Gearing itself for bigger challenges

INDIAN volleyball is all set to open a new chapter and it wants to get better and brighter, to be a world power one day.

M. C. RAMAN

Coach G. E. Sridharan (extreme left), K. Murugan, Secretary, VFI and Course Director, Appie Krijnsen (holding the ball) interacting with the seven best blockers. -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

INDIAN volleyball is all set to open a new chapter and it wants to get better and brighter, to be a world power one day. Having done so well in 2003 when the Indian Youth team reached the World championship final and the junior side qualified for the World event, finishing No. 2 in Asia, besides the senior squad beating Asia's No. 1, South Korea in the Asian competition, the South Asian nation is getting ready for a bigger challenge in the next two years.

Rathish -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

The Volleyball Federation of India is aware of the difficulties awaiting it when it prepares its teams for the ensuing Asian junior championship this year and the World championship qualifier and the Asian senior tournament next year.

Those who have been following VFI's track record since the late 70s when B. Sivanthi Adityan took over as the President of the divided Federation are happy that India has become a power in Asia now and is aiming for a place at the World level. In these three decades there were umpteen attempts to shore up India's fortunes, but the success rate has not been high. Though the VFI was doing things in an organised way the talent-hunt programme was not successful. The Federation had to fall back on old players and that sometimes affected the performance of national squads. The talent pool was not widening.

Y. Subba Rao -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

However, in the late 80s the VFI began to change its track and it was a master stroke. Instead of waiting for the State associations to offer them talented players the Federation had decided to send its selected coaches to hunt for brilliant boys all over the country. That brought about a fantastic turnaround in building stronger teams. That apart even the assembling of teams long before the major competitions began to yield better results. The VFI completely dispensed with the last-minute scramble in forming teams and opted for well-tested combinations. No wonder the Indian Youth team managed to reach the World championship final. This may be a once-in-a-while success, but this has brought about enormous confidence among the national coaches that they can do it again. Even at the senior level.

To achieve something big at world level a nation has to have different priorities. First, it must have a regular flow of quality players. For that it has to create a mass base and well-organised talent-hunt programmes. After 1980 there was a big drop in the talent flow at the junior level, but from 1990 onwards the surge has started again, though not on a big scale. It is because of that India's progress has been steady, though there were some set-backs in between.

G. Pradeep -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

There has been a marked improvement in fine-tuning the administration, bringing in better coordination among coaches, officials, players and SAI Centres. The Federation realised the importance of maintaining the youth and junior teams for longer periods and then consider them for the senior competitions. It is easy to talk about the transition, but in practice it is a difficult process. In fact, the VFI has failed on a number of occasions in forming strong combinations mixing seniors and the juniors. Now, it is confident of doing it after its experiments in the last Asian senior championship near Beijing.

"We are confident now that we can form strong outfits. Our aim is to qualify for the next senior World men's championship. It is our lifetime ambition. We will certainly achieve that this time. We have top class spikers who can take us to world level. But we have to improve our defence and service if we are to be recognised in world volleyball," said Mr. K. Murugan, Secretary, VFI.

It is for this reason the national body is utilising the Chennai-based FIVB Development Centre's services fully. First, the Federation coaches are being exposed to excellent clinics conducted by top technical persons from FIVB. It is helping the Federation to bring more competent coaches into its schemes. "We don't want to depend on just one or two coaches. We have already started the process of trying various coaches at international level. Whoever delivers the goods will be recog<147,2,7>nised," said the VFI Secretary.

Dinesh Kumar -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

This time the VFI tried a new method. For technical clinics the response from the South Asian countries is very limited. When the FIVB Centre in Chennai conducted a technical clinic for blockers, the Federation invited seven best blockers of the country to interact with the Dutch Course Director Appie Krijnsen, an expert who taught them how to make their block more effective in international competitions. National coach G.E. Sridharan was also with them. It was a well-planned two-in-one move.

Subba Rao, India's tallest centre blocker, Pradeep, Dinesh Kumar, Rathish, Sube Singh, Gurbinder Singh and Shelton Moses attended the course. "I wanted them during the clinic so that they could learn more from Appie, particularly about the European style of game and block," said Sridharan. "Our main hope is Subba Rao if we want to qualify for the World men's championship. The others also have to be made strong and effective in combined block. We have set the target and we are moving towards it," said the national coach.

Sube Singh -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

What does Sridharan think about Subba Rao and others? His views:

Subba Rao (208 cm): He is the most experienced blocker now. He has been around for the last four years. He is also good in quick and low ball attack. He is sharp in first man block.

In fact, he received the Best Blocker, Best Attacker and Most Valuable Player awards in the last Asian senior championship near Beijing. But for second man block he has to be more quick in his movements. He has to improve on that and we are working on it. He has tremendous height advantage for the Asian standard and must do well in the World championship qualifier also.

Pradeep (202 cm): He is very young. He is going to be our main blocker in the coming Asian junior championship. He can be groomed to be our main blocker. He has to put more effort to be an effective attacker also, though at times he is a high ball spiker. His plus point is he is good in combined block, but he has to be exposed to more international competitions.

Gurbinder Singh -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

Dinesh Kumar (200 cm): He played well in the last World Youth championship in which India finished runner-up to Brazil. He was our main stay. Now he has to move to junior section. He is very quick even in second man block. Good fighter. But he has to improve in short ball attack.

Rathish (199 cm): He is quick in short ball attack with plenty of variety. He can also pounce on loose returns.

But he has to improve his block and concentration to be more effective in international competitions.

Sube Singh, Gurbinder Singh and Shelton Moses: They are all in the Youth category. We have exposed them to this clinic because they can learn more blocking techniques now itself. These players will take the Indian team again to the World championship. This is our hope.

Shelton Moses -- Pic. N. BALAJI-

"We have never had such an array of blockers in the past. There used to be one or two. But these are the most talented. But we are still looking for more. When we find them we will put them in the camp," said Sridharan.

This is a heartening development in Indian volleyball. The VFI is getting ready well in advance for major Asian and World events. This is how it should be in any sport.