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23/03/2017 18:00
The first Northern Irish snow volleyballer

Wagrain-Kleinarl, Austria, March 23, 2017. His name is Graham Bell and he is about to go down in history as the first Northern Irish snow volleyballer. A Volleyball pioneer for his country in more ways than one, the 28-year-old player and coach from Northern Ireland has signed up to play at the Snow Volleyball Goes Europe international tournament in Austria this weekend. Not only that, Graham is already in Wagrain working as one of the instructors for the kids at the ongoing inaugural FIVB Volleyball Your Way Snow Festival.

Graham Bell got involved with Volleyball only about ten years ago, at the age of 18. For this short period, he has already gone a long way and achieved quite a lot in his playing and coaching career. “I would like to think so...,” Graham admits and starts telling his story. “I started coaching at 18 as self-employed. Three years later, I moved to England and took over a full-time coaching role with children. I worked a little bit with the Great Britain women’s team helping them out as a volunteer, progressed on to coaching England’s junior men’s team and I went back to work with the Northern Ireland national teams. I took over a playing scholarship at the University of East London and that was good for me, because I was 23 at the time and I still aspired to play. We got second place in the university league of England and I got a call-up for the Northern Ireland senior national team. It was really nice going off to the European Championships in the CEV Small Countries Division.”

Before launching his interesting path in the world of Volleyball, Graham was actually a soccer player. He was playing on a second-division team when he was 17. “I was facing the decision – do I want to play Volleyball and perhaps coach and play for my country or stay as the locally known football player and make a little bit of money,” he continues his fascinating story. “10 years later I don’t regret my decision. I travelled the world. I was with a professional team in the UAE for seven months. I have been in Italy, Spain, the United States (California and Florida) coaching and doing Volleyball, so for sure I have not made the wrong decision. And for sure, I will always treasure the fact that I have my national caps with Northern Ireland.”

The whims of fate bring Graham Bell to Austria, where he now lives and continues his coaching career. “Austria has been fantastic to me! It allowed me to move here with my girlfriend who is from Austria. Whether it is because I am Irish and naturally lucky, but things have always fallen in place,” admits Graham with a smile. “My girlfriend introduced me to Florian Schnetzer. He introduced me to his indoor coach and here I am working at the first Bundesliga team from Salzburg. I am also coaching Schnetzer and his Beach Volleyball partner Peter Eglseer. Last year we had a great summer together. We won a MEVZA event in Prague, we won at the International University Beach Games and we went to two of the Major Series events on the FIVB World Tour – in Germany and Croatia.”

However, this week the Northern Irish adventurer is in the Austrian Alps completely focussed on Snow Volleyball. His first task in Wagrain-Kleinarl is to pass some of his inspiration and knowledge down to the young generation. “It is important to have many kids playing. It is also important for me to work on my German a little bit. I tell the kids that I will control their Snow Volleyball technique, but they should control mein Deutsch. It works both ways. Hopefully, I learn as much from them as they do from me,” Graham jokes. “It is very important for me, even as a young coach, to be able to give back and to motivate the next person to believe that it is not too big, it is not too difficult, it is not too unrealistic a dream to follow in the same footsteps and even go further. One of the greatest quotes says that we go further than the guy before, because we stand on his shoulders.”

Graham Bell’s philosophy as an instructor at this Snow Volleyball festival is that it is all about getting the kids to a level where they would come back. “We cannot make them super stars within an hour, but the goal is to get them motivated to come and play Volleyball. It is a hard game to start with. There is a big learning curve. But as soon as you start having a little bit of control, it’s like an itch, it becomes addictive,” he says reminiscing of the time when he first played Volleyball himself. “Are the kids enjoying it? Well, it is our lunch break right now, but we have about 20 kids playing on the court by themselves. That makes it evident enough that they want to be here and play, rather than just sit down and eat food. This is a testament to what this festival is.”

On Saturday and Sunday, Graham Bell will be putting his Irish luck to the test again taking part in the strong Snow Volleyball Goes Europe international tournament in Wagrain-Kleinarl. This way he will become the first Northern Irish professional Snow Volleyball player. “I feel quite privileged,” Bell says. “I am also the first coach from Northern Ireland to ever get a professional contract. I am also the only Northern Irish coach to coach abroad. This weekend I will become the first Northern Irish snow volleyballer and I hope next year to be on the first Northern Irish Snow Volleyball team.”

For the upcoming tournament, Graham Bell is teaming up with Sam Dunbavin, a pioneer on his own merit, as he will be the first snow volleyballer to represent England. This way, the two will form a tandem practically representing Great Britain on the Austrian snow. “One little step at a time,” Graham continues. “I know Snow Volleyball already has a heavy following in countries like Poland, Germany, Italy, Switzerland,... but it is time for the rest of Europe to start catching up. I don’t see any reason why Snow Volleyball can’t become as popular as Beach Volleyball.”

“I started playing volleyball indoors. My first summer tournament was on the grass, followed very quickly by the beach,” Graham Bell starts summarising. “In England I was helping the Great Britain team in Sitting Volleyball and now I am here playing and coaching Snow Volleyball at the Volleyball Your Way Snow Festival. So I guess Volleyball my way is... every way!”

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