The learning culture has to improve for volleyball to grow in the country: Lesley de JongeFollowing his reappointment as head coach, the Dutch trainer is set to join the Nepali team in India to prepare for the South Asian Games.
Lesley de Jonge has been reappointed as the head coach of Nepal’s men's senior volleyball team for the South Asian Games, which is set to be hosted from December 1 to 10 in Kathmandu and Pokhara. He had previously coached Nepal during the 2018 Asian Games held in Indonesia last year. The 29-year-old coach has years of managerial and coaching experiences in the Netherland’s top volleyball division, and has spent a lot of time improving his coaching knowledge in Turkey, where he collaborated with the famous Italian expert Giovanni Guidetti.
The Post's Prarambha Dahal had a conversation with de Jonge to talk about his reappointment, Nepal’s strategy for the Games, and the country’s focus on volleyball—its national sport.
De Jonge will be flying from the Netherlands to join team Nepal in India for the SAG’s preparations next week. Excerpts.
What made you take up the responsibility of coaching the Nepali volleyball team again? How long is this appointment for?
Nepal is an amazing country with amazing people. Volleyball inspires Nepal and the Netherlands to come together and I am very grateful to be with the Nepal men’s team once again. Our first term together in 2018 was a great experience and now we have the opportunity to continue working on our development together. The Netherlands and Nepal have been collaborating now for the third year. Together with coaches Matt van Wezel and Han Abbing, we have been building on a three-year partnership. Three years have already passed since the previous South Asian Games, and I think we will continue our cooperation for three more years. My current term will end after the upcoming Games, but the Nepal Volleyball Association and the Netherlands’ volleyball governing body Nevobo are in conversation about extending our partnership.
Can you please shed some light on the targets assigned to you with this reappointment?
We have some very important goals in our partnership. Of course, we dream of winning a medal at the South Asian Games, but we also have to think of the bigger picture. Our main goal is to develop volleyball in the whole of Nepal. Volleyball is the national sport of Nepal and it can change people’s lives. The national team has till date been able to ignite and inspire young volleyball players. During the Asian Games in Jakarta, we made it to the top 15 for the first time in history, but most importantly, we left a positive mark in Asia. The Nepal team was very well-liked and appreciated by all volunteers and other teams because of our spirit, enthusiasm and gregariousness towards the full crowd. This is the true character of Nepal and it is very important to share our light with the world. If at the same time we can earn a medal, it would be a dream goal achieved.
The volleyball team has been having short-term coaches consistently. Is this change in coaches, in such short durations, good for team performances?
Well, it looks like the team has short-term coaches but in reality, it is not quite so. Coaches Matt, Han, and I are good friends. When in the Netherlands, we regularly talk and meet with each other to discuss the progression of volleyball in Nepal and the team. Basically, you could say we are working together on the programme. We are working in cohesion on a three-year programme and this will definitely improve the team’s performance.
Since you have coached in Nepal before, what areas do you think Nepal needs to improve on for the overall development of volleyball?
It is amazing to see the number of talented volleyball players growing in Nepal, despite it having fewer facilities than other countries. For me, it is really important to work on the youth development programme and the training of other coaches. This is why our three-year programme also includes FIVB Level 1 and 2 coaching courses which were concluded in Kathmandu last year. If we can learn a better way to improve the learning culture, our level will grow tremendously.
What aspects of Nepal’s performance need improvement?
If we talk about the team, we have to create more space for young talent to develop. During the Asian Games, some young players got the chance to take home experience and exposure. And with Coach Han last summer many young players made their debut in the national team. Right now, the selection for the regional Games also includes lots of young players which is a great opportunity for growth and improvement. As we don’t have a lot of matches to train and improve our skill level, it is important for us to prioritise on general development. Playing more international games is extremely important to improve individual player performance in our team, so participating in the Asian Games last year and now the SAG is vital for our three-year development program.
As you come with rich experience of volleyball and coaching in Europe, how do you plan to bring in new players in the team or in mainstream volleyball?
If you look back at the previous South Asian Games, you will find many young players making a breakthrough in the last three years and they have really improved their game. I think some of the players are capable to play in European professional tournaments. For me, it is important that these players inspire the upcoming and aspiring players to play and train more. It is not about the level of play anymore. It is about networking with international clubs and sponsorships. It would be great if there were some Nepali companies or inspiring people who would like to contribute to Nepali volleyball so we can extend our work internationally. For that, the private sector has to step in.
Despite the sport being popular across Nepal, not many really pursue it as a career. What is your suggestion to aspiring volleyball players in Nepal?
Volleyball is fun and amazing to play, but it also can transform your life. One example is Kopila Uprety who is an amazing athlete and an inspirational woman. Her incredible life story is a huge inspiration for both young boys and girls to make a change in their life. We made a documentary about Kopila’s life, her initial days of struggle, growth as a player and the way she is now giving back. I highly suggest aspiring volleyball players and other sportspersons in general to learn from the success stories of athletes from Nepal before seeking inspiration elsewhere.
How do you assess Nepal’s opponents at the upcoming South Asian Games? What can we expect from team Nepal at the Games?
At this moment we are trying to gain video and data analyses of our opponents by working with international data analysts. Hopefully, this can give us some advantages to play better. The competition is very strong but we are playing on home ground, and the crowd can support us big time. I hope the venue will be full of enthusiastic Nepalis and then we can put on a great show together. I promise you energy, fighting spirit and great development in volleyball across Nepal. With support from all stakeholders, we can make it far in the tournament.