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Last Updated: Friday, 17 November 2006, 09:45 GMT
Bulldozing for London
By Mark Ashenden

It is six years before the Olympics are in Britain and you have 4 million to spend by 2009.

Denise Johns (left) is a bright hope for GB
Denise Johns (left) is Britain's bright hope

Your mission? Unite the nation's sport associations and set up an Olympic programme that will deliver GB teams competing - and credibly - in London.

Where would you start? You need staff (mainly unpaid), offices, training camps and talent (good talent). The sport needs a whole new structure.

British volleyball gave this task to Richard Dobell in April and as the full-time programme kicks in, he describes his seven months of "moving heaven and earth".

WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR OBJECTIVES?

We are creating a whole organisation from scratch. Making changes for elite and world class sport takes a long time. We don't have time to make mistakes.

Our main remit is to field four teams in London - indoor men and women, beach and sitting (Paralympic) - and have them perform credibly. This means demonstrating our level is of an Olympic standard.

Research shows that success for countries with limited experience is finishing in the top eight. Making the quarter-finals would be a considerable achievement.

We have some very capable beach athletes who have a realistic chance of qualifying for Beijing 2008 and we are pushing them hard.

Most of the talent will be in the system already, but it is still possible to find the odd gem

Richard Dobell
There is a longer term emphasis on the indoor game but we still have to show consistent improvement.

There are critical phases. There will be a funding review after Beijing in March 2009 when the sport has to demonstrate a step change in its performance levels so it can continue to 2012.

We have to focus our resources carefully and clinically. London may seem a long time away but anything we do now has major implications.

WHAT DID THE FIRST FEW MONTHS INVOLVE?

We have been running flat out. It's been head down and deliver.

First priority was to do a stock check of where we were and where we were ultimately going. We had an in-depth analysis of what athletes we had and subsequently opened up to 15 training camps.

GB VOLLEYBALL AGENDA
Sitting volleyball at the Olympics
Feb 2006: UK Sport reveal funding of 4,040,000
Apr 2006: Richard Dobell begins job
Oct 2006: World Volleyball Association allow 2012 GB team
Nov 2006: Wayne Coyle appointed Programme Manager
Jun 2007: Full-time programme starts
Aug 2008: Beijing Olympics
Mar 2009: Funding review
Aug 2012: Four GB teams compete in London
I have been liaising with the interim coaches delivering selection and setting up the training programmes.

Regarding the governance and finance side, I have been meeting with the president and other board members formally every two months reporting on what's done and delivered.

I've also worked quite closely with the FIVB (international governing body) and they obviously want us to succeed.

We've taken a lot of advice on board and we know our systems intricately and we have a process that should work.

It is the people that will make this work though.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HARDEST PART OF YOUR JOB?

The minor points keep me awake. If we thought we couldn't do this there would be no point in going forward.

Because we are creating an organisation from nothing, the finer details are the problems.

We've set up bank accounts, the actual company, created procedures, recruited personnel and organised the camps. We've had people flying from all corners of the globe.

Logistically it is very demanding. There's not a support structure in place and we rely on volunteer staff and good faith.

DID YOU KNOW?
Volleyball was invented in 1895 in Massachusetts, USA, by a YMCA instructor called William Morgan. It was originally called Mintonette
It is stressful knowing people are investing themselves into this sport with time and money.

Everybody is passionate about the sport and like to know what's going on. Regular feedback is a problem.

But you can't constantly communicate. You can lose track of what needs doing so you have to take it all on the chin.

It is like running in mud at times. You would like to move quicker but you can't. There is red tape everywhere you go.

Everything we're doing is creating the process and that creates more problems as you go forward. But we're getting there.

IS THERE ANY TENSION BETWEEN THE NATIONS?

We have got complete inclusion across the UK. The GB Federation is made up of all countries and it is working and operating very effectively.

When it comes to selection, there will always be rivalry, but everyone is clear that only the best and eligible will be chosen.

There will be no pressure on putting somebody in the team because it ticks a box.

WILL THE PLAYERS BE GOOD ENOUGH?

If our current squad had been in the same theoretical environment six years ago we would have a credible international team for an Olympics now.

We have to find more players and fast track their development. To prepare a squad over six years you need the base level of skill to be world athletes.

Most of the talent will be in the system already - we know who they are - but it is still possible to find the odd gem.

HOW CAN YOU UNEARTH A VOLLEYBALL GEM?

We have a two-year window to find that special 1% of talent.

They maybe playing volleyball, basketball, rugby or rowing. They will have drive and that special skill to pick up the game's complexities.

They could be a junior (U16 or U19) or a late developer aged 21-23. The profile of an indoor player is aged 26-29 and a bit older for beach players.

Richard Dobell playing for London Malory (copyright: Jon McGugan)
Richard Dobell is a former England volleyball captain
There are also people coming out of the woodwork with British passports and rights to get a passport.

We are open to all requests but we don't want people not wanting to improve the level of volleyball in the UK and just using it as an opportunity to get to the Olympics.

If they have a purpose and ability they are welcome to join our dream and goals.

The reality is we need a crop of players between aged 18 to 22 now to form the core for 2012.

WHAT'S NEXT AND IS GB VOLLEYBALL ON TARGET?

We have moved heaven and earth to get where we are today.

Most people, including UK Sport, seem satisfied with our progress and recognise we have started building something from nothing.

Our top priority is to attract more coaches. It's not easy with Beijing just 18 months away and most staff being committed to other Olympic programmes.

Plus we don't have a professional game and the cash to pay for top talent.

We have excellent coaches in the UK who are technically knowledgeable. But we also need Olympic experience because we don't have the time to make mistakes.

We need people to guide us along the road so we go down as few cul-de-sacs as possible.



SEE ALSO
British volleyball team for 2012
24 Oct 06 |  Olympics 2012
Russia win world volleyball title
16 Nov 06 |  Other Sport...


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