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It has been a big couple of months for Vanuatu Volleyball with international Pro Tour tournaments, Youth Commonwealth Games, Schools’ games, development, coaching and referee workshops, not to mention hosting an Olympic qualifier.

Amid all that, VVF was very pleased to welcome into its inner sanctum, Rob Francis, who is a performance practitioner in the field of Sports Science from the UK, and came to Vanuatu as part of his role with the International Olympic Committee’s Solidarity and Development program.

Rob arrived in early August, looking to spend more than a month attached to the Vanuatu national beach volleyball squad, with the aim of observing, analysing, reviewing and attempting to optimise the squad’s high-level performance around fitness and physical wellbeing practices. The overall goal was, and continues to be, to enhance the volleyball program’s development, sustainability and performance into the future, with a busy decade ahead.

His focus was not only on the national players, but on creating and consolidating a performance-based development pathway from the entry-level, where local youth come to try and emulate their role models, through to senior representative level, with sustainability over the long-term, being the key element.

This covered everything from nutrition, such as a good breakfast to start the training day, and warming-up exercise routines that cater for different age groups and skills development levels, because beach volleyball is very definitely a movement-based sport on an unstable surface, so good strength, flexibility and endurance are crucial in an effort to attain high performance and reduce the risk of injury while doing so.

So, Rob set himself the task of ticking all these boxes and giving the players, coaches and even the VVF support staff, the tools they would need to implement the changes and continue the progress once he left, all with the promise that he would support them throughout this ongoing process from the other side of the globe.

By the time Rob left, reluctantly it has to be said, the players were comfortable with their new routines and tasked regimens. They were also starting to reap the benefits from warming-up more optimally and improving their awareness of ongoing, daily nutrition, off the back of Rob’s extensive educational sessions for the players and coaches on these issues, and not just around competition time.

Rob said his aim was to provide as comprehensive an understanding of these seemingly small elements as he could.

“We aimed to provide a comprehensive understanding of the ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’. It was imperative that whatever we put in place had the capacity for long-term reinforcement.”

With the coaching team, he devised a performance pathway model that not only focused on skill and technique development, but also integrated physical aspects, ensuring holistic development.

He was able to put most of these lessons into practice for the players, when Vanuatu Volleyball hosted the Continental Cup – Oceania tournament (2024 Olympic qualifier Phase 1) in Port Vila at the end of August.

It was a huge success and resulted in both the Men’s and Women’s teams finishing second behind a strong New Zealand contingent, to advance into the 2nd round of Olympic qualifiers next June.

Looking ahead, there are additional areas of development that require attention. As part of his IOC contract, Rob will be returning to Vanuatu briefly in January, to further enhance the pathway program, building upon these initial foundations.

Of course, Rob’s return to Vanuatu was never in doubt, as one of the unwritten and perhaps unexpected outcomes of his project has been becoming a valued member of the VVF family, and once you’re in, you never really leave!