Recent interview with men's head coach Harry Brokking
Harry Brokking has seen it all in world volleyball. Having guided his native Holland to fifth place at the Olympic Games in Seoul in 1988, a European Championship bronze medal three years later and then taking top club sides in Germany, Belgium, France and Poland, he knows what is required to cut it at the top level.
Now 53, he is embarking on his tallest order. Attempting to take the Great Britain men’s team, who have no recognised form at international level, to the London Olympics in 2012.
After watching games here, he knew a radical approach was needed. He put proposals in front of the British Volleyball Federation to base the team full-time in Amstelveen and, provided the Dutch federation were compliant, take on the fixtures of Martinus Volleyball Club, who had lost their major sponsor of many years and had no money to recruit foreign professionals.
It was a move unique to British sport but, after agreement had been reached with all parties, the GB team took up residence last September to train and play full-time.
Brokking had no doubt it was the correct, perhaps, the only move if he was to raise the standard of the British squad, which now includes five Scots – Ally Galloway, Chris Lamont, Jonny Herley, Mark McGivern and Andy Benson – and put it on a professional footing.
The team lost their first 11 matches and it was not until deep December that Martinus registered a win – against Bol Networks Lycurgus. Brokking saw it as a significant step forward.
“It’s going better than expected. It was an unexpected surprise to be able to take the whole team to play in the Dutch League and it was a big opportunity to train together and play competitive matches,” he outlined to ITWZ.
“Everyone knows that you can train and train but you need to also play matches to get playing experience and our growth is faster than expected. The players are training hard and really progressing.
“The basic skills were not very high but you have to compare what we are now doing with what they were accustomed to.
“Players in Scotland and England were training twice a week and maybe only getting six hours of volleyball a week.
“In Holland, every player has been playing 20 hours a week for many years. The better players are starting at the age of eight or nine and, although they are not training for 20 hours at that age, they are still training three times a week and have matches on a Sunday.
“In training hours, the British players are so far behind and we have to try and catch up.
“It’s hard work. It’s not done overnight and it will take years of hard work to try and catch up the other volleyball countries in Europe. It means a lot of sacrifice from the players.
“I saw one match in the English League when I came over for my interview and at that time I knew there was a lot of work to do.
“The background of British volleyball is not there and I need time. Talented players you find everywhere – I think there is ability in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and anywhere – but you need time to go through the skills again and again and again and then teamwork again and again and again.
“You need four or five years with talented guys who work hard and then hope you can catch up with the rest of Europe.
“I said when I first came for my interview that you need full-time volleyball. It’s not possible to let those guys stay at their clubs and train six hours a week knowing that the, for the rest of the world, it’s a 24-hours-a-day commitment playing at a high level.
“So you need to bring the players together and train a lot of hours and hopefully in the summer, you play international matches and you can maybe catch up.
“In the Dutch League, we’re seen as a club team with ten foreign players. It’s like Chelsea or Arsenal in football over here.
“For the league, it’s interesting as every team feel as if they have a point to prove against us.
“But my players are not used to playing at such a high level and they have to get used to finishing sets and handle the pressure at the end of sets. Then, they have to learn how to win matches.
“You have to deal with important moments in sets and 80-90 per cent of that is mental. You have to know what to do and not make mistakes and that only comes with the experience of that situation.
“It’s like tennis, when it comes down to the end of sets and having that mental toughness that makes the difference.
“You just have to play point by point and you have to be in the situation a lot of times to know what to do and also know what not to do.
“It’s like the big teams in big sports learning how to play finals. How many times do you see a new team coming into a big final and losing? You have to experience it before you can experience winning.”
The first yardstick for Brokking and the team comes on May 8 when Great Britain face Denmark in Sheffield in a European Championship qualifier.
It will be the first time a British team has competed in a major championship and the Danes will come with all guns blazing.
Brokking is aware that, for everything to fall into place, results will need to be achieved in this arena if the Olympic dream is to prove realistic.
“There is only little more than four years to go to London 2012,” he stressed, “It’s not a lot of time and it would be impossible for us to compete for a medal place in that time.
“The rest of the world are training as hard as we are and have been used to playing at this level for years and years.
“But we can catch up to a level where we are able to compete with other countries, that’s for sure.
“It is very important not just to create a team for 2012 but to use that momentum to make volleyball much more popular after that.
“I’m working with just a small group of players to make them better but then I want to send those players out to the European Leagues and then I want to have another group of young players based in Sheffield so there is another group to follow on. I want to leave a legacy here.”