I recently returned from an 11-day road trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina with the United States men’s & women’s paralympic team who competed in the 13th edition of the Sitting Volleyball World Championships.
As a performance analyst, I am responsible for tracking our teams’ and opponents’ statistics and aiding with game plan preparation. Like most Olympic and Paralympic sports, World Championships are held in the middle of a competition quad and are the premier event in the sport alongside the Olympics and Paralympics.
Non-World Championship years feature a competition schedule mix of Super 6 (an invitational tournament), international friendlies, and zonal competitions (for Paralympic qualification). These international games are balanced with professional and semi-professional leagues in Germany, Bosnia, Iran, and Brazil.
To the casual American fan, there is an expectation of the United States’ primacy in international sports. When looking at the geography of these leagues (also reflected in able-bodied indoor volleyball), opportunities for United States athletes to compete near to home are limited both professionally and internationally. Aside from the professional leagues in Europe, government sponsorship of paralympic sport is high throughout which allows for frequent competition on the continent after a short bus-ride or flight.
The United State men’s team took full advantage of the World Championship opportunity, while coming in ranked 10th they had a program high finish at 6th – beating the Ukraine for the first time and taking a set off of #2 Bosnia and Herzegovina in front of a raucous home crowd.
Sitting volleyball is an adaptation of indoor standing
To participate in international competition, athletes are classified based on the loss of locomotor function and the sport is also adjusted in court size and with play limitations. The net is lowered to accommodate sitting athletes, and to counter the reduced space and thus reaction time the serve may be blocked. Instead of the high-flying standing game, athletes must remain seated at all times which leads to the often entertaining referee penalty for “butt-lifting” – shown by two stacked hands separating.
The trip ended on Veterans’ Day in the United States. A particularly poignant call-out from my time with team was a reminder that five of the roster (of 12) are veterans and a number of the athletes received their disability in the course of their service.