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New Coaching Guide Launched to Boost Unified Volleyball across Europe

A comprehensive Unified Volleyball Coaching Guide has publicly launched this week as one of the main outputs of the ground-breaking ‘Unified Volleyball Spikes’ project funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Union (EU). 80 coaches have already been trained using the guide and there has been a staggering 439% increase in participation in Unified Volleyball as a result of the project.
A group of volleyball players stand together as a team wearing blue kits in front of a volleyball net.
Special Olympics Italy Unified Volleyball team which participated in the ‘Unified Spikes’ project.

The Unified Volleyball Spikes project, which kicked off in 2021 and ran until December 2023, focused on the creation of a coaching guide with the aim of developing the sport of Unified Volleyball across Europe Eurasia. A Unified Sports team is one which comprises players with and without intellectual disabilities. The guide—launched to the public this week—focuses on three key areas: how to create a Unified Volleyball team, how to lead Unified Volleyball training sessions and how to implement mixed gender divisioning in the sport.

The dedicated project team, led by the SO Europe Eurasia Foundation, included representatives from a diverse range of Special Olympics teams—known as National Programmes—including Austria, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, Serbia and Slovakia, as well as the Slovak Volleyball Federation (SVK). Almost 500 Special Olympics coaches, athletes, Unified Partners and volunteers from these countries contributed to the project with their expertise and knowledge of the sport of volleyball and their experience of playing and coaching Unified Sports.

The project was not without its challenges as it tackled the disruption imposed by the Coronavirus pandemic. Valia Vrekou, Project Manager, said, “In spite of the challenges presented by the Covid-19 virus during the first two years of the project, the team succeeded in meeting (both virtually and in-person) for key events including a Joint Unified Volleyball Coaching Workshop, onsite coaching seminars and five transnational meetings. This in itself was a huge achievement!”.

A large group of people in sports attire stand together in a sports hall surrounding a banner with the breaking ‘Unified Volleyball Spikes’ project logo on it.
‘Spikes’ project participants at the Joint Unified Volleyball Coaching Workshop in Serbia.

The results of the project speak for themselves with the outcomes more than living up to expectations. A total of 80 coaches have already been trained using the new guide and 30 Unified Volleyball teams were created during the project. Overall, there was a staggering growth of over 439% in Unified Partners and athletes participating in Unified Volleyball in the countries participating in the project. The sport of Unified Volleyball across the region will continue to benefit not only from the guide itself but also from the new skills that coaches gained during the project and the new coaches that were recruited. Crucially, these upskilled coaches can deliver a better quality of coaching to both Special Olympics athletes and Unified Partners into the future.

A male coach instructs a female volleyball player on technique on a volleyball court.
‘Unified Spikes’ project in action with a Special Olympics Serbia Unified Volleyball coaching session.

The final product is important but the process of developing the guide was just as key, as Valia explains, “During the development of the guides, athletes and Unified Partners were also given the opportunity to input at multiplier events and a training camp in Serbia. This empowered the athletes to feel ownership of the project. This was significant as this is the first time Special Olympics athletes and Unified Partners had direct involvement in developing a coaching guide for Special Olympics. This highlights that the project was truly inclusive.”

Additionally, long-lasting gains have been made by the Special Olympics teams involved in the project which will help Unified Volleyball to thrive into the future. Valia concludes, “Sustainable networks have been established through the project. For example, Special Olympics Netherlands have developed a partnership with NeVoBo (The Dutch Volleyball Federation) and Special Olympics Slovakia will continue to grow its partnership with the SVK. These fruitful relationships can only benefit Unified Volleyball into the future.”

Read the new Unified Volleyball Coaching Guide developed through the Unified Volleyball Spikes Project

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.

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