Being selected to a national volleyball team in the summer usually means packing your bags and heading to a national training centre. Not so in 2020.
Second-year men’s volleyball player Michael Donovan earned a spot on Team Canada’s men’s U21 virtual team. It’s his third year in a row representing Canada and his first with the junior team after two seasons with the youth team.
“The experience I’ve had so far with the virtual team is obviously much different than my experience in previous years,” says Donovan. “Most of the training camps I’ve been involved with in the past were devoted to actual play, but not this year.”
Donovan participates in two team meetings each week comprised of guest speakers, collaboration activities and may other group discussions from the comfort of his home in London, Ont. They also have homework and are expected to be following their university team’s physical conditioning plan.
Incoming women’s volleyball player Talia Vydykhan also earned a spot with Team Canada as a member of the women’s U20 virtual team after serving as an alternate to the 2019 youth national team. She trained with them in Slovenia ahead of the U18 World Championship in Cairo, Egypt.
The Hammonds Plains, N.S. native didn’t have far to travel this year to participate, with all of the action taking place online.
“We meet every Tuesday at 6pm on Zoom for an hour,” she says. “Each week we have a new guest come on and talk about their volleyball experience, covering a range of topics like coaching, playing and mental skills training. The sessions are very interactive.”
Just like Donovan, Vydykhan has been following the Tigers physical conditioning plan to stay fit in hopes of a volleyball season taking place sooner rather than later.
While the virtual training has been very beneficial and a great opportunity to spend a lot of time learning and focusing on a different part of their games like tactical and mental skills development, both players have struggled with the lack of physicality.
“The most challenging aspect for me has been trying to connect with my teammates and coaches,” says Donovan. “Although we do have online places to chat and socialize, I find the personal connection you can make with your team when you are all together is something that can’t be recreated virtually.”
“I love the physical aspect of volleyball and the energy I receive from my teammates,” adds Vydykhan. “It’s been difficult not being able to actually play volleyball.”
Despite the different look and feel from their previous years with the national team, both are grateful for the opportunity to interact with players from the senior national teams and learned from the experience.
“Although the virtual team program was not the most ideal situation this summer, I think that the coaching staff and organizers have done a fantastic job putting this program together,” says Donovan. “It’s very cool to hear perspectives from people who have competed at the highest level of volleyball in the world and learning from them is truly a privilege. It was something we wouldn’t have been able to experience under normal circumstances because of their schedules.”
Both players hope to be able to get onto the court soon to resume some sense or normalcy, and are waiting to find out the fate of the competitive season in October when both the AUS and U SPORTS make decisions on the winter seasons. For now, both will be heading to Dal to do whatever they can to prepare for what comes next.