Leeds Gorse Volleyball are celebrating after coach, Elaine Brown, was named Coach of the Year by Volleyball England.
The Annual Awards is a prestigious and long-standing date in the volleyball calendar that recognises those special individuals who go the extra mile to create a fantastic environment and experience for volleyball in England, from grassroots to international level.
The last twelve months has seen Elaine provide opportunities for an estimated 6,000 young people to play the sport in her role as Director of Youth Development at Leeds Gorse Volleyball Club, and Coach of The Gorse Academies Trust. The club works closely with the Trust and their home venue, The Ruth Gorse Academy, is named after the late Ruth Gorse, who was a PE teacher and was coached by club President, Dave Speers.
Before taking up the role a year ago, Elaine would visit schools to support PE teachers and deliver afterschool clubs. Now in a full-time role, volleyball is part of the curriculum for schools who are part of the Trust.
“It was unexpected but really nice to hear,” said Elaine after receiving her award. “I was very honoured and very proud.
“The Gorse Trust has a programme called, ‘Gorse gets Healthy’ and volleyball is one of the main sports along with karate and rowing. It aims to promote healthy lifestyles through exercise and diet.
“A lot of the kids that don’t really connect with mainstream sports, or haven’t found a sport or club to join, have found volleyball. They love it, and are able to find a sense of belonging.
“We had two girls at the beginning who had never shown an interest in any sport or club, but volleyball was able to spark their interest. They kept coming back week after week, to every session available, and now they’re two of our top juniors.
“It’s nice to see their eyes light up when they finally find something they like. It’s definitely rewarding.
“Not just in volleyball, but in several sports, we often see the numbers drop off when girls reach their teens. We are trying to provide another activity to keep girls engaged. I think it helps during that time of their lives to have other peers on their team going through the same things. It’s a good environment for them to be in where they can thrive and enjoy the sport.
“They can exercise, they can channel whatever is going on in their lives or block it out, and just play. The lessons they learn while playing sport are lessons they carry with them in all aspects of life.
“The students who have come through are doing better academically, they’re choosing healthier options and seem to be treating their teachers with a bit more respect, so I think our programme as a whole is starting to become quite successful.”
Elaine’s influence on the club has seen each junior team enjoy the most successful season in the history of the club. The under 15’s girls team were ranked in the top eight of the country, but Covid-19 denied them the opportunity to compete against their counterparts in the Volleyball England National Championship Finals.
The pandemic has also put pay to some of the plans for 2020-21, which included an inter-school volleyball league for students throughout the Trust. But there is still plenty to be positive about, as Elaine looks to make volleyball an option for as many people as possible in Leeds.
“I’ve laid the groundwork for a SEND sitting volleyball programme,” she explained.
“We want to be inclusive and ensure everyone has the chance to play. It gives an opportunity to a lot of students who don’t really have a sport that they’re able to play.
“I also hosted the clubs first LGBTQ open play day, which is something we want to work more on to make everyone feel welcome. We’ve teamed up with the LGBTQ Fringe Festival, who promote sport around Leeds.”
Elaine’s award is recognition for a string of coaching achievements in the last twelve months, and while Covid-19 is making the immediate future uncertain, the passion for volleyball which started as a child growing up in Texas, means that there’s little doubt she will be coaching for many years to come and has encouraged others to give it a go.
“I want to pass on what I know, build good sportsmanship and teammates, and create a legacy for volleyball in Leeds.
“I always want to be involved in it. You never lose the love for the game.
“Don’t be afraid to give coaching a try because you’ll learn with experience. In particular, I encourage women to step into coaching roles as it’s really inspiring for younger girls to see positive women role models in sport. I’m quite excited that several of our older juniors are starting to show interest in becoming coaches.”
“I suggest starting as an assistant so you can learn from other coaches; there’s also webinars, tutorials and so many places to learn from. Everyone will teach things a little differently, but by staying open minded you will put together your own coaching philosophy.”
To find out more about how to start your own coaching journey, visit the UK Coaching website.