The words ‘beach’ and ‘volleyball’ conjure images of athletic women in aerodynamically-designed bikinis, cloudless skies and golden sand stretching as far as the eye can see. Copacabana Beach and this year’s Olympic beach volleyball competition were almost made for each other. That, though, is the tip of the iceberg – and iceberg is the key word as Scotland’s beach volleyball team train furiously in an attempt to qualify for the 2018 Commonwealth Games in the equally evocative surroundings of the Gold Coast. In the first in a series of regular updates, Team GB’s volleyball captain at London 2012, Lynne Beattie, provides the inside story of an unlikely sporting mission
Portobello Beach, in Edinburgh, in late November, really is on the opposite side of the world to our intended final destination: the wonderfully-named Gold Coast in Australia. But at 6.25am, the car’s temperature gauge reading minus one, the skimpy bikinis associated with beach volleyball have been replaced from tip to toe by layer upon layer of thermal clothing. As we have been every morning as autumn turned to winter, we are armed with a spade, a portable net and a collection for volleyballs, ready for another training session.
We have braved the finest of Scottish weather: howling winds, hailstones and freezing temperatures. We have endured the temporary discomfort of these far-from-ideal conditions, knowing that every second on the sand is valuable in our grand plan. And we have run the gauntlet of good-natured banter from early-morning dog-walkers who think we’re crazy, to put it mildly.
But last week we reached the limit of what is possible for beach volleyball in Scotland. Our impromptu court has been frost-bound before, but after a wee shuffle around, the sand breaks up and becomes playable. Not this time. This time the sand was not playable to the extent that we couldn’t even dig the holes in the sand to put up the net, and that despite having the spade. The surface was like an ice rink, totally unsafe, and besides we weren’t aiming for the Winter Olympics.
So we packed up our equipment and went to the gym, where it was warm, comfortable and we could divest ourselves of our thermals and look a little more like archetypal beach volleyballers. But we couldn’t help but feel deflated that we had been denied an opportunity to train and get better out on the sand.
At this point I really ought to explain who ‘we’ are and what ‘we’ are up to, so you can understand the method in our madness. I am Lynne Beattie and my team-mate is Mel Coutts. Together we are Scotland’s leading beach volleyball pairing and we are attempting to qualify to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which are being held in Queensland, starting in early April. Our campaign even has a hashtag: #goingforgoldcoast. No one from our northern outpost of the Commonwealth has done this before, so, yes, I guess we are the Scottish equivalent of the Jamaican bobsleigh team. Cool Running isn’t the half of it, though.
As well as training twice a day, we also work full-time. I am currently based in the Scottish Volleyball head office where I work as regional volleyball development officer in the East of Scotland. It is where I thaw out after another early morning on the Portobello Beach.
People who happen upon two ladies playing volleyball on the beach in the middle of winter, ask incredulously: “But do indoor beach volleyball courts not exist, then?” And we reply: “Yes, they do.” Just not in Scotland. Besides they cost around £30,000. Of course, we are envious of our rivals who come from countries inundated with indoor beach facilities. Berlin, for instance, has more than 200 indoor courts available to players of all ages and ability; Holland has 150; Prague has 51; the list goes on.
This is a matter out of our control, so now we have banned the use of phrases such as “but they have this and they have that”. We have what we have and we have to get on with it. If we cancelled training every time it rained or snowed or got too dark or too cold, well, we would never train quite frankly. And then we would certainly not get any better. We are working so hard to reach our goal of qualifying for the Gold Coast, not just for ourselves, but for those who have supported us, and most importantly for the future of the sport.
Mel and I have been playing together for two years now. We are both very experienced players as individuals, but relatively inexperienced as a pair on the world stage. The Continental Cup Road to Rio competition presented the opportunity to play together for the first time. Then, in February this year, we learnt that beach volleyball would be included in the Commonwealth Games for the first time. It was time to get serious. Our training focused on qualifying for the Games, and we had two years to do it.
Unsure what the qualification process was at this point, Mel and I prepared for all eventualities, putting ourselves in the best position possible to make the improvements that we needed in order to qualify. We had to be fitter, faster and stronger physically, and we had to be much better on the sand.
Now with 16 months until the Games start, we still have a long way to go. But with the qualification schedule now announced, we can focus on competing in as many top-level tournaments around the world to gain both ranking points and experience competing against the best. Sounds simple; well, not exactly.
I feel like I have been here before: fighting hard for a goal in the face of adversity and relentless challenge. This is not a complaint, this is the reality of top-level sport. As captain of the Great Britain women’s volleyball team at the London Olympics in 2012, we faced similar levels of challenge; we were all self-funded athletes, busting a gut to achieve a goal not only for the team, but also for the sport. We had minimal budget, no facilities to call our own, and we had to fast-track to the level required to compete credibly against the top teams in the world. This didn’t stop us. We pulled together and found solutions on and off the court. With the support of some very willing and generous people, we got to London in the best shape we could possibly be. There, the Great Britain women made history. We want to do the same on the Gold Coast. After London, the GB team disbanded and there was limited support for the future of volleyball or beach volleyball, despite the huge steps made. Some players retired, others returned to domestic competition, and the programme ground to a halt. This time I want our success to have a level of impact that simply cannot be ignored.
Some people ask me how I continue to put my body through it all, making sacrifices and training as often as I do. There may be an element of unfinished business on a personal level, the desire to achieve more success at the highest level possible. But ultimately we need to make a stand for our sport. We can ask for the powers-that-be to take a leap of faith and invest in us. But in this day and age, with competition from so many sports, we are up against it, so we have taken matters into our own hands.
We cannot say we are getting no support. That is far from the truth. We have great support from the Scottish Volleyball Association. We have great support from our coaching team, who also endure the lovely Scottish weather alongside us, and who get absolutely nothing in return. We also have a brilliant volunteer support team around us to help with our plans and preparations, and we are so grateful for this.
What we do need, however, is financial support to allow us to travel and compete in the competitions required for us to be in the best position possible to qualify. This is the missing piece of the jigsaw.
We have been working hard to boost our online profile and raise awareness of what we are trying to do. We have a website www.goingforgoldcoast.com highlighting all of our latest news, and we have just recently launched a Crowd Funding page #goingforgoldcoast.
If you are inspired by what we are trying to do, we would love to hear from you. We cannot deny that we need your help. If you are able to pledge just a small amount towards our journey, it would go a really long way to helping us make a difference.
That is our story so far. Find out more by following us on twitter @COUTTS_BEATSBVB or like our page on Facebook, Beattie/Coutts Beach Volleyball. We are also on Instagram @beattie_coutts, where you can also find more photographs from those wintry training sessions on the beach. Brrrr!
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This article is by Lynne Beattie. Lynne’s latest articles