Into Africa

By Staff

Coaching Management, 14.11, November 2006,

For many college coaches, the end of the spring semester means the beginning of recruiting trips and conducting camps for high school players. But this past spring and summer a group of six coaches traveled far beyond the comfortable boundaries of U.S. volleyball courts to introduce the game to a place where kneepads are a rarity—Nigeria.

The program, known as the Nigerian Volleyball Project, is a cooperative effort between the Institute for International Sport (IIS) and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. State Department. The three-part project brought eight Nigerian coaches to the IIS in Rhode Island for an eight-day training program, sent six American coaches to Nigeria to hold camps and teach the game to children and coaches, and selected students from these camps to participate in the 2006 World Scholar Athlete Games, held June 24 through July 2 in Rhode Island.

Bob Schneck, Head Coach at the University of Rhode Island, led the delegation that traveled to Nigeria. The group flew 13 hours to the capital city of Abuja, where they ran camps for 400 children and 40 prospective coaches. Schneck says the conditions were vastly different from what he was used to at home.

“The devastation of poverty was everywhere,” Schneck says. “Most of the kids didn’t even have shoes on. There were children who came in from places where they didn’t have a single volleyball in the entire state. When they came in and saw we had 20 volleyballs, they looked at them with disbelief.”

Despite their inexperience, the Nigerian children approached the game with enthusiasm and learned quickly. Schneck compares the Nigerians’ talent to what he sees at the summer camp he runs at Rhode Island. However, he did see a lot of hesitation from female players, which he attributes to a lack of previous athletic opportunities. “Around the world, men and women play volleyball pretty evenly, but in Nigeria I found women don’t have near that opportunity,” Schneck says. “For instance, the girls didn’t want to go outside to play when we rotated between the gym and outdoor courts. They wanted to stay inside, out of the sun.

“The way sports are looked at over there, men get the lion’s share of the time and resources,” he continues. “Girls weren’t aggressive or assertive at all. You had to tell them things four or five times before they moved.”

During their time abroad, Schneck says the Americans themselves were treated “like rock stars.” “We had meetings with dignitaries all the time,” he says. “I did one television and radio program after another talking about our grassroots program to introduce volleyball to their country.”

Currently, the IIS is advancing the project by creating a National Sportsmanship Day in Nigeria and opening up its Web-based Center for Sports Parenting to a Nigerian audience. This will allow parents, coaches, and others in Nigeria involved with youth sports to access information about the psychological and physical needs of young athletes. The IIS is actively looking to secure more resources for Nigerian volleyball—it is currently asking schools in the U.S. to donate used volleyballs to the program.

To donate to the Nigerian Volleyball Project, contact the Institute for International Sport at: