Vanuatu, a small island nation in the Pacific, has solidified its position as the leading beach volleyball nation in the region, thanks to its community-based programs that actively promote the sport among the youth. This fervor for beach volleyball and admiration for the nation’s stars extend beyond the main islands to the outer islands, reflecting a nationwide interest.
Debbie Masauvakalo, President of the Vanuatu Volleyball Federation, attributes their success to the establishment of comprehensive pathways through community programs, which were first introduced in 2007. As the country gears up to defend its Pacific Games women’s title in Honiara this November, the Vanuatu women’s team has already made their mark, securing a bronze medal at the 2022 Commonwealth Games through the exceptional performances of Sherysyn Toko and Miller Pata.
Masauvakalo emphasizes that their pathway to success revolves around the community, particularly focusing on young ni-Vanuatuans. National representatives serve as role models, coaching and supporting talented individuals identified through these programs. “Having a pathway for your programs and role models who give back and train these kids is crucial,” she expressed in an interview with RNZ Pacific, stressing the importance of sustainability.
According to Masauvakalo, without a clear pathway, programs are destined to fail. She highlights the significance of cultivating talent from a young age and ensuring a continuous flow of skilled athletes. “We started our program back in 2007, and we continue to lead in beach volleyball in the Pacific because we have implemented pathways and plans, not just for players but also for coaches and officials,” she affirms.
As an exemplar of their approach, she points to the team of two players set to participate in the Youth Commonwealth Games in Trinidad and Tobago this August. These athletes have been playing beach volleyball for several years, having started when they were just 10 and 12 years old. Their progression demonstrates the effectiveness of the pathway system, enabling young players to take their first steps in international competitions.
The support for beach volleyball in Vanuatu is commendable, with Masauvakalo emphasizing the strong backing from the local community. “We are a community team, and everything we do is part of the community,” she states. Local government authorities actively engage with the players, recognizing their status as role models for women, men, and aspiring sports stars.
Jill Scanlon, Vanuatu Volleyball’s media officer, acknowledges the widespread support for beach volleyball and the national teams across the entire country. Recounting a heartening experience during a visit to the northern provinces, Scanlon encountered individuals who eagerly inquired about the team’s progress. She recalls their dedication, stating, “We watch the beach volleyball Facebook page every time they compete overseas, we’re watching for the scores all the time, and we’re cheering them on.” Even in the most remote regions and outer islands, the national teams receive immense support and are regarded as influential figures and role models within the broader community.
Scanlon adds that all national representatives actively contribute to the community programs, including disability inclusion initiatives, by assuming coaching roles. This commitment further reinforces the strong bond between the players and their communities.
Vanuatu’s exceptional achievements in beach volleyball stand as a testament to the power of community-based programs and the invaluable support from both local authorities and the populace. With their well-established pathways, the nation continues to nurture young talent, ensuring a bright future for the sport while inspiring the next generation of athletes.
Photo: Vanuatu Volleyball