Kazakh volleyball player Bakhytzhan Baitureyev is one of the pioneers of the sport, and has carried the title of best player of the continent. He also guided Kazakhstan’s women’s team to a bronze medal in the Asian Games for the first time in the country’s history.
Kazakhstan’s tough volleyball challenges of the present and striving to make a difference in the future were covered in a recent interview.
How was Kazakh men’s volleyball built?
In Soviet times, Kazakhstan’s volleyball pyramid was built; the Dorozhnik team was at the top of it. The entire country worked for it. Dorozhnik did not participate in the championship of the Kazakh SSR, it played in the Premier League all-union championships.
What is a “sports pyramid” and how, in practice, was the selection held?
I will explain it with my own example. In the youth championship of Alma-Ata among players born in 1967, eight teams completed with 10 boys in each. That is 80 people. Plus 70 boys from regions. Among them 14 boys was later selected to participate in the School Games of the USSR. Among these 14, in turn, only four were selected for the reserve of Dorozhnik. As a result, only two of them reached the first team of masters, myself and Victor Kozik. That is, out of the 150 boys from the bottom of the pyramid only two or three were getting to its top.
That is not the thing now. The school, equipment and tactics – all this is not at the highest level. At the Asian Championship 2013, the men’s national team of Kazakhstan took the tenth place.
We are now behind not only the countries of the ‘Big Three’ and Iran, which joined the traditional leaders, but also Thailand, Taiwan and India. We once trampled these teams.
Have there been attempts to revive Kazakhstan’s men’s volleyball?
The problem is large-scale; first of all, we need to build the entire training system. The way, for example, it was done by Iran.
In February 1993, the Iranians invited us to the tournament, dedicated to the Islamic Revolution. You cannot imagine in what a terrible hotel they settled us – it was far from the city, with unsanitary conditions, very poor food and time for training in the gym was not really provided. In the first game, we played against a team from the province of Mazandaran and defeated it. After the match, we immediately moved to a nice hotel in the city, and we immediately had time for proper training in the gym. We made them respect us.
In that time Iran set a goal to develop volleyball, and so it did. Iranians attracted a specialist: Ivan Bugayenkov, a two-time Olympic champion. He built a complete training system for them (Bugayenkov from 1992 to 2005 was in charge of junior and youth volleyball in Iran).
Bugayenkov, by the way, was the only foreign coach, who was not affected by the rule that after a two-year period of work in Iran you should leave for one year, then return.
Once, Iran lost to us. Now it is the winner of the last two championships of Asia. At the 2014 World Cup in Poland, the country’s national team ranked fifth, well ahead of former leaders of the continent of Asia. In Iran, thousands of boys per year are tried out; that is, the Soviet system is used, which was once used in our country.
A comprehensive system was built for women’s volleyball in Thailand, which was not previously among the leaders in our sport. The local coach chose a group of athletes, guided them for a long time, worked hard with them. They even have been isolated at a sport centre on an island sometimes. The result: two sets of gold medals at Asian championships.
These cases show that the establishment of certain conditions and a strong desire can help achieve a success.
But first we must at least ensure the relevant personnel in junior and youth schools. When I was in France, I confirmed my coaching diploma obtained in Kazakhstan, I took the exam on the topic: “Safeguarding your own attacking player.” In 40 minutes I had to draw an exercise that was fully consistent with a given subject, I had to position the juniors presented and explain the exercise to them. I passed the exam; my diploma reads ‘Volleyball Coach.’ I will not be able to work, for example, in the French rugby club because I am a volleyball coach. And who teaches youth volleyball in our country? Wrestlers, boxers, and skiers.
Volleyball is one of the most technically complex sports. There is no time to put through a combination, like in football, when the ball flies over the net – in three touches, you have to process it and send it back. A player who receives a handoff is limited in space; he must be at the desired point in time. Not right, not left, not a second earlier or later, but at this time and at this place. Serve, return, block, handoff, protective actions. What will a fighter tell children about such things? Volleyball coaches in our junior and youth sports schools are mostly not volleyball players. I respect all sports, but everyone should mind his own business.
In our country, bananas don’t grow. We import them. Therefore, we need to invite foreign coaches, if we had no local ones. But we have our own specialists, and they have a great desire to work, they have a wealth of experience and extensive knowledge. My teammate Sergey Shchukin is familiar with Soviet and foreign volleyball, he has all the certificates, but he has not been able to use his skills for three years.
In the last championship of the country among the teams of the men’s National League only two out of eight head coaches were graduates of the national volleyball system. We can see this pattern frequently in recent years.
It’s one thing when a specialist is of the level of Bugayenkov, and aims to build a whole system of training of juniors and youth in volleyball in the country. It’s quite different when people come to us just to earn money.
When I was a player in the championship in France, only one club among 12 was headed by a foreigner.
Let’s look at international football. In the German Bundesliga, during the last season, out of 18 clubs only two were led by foreign coaches.
The national team should be headed by local specialists. The degree of commitment from outsiders and homegrown coaches will be always different; this is the thing to understand.