Olympic sport of volleyball is growing in Norfolk
It is a sport which is immensely popular around the globe and was one of the most watched at the 2008 Beijing Olympics – yet many people in Britain are yet to discover volleyball. There are high hopes that will change at London 2012.
In 1895, American William G Morgan devised a game he called 'mintonette', which he designed as a gentle alternative to basketball for older members of his YMCA gym. A century later, volleyball is anything but gentle – few sports on the Olympic programme offer such fast, furious and exhilarating action.
It is played by two teams of six on an 18m x 9m indoor court divided by a net (2.43m high for men, 2.24m for women). The object of the game is to land the ball in the opposition's half of the court.
Each team is allowed three touches of the ball before it must cross over the net.
Former professional volleyball player Tomasz Morawski, who is now a volleyball development coach in Norfolk, said: 'Volleyball was the most watched Olympic sport at Beijing and that's probably going to be case in London – it will be an eye opener for people in England.
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'It's a very challenging sport which drives people. It's a rebound game so you have to think quickly and it's a very technical sport. It's mentally, physically and technically challenging.'
Volleyball made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Games, with competitions for both men and women. At Beijing in 2008, the USA men's team took home the gold medal while the top step of the podium for the women was taken by Brazil.
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The key attacking move in the game is the set and spike – a player feeds the ball (the set) for a teammate to power it into the opposition's court (the spike). In the men's game, the ball can reach speeds in excess of 80 miles an hour (130km/h).
At London 2012, both the men's and women's volleyball competitions will begin with a preliminary phase: the 12 teams in each event will be divided into two pools of six, and each team will play every other team in their pool.
The eight best teams from this phase will qualify for the knockout phase, with the winners of the semi-finals eventually going head to head for the gold.
Mr Morawski, who played the sport professionally back home in Poland and has been living in England for six years, said: 'It is a very dynamic sport but at a normal level, it is very social too.
'You have to have a good relationship with your teammates and you have to communicate. You have to be working as a team.'
In Norfolk, 30-year-old Mr Morawski, together with the Norfolk Volleyball Association, has been developing the sport in schools and the community. He also coaches the University of East Anglia team and has helped set up new Norwich club, the Norwich Spikers.
The Norwich Spikers club formed out of Active Norfolk's Get Into programme six or eight months ago. It has 30 adults and 30 juniors on its books.
They meet every Wednesday at Norwich's Sportspark at the UEA which is said to be one of the best facilities for volleyball in the country. The Sportspark has eight volleyball courts which can be used at the same time.
The biggest indoor volleyball competition in the country, the Student Cup, will be held at the venue on February 11 and 12.
Mr Morawski, who started played volleyball at the age of 14, said: 'It's a sport you can play on the beach, in the park and there is sitting volleyball which is a Paralympic sport. I would be delighted if I could set up a sitting volleyball group.'
In London, thousands of people will also get the chance to see both sitting volleyball at the Paralympic Games and beach volleyball at the Olympics.
Originated from sun-soaked beaches in California, beach volleyball is similar to the indoor game but with two main differences – the court measures 16 by eight metres and is covered in sand and situated outdoors; and the game is played by teams of two, instead of teams of six.
In London, beach volleyball will be held at Horse Guards Parade, just steps from Trafalgar Square, which will be covered in 3,000 tonnes of sand.
Paralympic sitting volleyball, which is now played by more than 50 countries around the world, is also similar to volleyball but with all competitors sitting, a smaller court and a lower net. Teams are still made up of six players. In London, the competition will take place at ExCel, near Canary Wharf.
All three forms of volleyball should offer quick-paced action, thrills and spills this summer.
Mr Morawski said: 'I really hope London raises the profile of volleyball. I will be surprised if it doesn't.
'It proved so popular in Beijing, I expect big crowds in London. I have got 38 tickets for volleyball games, I'm so excited. I know some of our players have also got some tickets. It's something more than just a sport – it's an experience.'