Sport is one of those very Marmite aspects of life – some love it, playing it regularly and watching it whenever they can, while others don’t see the appeal. Perhaps some people just think they can’t ‘do’ sport.
Over the summer, I was asked to play a few games of volleyball in a small tournament and agreed straight away. I’d had quite a sedate summer at that point, unless there is physical benefit to be gained from sitting in the pub. You could count the constant lifting of a pint glass as weightlifting in theory, but that’s for a future column.
I had never actually played volleyball before, but after a few training sessions we built up a slight bit of collective ability and at least one tactic. All was going well, until a few days before we were due to play we realised we had entered a sitting volleyball competition – and some of the opposition were national players preparing to play in a worldwide tournament.
So, obviously, this posed two problems. There was the fact that we weren’t very good and they were exceptional, and then there was the issue that we didn’t know what sitting volleyball actually was.
After some research, it turned out to be quite literally what it sounds like. All players sit on the court, with rules stipulating that ‘at least one cheek must be on the floor at all times’. The whole point of the game is that it is essentially a Paralympic sport.
I will admit that we did consider giving it a miss after these revelations, but we went along in the end because it was something different. There was also the obvious confusing point that none of us were physically disabled.
Having taken the opportunity to have a chat with the team coach before the tournament started, he pointed out that this wasn’t a problem, and is exactly why they were holding the tournament. Sitting volleyball is the only sport that can be played by disabled and able people alike. They can play in the same team, or against each other, with no problems.
In fact, while I was sitting down and playing, it was hard to tell who was actually disabled and who wasn’t. It was a very eye opening experience to say the least.
The tournament was being held not just to promote sport, not even just to promote Paralympic sport, but to encourage people to be more open to the opportunities provided by sport and to drop any prejudices they might have.
So maybe we did lose the final match 25 to 3. Maybe my backside was very sore for the next few days. That’s not the point. An opportunity was open, we took it, had a great day and met some truly inspirational people. It reminded me just how many social barriers sport can break down and just what it can do to people.
This freshers week, make sure you are open to sport, and the opportunities available to you here. You don’t need to have played sport before. Perhaps the main thing that I took from the sitting volleyball is that anyone and everyone can play and enjoy sport. If you’re open to the options available to you, who knows what you’ll find?