A professional coach for Polonia

As mentioned a number of times in recent match reports, Polonia Men have had the unique opportunity to have recruited the services of a Professional Volleyball Coach from Greece. Vangelis Koutouleas is currently living in England with his partner who is completing a Master’s Course.

I was fortunate enough for Mark Kontopoulos, the Polonia Ladies coach, to put me in contact with this legend of Greek Volleyball over the Christmas period and so I emailed Vangelis and arranged to meet up in a coffee bar to “chew the fat” and to see whether we could work together for the second part of the season.

Having seen volleyball live in Athens at the Olympics in 2004, I was fully aware of the level of the sport in that country and could only imagine the coaching experience that Vangelis had to offer. Starbucks was the chosen location (as Greece may be contenders for coffee drinking champions of the world!) and so we settled down to chat. The two hours that followed were a reminder to me of the level of volleyball outside the UK! I wanted to find out as much as I could about Vangelis’s volleyball past and he also wanted to hear what amateur volleyball was like over here. He came across as a warm, knowledgeable and very easy going character; however I felt a little like I was a pupil being grilled by an expert teacher at school!

During his playing career, Vangelis played for five different professional teams in the top A1 League in Greece; including the team who always reach the European Finals; Panathinaikos between 1987 and 1996. He finished his indoor playing career in 2002 after two seasons with Ionikos Athens having helped them reach promotion from A2 to A1.

Tempted by the beach game that was growing in stature around the world, and particularly in Greece, he found time to play as blocker, at the highest level between 1989 and 2002. The game seemed to come naturally to him and as a result, he and his partner became Greek National Champions between 1996 and 1999. Qualifying for the O’Neill Tour, his best placings were 2nd and 3rd in Istanbul during the early 1990s. Competing for four consecutive years on the CEV tour, he regularly placed 7th but his best result was winning an event in Larnaca in 2001.

His talents were well known by that stage in his home country as he had notched up over 100 international appearances for Greece.

Like many top athletes, he decided to retire from playing while at the top and now restricts his playing to events at his own Beach Volleyball Club in Greece.

He obviously missed the competitive side of volleyball, and was recruited as Head Coach at Ionikos Volleyball Club in Division 1A. Most recently he was coaching at PAOK Salonika from 2007-2008 where his annual budget was counted in the millions of Euros!

His most recent work in Greece has been as a personal trainer for many of the games top domestic stars from the indoor game and beach volleyball including the current domestic champions.

So with this in mind, I’d like you to consider how I felt when he proposed himself as my Assistant Coach! My coaching experience is a mighty two and a half seasons at Polonia and my playing experience a couple of decades with the same club as well as a few years with the England and Great Britain national teams!

“So how has it been?” I hear you ask. Vangelis works with the team and individuals every Monday and sometimes Thursdays. He has a job in catering in England and is able to arrange his work around home matches. He brings useful observations and feedback challenging both the team and individual players: and of course me! The players love his sessions, as his wealth of experience makes team training both intense but realistic in terms of the relatively lower level compared to what he has been used to. I am usually seen busy listening to his words of wisdom, hanging on his shirt tails trying to glean every possible piece of information from him. During matches he is obviously able to watch opponents and within one sequence of rotations, know exactly where their strengths and weaknesses lie.

So as my “Assistant”, I set him some homework a couple of weeks ago, of putting together a game plan that will help us to defeat Sheffield this weekend at the semi-finals of the Knock out Cup.