Home Irish Sport Showcase Your Sport: Q&A With Volleyball Ireland’s Gary Stewart

Showcase Your Sport: Q&A With Volleyball Ireland’s Gary Stewart

In our new series, ‘Showcase your Sport’, in association with the Irish Federation of Sport, we will be giving you a thorough insight into some of the most fascinating sports we have in Ireland.

This week, we’re focusing on Volleyball and answering our questions is the General Manager of Volleyball Ireland, Gary Stewart.

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When did you first get involved with Volleyball Ireland? 

In my previous role at the Sport Ireland National Sports Campus, I was responsible for managing a range of participation raising programmes. One of these was a multi-sports Summer Camp where we involved many NGBs to showcase their sports – Volleyball took part in that I was really impressed with the inclusive nature of the sport, how it lends itself to developing physical literacy and the fast-paced, fun and supportive way in which it was coached by the development staff. 

From there, I kept an eye of the sport and when the General Manager role came up I jumped at the chance to get involved and to help shape a sport with so much potential here in Ireland. 

Are there different variations of volleyball? 

So there are now four main formats, which are: Volleyball, which is played indoor on a court, 6-a-side. Then there’s Beach Volleyball which is growing in popularity rapidly around the world and here in Ireland. That’s two a-side on a smaller court, on the sand. We also have sitting volleyball which is a badminton court sized area, where players are sat on the ground. Sitting Volleyball is a Paralympic sport and the skill levels are phenomenal. It’s really tough to play. 

Recently the CEV (European Federation) have introduced Snow Volleyball which is a similar setup to Beach except the obvious surface differences. This is played a lot in ski resorts. The next time we get a downpour of snow in Ireland, you may see some courts popping up!

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Volleyball Ireland have been quite innovative and introduced Chair Volleyball which is aimed at older adults and gives more elderly participants a chance to play a fun, social yet fiercely competitive game. We launched chair volley in 2019 and it is proving hugely popular. We are planning to host our first National Championships in 2021…you could be 75 and win an All Ireland medal!

We believe that Volleyball is for everyone.

What are the basic rules? 

Whatever the format the general idea is that each team has to get the ball over the next with no more than three touches. You’re aiming to get the ball to bounce on the other side of next, in court. Or force your opponent to hit the ball out or into the net.

Is it popular in Ireland? How many clubs are there?  

The sport is certainly growing quickly with a 12% participation increase in the last year. We have around 1500 players that have active licenses with Volleyball Ireland, but we know there are lots of people playing in their own communities as well. For example, it’s really popular in the fire service with many stations having homemade courts to keep the firefighters fit and active. 

We have a significant schools programme with over 900 teams playing in our national competitions from Primary through to Senior level. The sport really helps develop Fundamental movement skills, it’s relatively cheap to play and the rules are easy to grasp – it’s very popular in schools and community games. These players then feed into 35 clubs dotted around Ireland.

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Volleyball is the fifth most participated sport in the world, and incredibly popular in Eastern Europe and South America.

So we have a very diverse membership with 74% of our adult players being foreign nationals, they come from 63 different countries. Volleyball is one of, if not the most diverse sport in Ireland. Our diversity and inclusivity is one of our real strengths.

Do people compete at an international level? 

Absolutely. Volleyball and Beach Volleyball are Summer Olympic sports and Sitting Volleyball is at the Paralympics. We haven’t got Chair Volley there yet, but maybe in the future!

In Ireland we have National teams in Volleyball and Beach both Senior and Junior, starting at u16 level. Growing our youth national teams is a real priority for us and last year alone our junior teams played in Denmark, Italy, Scotland and the Faroe Islands. There’s great opportunities to represent Ireland on the world stage. 

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In 2019, We also hosted our first International Beach Volleyball event which drew teams from Denmark, Slovakia, Ukraine, Lithuania, Scotland and Estonia. It was one of the few Olympic qualifying events held in Ireland. 

How is Volleyball Ireland funded? 

Around 65% of our funding comes through grants to develop the sport. Mainly thanks to Sport Ireland and the Government. We are also increasing revenues through sponsorship, international competitions and some commercially minded programmes we deliver. This is an area we are continuously looking to develop and are open to ideas.

What is your favourite aspect of your role? 

Working with the staff, board and our volunteers to drive participation and increase performance. Volleyball is an incredible sport. I’ve fallen in love with it the last two years. Sport has the power to improve society, making people healthier and happier. I’m privileged to be involved.

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Last year we launched our first National Youth League which will have a real impact on the development of the sport. We’ve also introduced some really strong school-club support programmes and brought the first ever International Beach Volleyball event to Ireland. We also hosted what was probably Ireland’s first Online Sports camp at the start of the lockdown (135 kids registered). So being able to be creative and innovative to get people active is my real driver.

This year we will be launching some really exciting and quite innovative programmes, which will have a long term beneficial impact on our members.

We believe that Volleyball is for everyone, so creating a life long participation pathway is exciting. 

Why should people try out volleyball? 

Volleyball is an incredibly exciting, dramatic and fun sport – where every point is an event. We have programmes for beginners with Social Volley, right through to the over 80s with Chair Volley. We believe Volleyball is for everyone.

If you’re young and reading this then Volleyball can provide you with some great opportunities. Some of our players have gained scholarships to US colleges, or are taking part in an exchange programme with professional clubs across Europe. You can represent Ireland and travel the world!

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What’s great about Volleyball is that it is incredibly supportive. After every point the whole team comes together and encourages. You don’t see that in many team sports.

As I mentioned earlier, Volleyball is one of the most diverse sports in Ireland. If you’re new to Ireland it’s a great way to get involved in your local community, make friends and meet like minded people. We’re proud of our diversity and the positive impact our clubs have.

How can they get involved? 

Reach out to us at info@Volleyballireland.com or visit the website volleyballireland.com where we have a club finder app. This will be updated shortly with our social volleyball programme where beginners and newbies can rock up and play (Covid19 pending of course).

About Marisa Kennedy

Marisa is a Digital Journalist with Pundit Arena. You can contact her at marisa@punditarena.com or on Twitter