coaching regime leaves Canterbury's in the dust. In comparison, Baldwin says Nelson's coaching environment is "far more committed, it's far more professional, and the attention to detail is much greater here".
"I started coaching down there and basically got myself unpopular for being too competitive and for paying too much attention and detail to tactics and technique. The kids loved it, but the other coaches . . . they supervised, basically.
"There were one or two exceptions, obviously, and that's why Tasman teams will always dominate Canterbury both nationally and South Island-wise at junior level - because they start at primary school."
"Ross is right - there are some very competent coaches across Tasman, so we're able to produce all these young kids, knowing that there's a very good pathway, regardless of where they go, and an opportunity to climb the levels as they go through."
Brodie's organisational skills were evident in the smooth running of this year's national club championships in Nelson. Despite finally relinquishing his role as VNZ president this year, he is still immersed in promoting New Zealand's and Oceania's cause, and establishing a meaningful foothold on the world stage. Oceania is currently part of, and governed by, the Asian Volleyball Confederation.
"We really don't fit in Asian volleyball, and right now we're working to try and have our own confederation established at Oceania.
"Asian volleyball doesn't relate to Oceania or the national Olympic Committee. They never come and see us, because it's too far - they have to have us go to them all the time.
"We think and debate in the European style, which is so different from Asian volleyball, or Asian sport.
"The decisions [in Asia] are made by the most senior person who's been there the longest, and usually the oldest. The decision is made overnight, and he'll come back and tell you what he's decided, whereas we're used to debating it. We mightn't all get what we want, but we agree to whatever the decision is. But not in the Asian governance."
There's been a significant recent development, however, whereby both Asian volleyball and FIVB have adopted a policy of funding the air travel to their biannual conferences for all the category one and two countries.
"So all of the Pacific Islands and countries like Afghanistan and new countries in the sport get their air travel paid. Oceania's got 22 members, and if we include the Tokelau Islands, we've got 23.
"We [Oceania] are one-third of Asia in terms of votes, so all of a sudden people are wanting to know us, because we're now getting to the meetings courtesy of the paid travel, and we've got a whole bunch of votes.
"At the most recent congress [in Anaheim, California], they wanted to increase the number of people on the FIVB executive, with no figures about what it was going to cost and the budget and these sort of things. Oceania block-voted against it.
"As a result, the resolution was lost, and so it should have been. We wanted to see some numbers first before going and supporting anything like that.
"And that really had the senior executive of FIVB sitting up and saying, ‘We need to heed these 23 votes that are sitting out there in the Pacific'. If they vote as they did on this thing as a bloc, some future things may struggle to get through."
Brodie and Baldwin are volleyball purists and, when pressed, admit to a preference for the indoor game over the increasingly popular and better publicised outdoor version.
"Beach volleyball's the entertainment. You can't get the subtleties and sophistication of the game with beach volleyball that you can with indoor," says Brodie.
Baldwin agrees that beach volleyball definitely has its place, particularly in its ability to draw the crowds. But he has reservations.
"My issue now is that when you mention volleyball, people visualise the beach and sunshine and wind, where in actual fact it's counterproductive in terms of spreading the word about what real volleyball is."
Nevertheless, Brodie concedes that by staging beach tournaments at Tahunanui Beach, they're exposing the game to a much broader cross-section of people.
"When we set up at the Rocks Road end of the beach and you get 3000 cars an hour going past, they can see beach volleyball. But you get 3000 cars driving past Saxton Stadium - they wouldn't know what's going on inside."
The Nelson Mail