With the launch of the 2017 version of Sport England’s This Girl Can campaign, the spotlight is once again being shone on how to get more women exercising regularly. This means highlighting the benefits of being active and creating the environment within which this can happen. However, it also means identifying role models who can inspire and enthuse others into doing more.
As part of our Women in Volleyball series, we’re going to highlight a few examples of women who have taken full advantage of the opportunities afforded to them by volleyball. It’s not so much ‘this girl can’ as ‘this girl already did’. These are their stories.
Making Giant strides in south London
Spend 15 minutes in the company of Cisel Ormanci and you get the impression of a woman on a volleyballing mission. Establishing a successful tournament series and a new club in south London; booking out the Copper Box; taking volleyball into primary schools; accessing supposedly hard-to-reach minority groups - it’s all in a day’s work.
Cisel’s own volleyball story began in her native Turkey where she started playing in the Istanbul junior leagues, aged 15. Her involvement with the sport came to a temporary halt though when she moved to London 12 years ago. In fact, seven years would pass before she even touched a volleyball again.
Her route back into volleyball came courtesy of a recreational mixed team which played in numerous tournaments, both at home and abroad. Known as the Little Giants (a nod to the 1990s American sports film of the same name), the team became incredibly popular, with players from all over London wanting to join.
With so many people keen to participate, Cisel decided that Little Giants should have a recreational session of its own – which she duly delivered in late 2015, with Monday evening sessions at Battersea Sports Centre. She then secured Sport England funding to formally establish Little Giants as a registered club, with a men’s team entered into London Div 2 for the 2016/17 season.
However, this is where the story departs from the norm. Little Giants was founded with tournament volleyball at its core. Keen to not lose sight of this, Cisel also set about creating a local recreational tournament structure, open to players and teams of all standards.
She explained: “Having travelled extensively to take part in other people’s tournaments, I thought ‘why not get people to come to us?’ Plus, there were no tournament opportunities currently available in our part of London. So, we started last July with a tournament at Ernest Bevin School – which was quickly fully booked. We kept putting more tournaments on – and they kept being booked out. In our Autumn Series, we ran ten events from October to December and every single one was fully booked.”
Even losing her venue in January 2017 could not slow Cisel down. With Ernest Bevin temporarily unavailable, Cisel, supported by the London Volleyball Association, merely turned her sights to the Copper Box. The net result was a schedule of 14 tournaments – a mixture of men’s, women’s and mixed – spread out from February to May, with the added draw of playing in one of London’s iconic Olympic venues. And they’re filling up fast again.
Cisel continued: “Every time, it’s the women’s tournaments which fill up first. There must be something about the product we’ve created which appeals to women. There are complete teams who sign up but there are also individual players who are simply looking for a game. Over the course of just a few months, we’ve seen new women’s teams being formed and teams organising friendlies against each other. We’ve also been able to put players in touch with local clubs in their area. It’s like a match-making service, all conducted over some friendly, competitive volleyball and a social drink or two afterwards!”
Cisel’s willingness to further the cause of women’s volleyball took an unexpected turn recently when she was approached, completely out of the blue, to help prepare two teams of Muslim women for a forthcoming competition which they were hosting. With teams coming from all over Europe, she had four months to get her teams ready.
She was however quick to dismiss any thoughts of this somehow being noteworthy on the grounds of religion, ethnicity or accessibility, saying: “This was just me and a group of women, training twice a week in preparation for a tournament. I know there’s a lot of talk about hard-to-reach groups and getting volleyball into parts of the community where it doesn’t normally go but, to me, that was irrelevant. This was a coaching challenge – plain and simple – to prepare a group of players who wouldn’t have been out of place in the lower reaches of the London leagues. And it worked – with our A team managing to win the competition.”
Arguably the most interesting part of this story is that these players actively sought Cisel out. Cisel is firmly of the opinion that having more women in visible coaching and administration roles will attract yet more women to the sport.
“I get the sense that women feel more confident about getting involved with a sport when they see other women already at the heart of it,” she continued. “I think they find it reassuring. For that reason, I would never do anything at a training session or tournament which could compromise that feeling of safety and reassurance.”
It’s not the only time Cisel has been approached to help. She once worked in a primary school where the girls approached her to lay on an after-school volleyball club. A conversation with the deputy head about providing the necessary equipment was all it required to set the wheels in motion.
Cisel concluded: “The remarkable thing about this was that these very young girls approached me, once they knew I played volleyball. I hadn’t done anything to encourage this – and they were so young! It shows the value of having women in positions which can motivate, encourage or even inspire other women or girls into the sport. And that’s not just about coa