JOHNNY MCFADDEN - BEACH VOLLEYBALL
Beach Volleyball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world.
For the Beijing Olympics in 2008, 31 countries attempted to qualify. Four years later in London 143 countries battled it out on the sand for a place at the games.
At the last Olympics 169 countries vied to make the plane to Rio. The gold medal matches in both the men’s and women’s competition started at midnight local time to appease the huge worldwide television audiences.
Beach Volleyball made its Commonwealth Games debut on the Gold Coast in 2018 with 16 nations and 48 athletes competing
Team NI are hoping to send their first ever athletes in the sport to Birmingham 2022 and despite the strains of the summer sunshine seeming a distance dream in the current climate both the men and women’s teams are on the beach preparing for the September’s qualifying tournament.
Johnny McFadden who recently took up the position of president of Northern Ireland Volleyball which governs both the indoor and outdoor versions of the game explained the growing popularity of beach volleyball in Northern Ireland.
“The sunshine and the sand get a lot of people interested in the sport, at the Olympic Games in Rio (2016) was the highest television viewing figures for all the sports and in London it was one of the highest,” said McFadden.
“We are basically trying to currently tap into the popularity of the sport and on the development side of things we are trying to expand so it becomes a proper tour with ranking points to allow our athletes the chance to compete and the highest levels in Europe and further a field.”
“The Commonwealth Games has given us that additional branch that we have never been involved with before, so it has been a massive learning curve the last few months or getting involved with it and getting our elite athletes back out training and it has definitely a rewarding one for the sport.”
“There are no set clubs regarding beach the way we would have for the indoor programme. The elite athlete programme for the Commonwealth Games is eight male and seven female athletes. Our 2019 beach volleyball programme had 210 players and that was a breakdown of 120 males and 90 females.”
McFadden has a long-standing association with the sport but mainly the indoor game.
“I’ve been involved in volleyball on and off pretty much all my life. I’ve just been elected President of Northern Ireland Volleyball.”
“I’m not playing beach competitively but I’m overseeing the Commonwealth Games aspect.”
“I still play for Garvagh Phoenix, I have played some beach volleyball but not at the level of Commonwealth, I partake in the odd match in the summer tour that runs every year.”
“The highest trophy I won with Garvagh was the first division title and that was two years ago.”
Team NI didn’t send any athletes to the beach volleyball in the Gold Coast.
“We didn’t have all our ducks in a row and it was too quick a turnaround, it gave us a little bit of a learning opportunity to sit and have a look at how it was run, what they are looking for, what qualification tournaments involved.”
“For 2022 we are really able to give this a go, we were able to get a coaching structure in place with Alan Moore (head coach) and Sarah Jankowitz (assistant coach), Alan has been fantastic in running the programme on behalf of Northern Ireland Volleyball with input from our performance director Jeff Scott.”
“Now we have our structure in place we can concentrate and
get the programme to where we want it to be so I’m hopefully we’ll see a Northern Ireland team in Birmingham.”
Portrush held a small nations event in 2018 and that also helped grow the popularity of the sport.
“It was a fantastic event that Northern Ireland Volleyball hosted in 2018 it was great to see so many high-level players in Northern Ireland on the beach in Portrush in lovely sunshine all week and the crowds.”
“It really was a successful event and the participation number on the back of that got a vast boost and the interest in the beach side of things was promoted more.”
“Both forms of volleyball work hand in hand with each other in Northern Ireland given that we are a relatively small sport you will have a lot of cross over of indoor players switching to the beach in the summer and vice versa, some of the larger countries players specialise in beach as opposed to indoor but I think as we grow you may see more of that happening in Northern Ireland playing just concentrating solely on one element of the sport.”
Despite the weather the athletes are already on the beach training.
“Our following for the beach volleyball are a very well committed group of people, they post pictures playing over the Christmas holidays all wrapped up playing on the beach.”
“One thing Northern Ireland doesn’t have is the sunshine or the weather but the one thing it does have is beautiful beaches and I think the sand in Northern Ireland is some of the best in the UK and wider even going into Europe.”
“So we are lucky that we do have that natural facility which is prefect for beach volleyball and if we got the chance to host bigger events here off the back of the Commonwealth Games it is definitely something we have the capacity to do.”
To make it to Birmingham the athletes will have to qualify at a tournament in Scotland this September.
“The athletes are back on the beach, the council have approved the use of the beaches for training, they accepted the letter of support saying that we are an elite athlete programme.”
“It is great to see the players back getting a feel for the ball again, getting a feeling for the sand. The National Trust has offered us the use of Portstewart Strand as a training base which is great as well.”
“Hopefully the weather will improve, at the moment they are only training on a Saturday, but they are hoping to add an additional two nights a week into the programme as well, the coaches are currently working on the timetable so it is full steam ahead.”
“September will roll around very quickly, six months seems a long time but in competitive sport when you are trying to get things right that will disappear very quick.”
McFadden believes a getting to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham would be a huge boost for the sport.
“To get a men’s and women’s pair to Birmingham would be amazing to get one from either would be equally as good and it would promote our sport so much.”
“It would do wonders for it. Beach Volleyball with a Northern Ireland representative on prime time tv in the UK for everyone to see would be fantastic and we’d hope that not only would it boost the beach game but also boost the indoor game for us.”
“We currently working on funding applications for development opportunities for the sport. Hopefully if we are successful in those it will see our participation levels and our capacity to offer more volleyball in Northern Ireland and it would be a huge boost for the sport beyond the Commonwealth Games.”
“We are a totally self-funded sport we received no government funding, we have done everything pretty much of our own bat for the last few years, the hope is showing what we have been able to achieve with no money what could we achieve with a little a bit of help.”
McFadden would encourage anyone thinking of taking up volleyball to give it a go.
“It is a fast-paced sport. Behind football I believe volleyball has the highest levels of participation for a team sport, it’s massive in the UK it’s bigger in Europe and wider but that is something we hope through events that it is something we can pull people into because it is a very good sport.”
“It’s exciting in all of it’s formats, if people want to get involved just go the NI Volleyball on Facebook or if they want to email email@example.com and somebody will be in touch, we are always looking to add new members to the clubs and we’re also looking to expand the sport by adding clubs to different areas and if we can assist with helping people develop clubs that is something we’d gladly do as it benefits us all in the long run.”