[ Robert Silverman ]
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[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
They don't play to win

I like activities that are inexpensive, natural and induce cooperation between people. One such activity is volleyball. Volleyball is a unique sport-recreation which has improved the quality of life for me and for others. Volleyball is relatively easy to learn and to play. You can begin at adolescence and continue to play until your seventies. It was consciously invented by Dr. William Morgan of the Springfield, Massachussets Y.M.C.A. for "both the fit and the unfit". Specifically Morgan had in mind the middle-aged businessmen who were no longer able to play basketball, a sport Morgan had previously invented.

In the outdoor season Volleyball is free. The equipment consists of a net and a ball which together cost $70. The twelve players on the court at the same time use very little space. As there is no bodily contact, injuries are rare. Women and men, old and young can easily play together. Volleyball is a very egalitarian sport-recreation. This is because the more active and less active functions are continuously rotated. In volleyball we alter, in an organized manner, our position and function constantly with each change of service.

Volleyball in the Park: History

In early 1974 I had never seen volleyball played outdoors. I was ignorant of the fact that, even then, volleyball was commonly played on beaches and in parks in many countries. So when Patrice Harry, Technical Director at that time of the Quebec Volleyball Federation, told me about the worldwide existence of outdoor volleyball, I decided to try to make it happen here. We had been playing indoors for two years; we needed to continue in the summer.

At Harry's suggestion I phone a the Sports Department of the City of Montreal. Fortunately, at the other end of the line was Raymond Verschelden, who was in favor of the idea. He asked me if the proposed outdoor volleyball was to be for children or adults. "For adults", I replied. We' made an appointment for the next day. Driving around in Verschelden's car, we discovered, on that March afternoon, an unused and flat spot in Jeanne Mance Park, south of Duluth Street.

In June, 1974, the Montreal Parks Department installed the posts and prepared the ground. And on Friday, June 22, 1974, 2 days before the Saint-Jean-Baptiste holiday, Mr. Verschelden phoned me to pick up the three nets. We began to play the next day. And we have played every summer since then; thirteen years in all.

Our volleyball ideology

I'd rather play with those I love
than those who come to win,
I'd rather play with those who Like to pass
than those who want to smash,
for our jobs our tough
and the nights are short
so, let's be kind,
on the volleyball court.

I wrote this poem in reaction to a danger, imported by military men from abroad, that the focus of our volleyball was, at one time, becoming competitive and exclusive. Volleyball in the park is very accessible. It is free. We have four courts. Many of the regular players are new Canadians or foreign students. People from over 40 countries and all the continents have joined us. Our volleyball serves a social function. People meet new friends and social contacts in and beside the courts. One single mother brings her 5 year old son regularly. Loic is our volleyball kid and most of the players play with him while his mother, Natasha, passes, bumps and smashes on the court. Several other players told me that our regular volleyball happenings have been important factors in overcoming depression and getting more joy in life.

Volleyball: A social contract

I see volleyball as a social contract between six people for the duration of the game. I see this contract as the goal. Volleyball requires, above all, good human communication. Pleasant volleyball, with its three passes, its services, its bumps, passes, smashes and blocks requires intelligence and commitment like any social agreement. Anticipation, optimum positioning at all times, concentration, mutual respect and encouragement are all important characteristics of pleasant volleyball. The same qualities that make for superb love making. When these qualities are all present and the quality of the play is reasonably high, as it usually is with our group outdoors, volleyball can be joyous, like the pulling together of a harmonius family.

Since we have been playing for a long time our calibre has become quite high. The good players are in a majority. The balls and nets are stored in a room in the public toilets. Five regular volleyball players have the keys and regularly pick up the equipment, put up the nets and return the material to its place at the end of the game. No-one is payed and~ there is no hierarchy.

Join us

In the warm season people want to play volleyball all the time, so we now play every day. During the week we begin at 6 P.M., on Saturdays we begin at 5 P.M., and on Sundays at 2 P.M. We always play until dark. I believe that volleyball, when conceived as a social contract, and not as competition, is a deeply humanizing activity and even a convivial tool. Accessibie, easy, social, inexpensive, it is played by millions throughout the world on beaches, in parks and outside factories. Why don't you join us and see its unique attractions for yourself?

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By Robert Silverman.

Published in the Le Monde à Bicyclette Journal, September 1986.

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© Robert Silverman 2000