VOLLEYBALL PARTNERSHIP PROVES INVALUABLE
On the face of it London 2012 veteran, occasional stand-up comic, part-time film maker and Super 8s star Peter Bakare doesn’t lack confidence.
This summer the charismatic 27-year-old graduated with an Animation degree from Northumbria University and represented his country at the European Universities Games in Croatia. And as he prepares for the next chapter in his colourful life story it’s impossible to imagine Bakare harbouring concerns about his future on or off the court. But appearances can be deceptive.
“In truth, when I returned to full-time education after London 2012, I was genuinely worried,” he explained. “I found it extremely difficult starting all over again at university and maintaining the standard I’d reached on the volleyball court. I just didn’t envisage how tough the academic side of things would be.”
Bakare wasn’t alone. Each year hundreds of elite student athletes move into higher education with a potentially daunting double-edged brief: achieve sporting success on the court and aspire to academic excellence off it. But help is at hand. The Sport England-supported Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) offers a lifeline to those individuals determined to succeed on both fronts.
“TASS is vital for our pathway as we have no UK Sport funding,” added Volleyball England Talent Manager Adi Fawcett. “It’s essential that we develop any partnerships and collaborations that can enhance our performance pathway. And it’s actually the combination of TASS and the Senior Academies that are keeping the best homegrown players in this country.”
Every year Fawcett and her team identify talented young volleyball players worthy of TASS support. Those athletes are nominated for awards and, if successful, have access to a network of unrivalled expertise. TASS supported volleyball players can access a range of vital services including strength and conditioning support, physiotherapy, assistance with equipment and lifestyle coaching. “The relationship between TASS and Volleyball England is key to the sport continuing to develop post London 2012,” added Bakare. “Volleyball England does a great job in identifying the talent that most needs support and TASS picks it up from there.”
For England senior women’s coach David Goodchild, the partnership between TASSand Volleyball England is invaluable. “TASS allows volleyball players across the country to focus on their sport and know the off-court support is there for them,” he said. “The funding helps many international players attend training camps across the country and progress to the next level. Without it so many talented young people simply wouldn’t get to that level.
“From a coach’s point of view – at a time when my sport receives no UK Sport Funding – TASS is a lifeline. Of course their contribution is invaluable when it comes to offering physiotherapy support, lifestyle coaching and the like but even the little things like kit and special food can often be covered by the funds they provide. Students don’t have too much money and those who are part of elite sports programmes don’t have the time to work much – if at all – outside of their sport.”
Millie Stamp echoes Goodchild’s view. A key member of the England Senior Women’s squad, the 19-year-old Mancunian would not be realising her international dream without TASS support.
“The funding that TASS provided me with enabled me to participate in the England Senior Programme,” said the University of Essex undergraduate. “Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to afford travel, food, kit and the training itself. TASS also helped me greatly this season when I had an emergency appendectomy – the team at my TASSDelivery Site were really proactive and supportive, giving me advice to help aid my recovery and monitoring my progress to ensure I wasn’t training too soon.
“It’s difficult trying to balance sport and studying but it’s also so rewarding to see the progress you can make in both when you really dedicate yourself. My Delivery Site and the coaching staff at my University are really understanding and want to see me exceed in both. This might mean sacrificing a training or gym session here or there but they will always support me no matter what I have to prioritise.”
If Stamp is relatively new to the scheme, then Bakare is proud to have been a TASSsupported athlete for several years and understands its value better than most. In his opinion it remains central to putting English volleyball back among Europe’s elite.
“If I had to pick out the single most important aspect of being a TASS supported athlete it’s the access I had to one-on-one strength and conditioning,” he added. “It proved hugely beneficial to my general wellbeing and gave me that extra edge on court. The sessions were tailored to my needs and there was no time wasted.
“Meetings with my TASS lifestyle adviser were also something I valued. As the volleyball season progressed and the exam season started and then both overlapped it was a stressful time. Talking to someone who’s seen so many student athletes go through the same helps to take the pressure off. You realise you’re not alone and that everything is possible. The lifestyle advisers help you to prioritise on and off the court.”
Fawcett has been a fan of TASS for some time now and it’s not only athlete support that Volleyball England have benefitted from in recent years. “Working with TASS also helps us to formalise our talent pathway processes,” she added. “The Senior Academy network is only two years old and before that there was nowhere for the junior players to go. In particular a lot of young girls were going to the USA on volleyball scholarships. But in partnership with TASS we can now make a similar offer to players who want to stay in England.
“TASS has also helped us develop our Talent ID programme: Volleyball Futures. We’ve done research with Essex University and Sheffield Hallam to identify what psychological and physical traits are needed to make the perfect volleyball player. We now know what the ideal volleyball player looks like and with TASS behind us we’re going out there to find them!”
In 2016 TASS supports almost 450 athletes across 30 different sports and its commitment to Volleyball England remains stronger than ever. “We are delighted that we can be of real benefit to a sport that continues to go from strength to strength,” said TASS National Scheme Director Guy Taylor.
“Players like Peter are testimony to what can be achieved when talented athletes are given the right support with their studies. There is no reason why they can’t achieve their goals on and off the court. These are exciting times for volleyball and we want to be a part of what lies ahead.”