Open up and trust to young people. This is what Julio Velasco says, the “great master” of men’s volleyball, coach of the generation of phenomena who won everything in the 90s and is now the technical director of the Fipav youth sector. With the Argentine coach, who met the Friulian coaches and coaches in San Giorgio di Nogaro for a refresher course, we talked about volleyball but, above all, about the new generations.
Velasco, how difficult is it today, compared to thirty years ago, to cultivate in young people that winning mentality, of refusal of alibis, which has characterized your career as a coach?
«Young people do not have problems of this type, they may have insecurities, of course, but they also have a great desire to learn and improve themselves. If anything, the problem is adults: we must be able to manage them. I do not agree with those who think that our youth, in the 60s, was better than this: we are victims of a selective memory because if we think about it we lived terrible years, not even comparable to these “.
What has Covid taken away from our children and from sport?
«If there is an age in which one does not want to be with one’s parents, it is adolescence because it is in these years that one begins to be independent. Covid instead forced our boys and girls to be with family rather than with their friends and this is the most painful part. From a sporting point of view, however, I have seen athletes return to the gym with a crazy desire and motivation to play and train. Sometimes we confuse youth with weakness: young people have an extraordinary ability to adapt to situations and to overcome difficulties ».
What is the current situation of Italian youth volleyball?
«We must first of all make a differentiation between males and females. In the world, women’s volleyball has become what football has always been for males and this is also due to the fact that it is not the slowest male version, but has characteristic elements from a qualitative point of view. We see, for example, many long exchanges, which represent something different and more than the male. This has made volleyball the women’s sport par excellence. In men’s volleyball, on the other hand, we have a problem of quantity and we have to worry a lot about the recruitment of the boys, also working with the regional committees. In any case, the general situation is good: they may not be as high as the Russians and Poles but we have many willing athletes ».
Are new recruits valued enough?
«I believe, and I speak for sport but I am also referring to other areas, that young Italians generally do not like Italians. We see in our compatriots above all the defects while in the foreigners we tend to focus on the merits ».
Is it complex to teach to coach?
«Teaching volleyball to children and training those who in turn have to do it has the same complexity, which derives from the difficulties inherent in the discipline. Volleyball is even more difficult than the other two rebound sports, tennis and table tennis, because it is not enough to send the ball to the other court but you have to make three passes: reception, lift, attack. Until we know how to do it we can only say that we are trying to play volleyball. It is up to the coaches and the coaches to create the right conditions to pass the level ».
Given these complexities, volleyball doesn’t necessarily require an early start.
“In no way. This is why in the early years it is important to propose preparatory games for volleyball without entering the technical. I think the age at which it is easiest to learn to play is between 14 and 15. The problem is that in many clubs, which have already structured teams, whoever approaches volleyball at this age is considered almost a problem because teaching from the beginning “is complicated”. I remember that of the twelve world champion players in 1990 the two most famous, Zorzi and Lucchetta, started at 17 ».
That Italy sparked the volley mania in Italy. How are the Italian teams today?
“The fact that both Italian senior and youth teams for men and women continue to be among the best in the world along with China, the United States and Russia, despite being Italy a much smaller country, a bit like Serbia which has this point of view is an incredible nation, it must make us proud. I believe that in general Italians should be more aware that they have the privilege of living in one of the richest countries in the world. As far as I am concerned, I am proud to have given my contribution to the successes of Italian volleyball and I am equally grateful for all that Italy has given to me ».
Looking beyond the border, in this difficult period there are high-level sportsmen and women, Russians and Belarusians, excluded from international competitions. What is its position?
«I have always thought that it is necessary to differentiate between governments and peoples. I lived through the years of the dictatorship in Argentina and I certainly would not have liked it if, due to the military who committed horrors in my country, not to be able to participate in international tournaments or world championships. I do not think that depriving young girls and boys of the right to participate in sports competitions is the right way to fight an aggressive country like Russia ».