Youth development is secret of success for Vanuatu beach volleyball

Young players at the Vanuatu volleyball community programme. Photo: Vanuatu Volleyball

Vanuatu continues to be the Pacific’s leading beach volleyball nation because of its community-based programmes that promote the sport to the young.

The interest in the sport and in the nation’s stars extend to the whole of the country including the outer islands.

Vanutau Volleyball Federation president Debbie Masauvakalo said having such pathways since the community programmes were first introduced in 2007 has been the secret of their success.

Vanuatu will be defending its Pacific Games women’s title in Honiara in November. Their women’s team also won bronze at the 2022 Commonwealth Games through Sherysyn Toko and Miller Pata.

Masauvakalo said their pathway evolves around the community, especially young ni-Vanuatuans, with national reps leading the way as role models who coach and support identified talents.

“I think that’s the important thing, that there needs to be a pathway for your programmes. And there needs to be some role models and those role models need to give back and train those kids as well and support them,” she told RNZ Pacific.

She said without a pathway, programmes will fail.

“Without a pathway your programme will collapse and it won’t be sustainable. You can’t just have a couple of girls or guys doing really well at the top level when you don’t have anything underneath coming up,” she said.

“We started our programme back in 2007 and we’re continuing to be the leading Pacific nation in beach volleyball because we have put in pathways and plans to continue, not just with players but with coaches and officials as well.”

As an example of that she said the two-member team going to the Youth Commonwealth Games in Trinidad and Tobago in August comprise a duo who have been playing beach volleyball for several years.

“Those two young girls started playing beach volleyball when they were 10 and 12. And I asked them how long have they been playing beach volleyball and one of them said six years,” Masauvakalo said.

“But it just shows that we have a pathway. And these young girls, who started while at school are now taking their first steps in international competition.”

Majabelle Lawac (left) and Sherysyn Toko in action at the Asian Senior Beach Volleyball Championships

Majabelle Lawac (left) and Sherysyn Toko in action at the Asian Senior Beach Volleyball Championships Photo: Vanuatu Beach Volleyball

Community support

Masauvakalo said the sport has a lot of backing in Vanuatu.

“Local support is amazing. We are a community team. And everything we do, we are part of the community,” she said.

“The local government authorities are always very keen to have the girls come in and meet them and also engage with them.

“So, they’re role models in the community. For women, for men, for sports stars and for sports people.”

Vanutau Volleyball media officer Jill Scanlon said the support for beach volleyball and the national teams comes from across Vanuatu.

“I had a wonderful experience in January when I went with a couple of the young coaches up to the northern provinces. I was stopped by several people and asked, ‘how’s the team going’?

“And they asked when would they be playing because they said, ‘we watch the beach volleyball Facebook page every time they compete overseas, we’re watching for the scores all the time and we’re cheering them on’.

“So we know, even in the furthest part of the country and the outer islands, they are followed and supported.

“And they were asking, ‘is there any chance the players, the teams, can come up and talk to the school kids’. So we know they have a high profile as role models in the really wide community.”

Scanlon added that all the national reps are coaches in the community programmes, including disability inclusion programmes.