We caught up with Rob Richardson this week, the GB sitting volleyball captain, after he led the team to the quarterfinals at London2012.
How did you get into sitting volleyball?
I’ve been an amputee most of my life, but at school had never considered Paralympic sport as an option, preferring to just play football and cricket for school teams rather than stand out for being different. When London got the nod to host the Games, I was encouraged to try out for a sport. I wanted a team sport and Sitting Volleyball was just starting up – so the timing worked pretty well.
Is it true that GB’s sitting volleyball programme only started in 2006? That’s not much time to prepare! What does it take to build a world class team in such a short space of time?
It requires a pretty dedicated team and obviously funding! The key to these things is first in attracting athletes, the right athletes, and then you can build around them the support services and coaching systems which are required. Although this is a bit chicken and egg. We as a sport have been very lucky with all our staff though who have been extremely dedicated.
How do you balance training around work and family life?
For the last couple of years I have been based at Roehampton University for our full time training programme. I’ve also been working full time with this, which means up at 5am, training 6am-8am, then off to work, before heading back for training 7pm-9pm, plus we were training most weekends too. It’s not been ideal, but we had to make huge commitments in order to catch up on the teams ahead of us in such a short space of time. Fair to say it’s worked too.
What was it like leading the team through the competition? How did you cope with the pressure?
I’m normally not too bothered by it, but that first match against Russia, with 8,000 people cheering us on caught me off-guard and it took me most of the first set to get comfortable. After that you shut out all the external stuff and focus fully. We have a group of guys who have always pulled out big performances at pressure times, we did that against Morocco and Iran which was very pleasing. Overall it was an honour to be leading the team during the games – an experience like nothing else.
Best bit of coaching advice received?
Probably to just trust your instincts, I feel that creativity is coached out of kids at school currently which is a shame as it one of the great things to witness someone playing a sport with complete freedom and confidence.
Any pre-match superstitions or rituals?
Nothing too crazy, just like to keep myself as relaxed as possible – as Captain you have to be aware that everyone has to get themselves to where they need to be to play at their best – this can be loud music for one and the opposite for another, bringing this all together is key.
Seb Coe said that, “The Paralympics have lifted the cloud of limitation.” What do you feel has been the impact of London 2012?
We were aware before the Games that it was going to be a huge marker in the life of the Paralympics – I’ve been within this world for some years now, there are no limitations in my opinion. I don’t consider myself as a disabled athlete, just an athlete, I’d rarely consider myself disabled for that matter. My hope for the games is that people would see elite level sport, and not just the whole brave and inspirational stigma – I think that’s been achieved thankfully.
What are your plans now the Paralympics has finished?
Let my body heal is my first concern, I tore my MCL in the lead up to the Games so I’ll need to deal with that. Then we will get back into training again and focus on the European Championships next Summer where are hoping to win a medal. A lot will depend on funding for the next Paralympic cycle, which will take us through the qualification process for Rio. The important thing is that we keep our squad together and keep building.
What would you say to someone wanting to be more active but not sure where to start?
I understand it can be hard, but you have to just identify a sport that interests you, whether it be individual or team, and go for it. I think there is nothing more rewarding than the feeling you have after exercise and the life skills that also come with it such as confidence and problem solving etc.
And finally… We currently cover golf, tennis and personal training. Which sport do you think we should do next and why?
I’m biased I know, but Volleyball is a sport which gets very little coverage in the UK, but remains one of the biggest participation sports in the world. There is a boom off the back of London 2012 and there are so many clubs around where people can get involved. There are also new beach volleyball courts popping up too – check out www.gospike.net for info!