[ Robert Silverman ]
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[ Cybernetically, Bicycle Bob Xe-Dda.p ]
Volleyball and Community
A statement by Bob Silverman

Bob Silverman is famous in Montreal not only for his volleyball organizing but also for his championing of the bicycle.

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. 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. In short, volleyball is more than the sum of its parts. More than six individuals on a court, it is brain, cooperation, harmony and humor, and symmetry, poetry, concentration and communication.

Old Volleyball

Volleyball, like all human activities, can be polluted. At Montreal High School, in the late 1940's I tried to make the high school team, but, probably because of my height, failed to quality. Volleyball was but a part of the gym course and lasted about two weeks for everyone except those who made the team.

In the mid 1950's, at lunch hours, I played recreational volleyball at the Y.M.H.A. on Mount Royal Street near Park Avenue. To play, you had to pay $10 more than your regular annual Y membership fee and you were issued a card classifying you as "Business or Professional". The players, as could be expected with that name and at that time, were very competitive. They were also very critical of each other. Captains, generally the best players, would select their teams. During the games, you would hear: Silverman or Cohen: . . "You've been playing for eight months, how come you missed the ball?" The players were insecure. The games were deadly serious, Iike business wars. They were men only. They worked all morning and had to go back after lunch. There were really no professionals, and the label Business or Professional, was an advertizing gimmick to flatter the businessmen.

I worked around the corner. I went almost every day. So it must have been tolerable. But I was more screwed up then, not a socialist or anarchist yet and that kind of insanely competitive ideology, particularly sports ideology, was the norm in the 1950's. Also, those men were and had, more or less, the ideology of the rising Jewish middle class. Some of the players were clothing salesmen and I would notice them flattering customers and clothing store owners who were among the volleyball players. It was volleyball, but it was far from its potential. There was too much job related competition and anger.

Volleyball in the Park

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 world wide 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 phoned the Sports Department of the City of Montreal. Fortunately I was connected with Raymond Verschelden who asked me if the proposed outdoor volleyball was for children or adults. "For adults", I replied. In 1973 Ann Dillon and myself began to organize volleyball at the University Settlement. In june, 1974, the Montreal Parks Department installed the posts and prepared the ground. And on Friday, June 22, 1974, 2 days before the St. Jean Baptiste holiday, Mr. Verschelden phoned me to pick up the three nets. We began play the next day. And we have played every summer since then; thirteen years in all.

Of note - with all its money, organization and expertise, the sports Department of the City of Montreal was unable to organize volleyball in the 9th district, the inner city, of Montreal. For they had neither the consciousness, nor the heart, nor the understanding nor the ideology of community volleyball. They could place ads in papers, sign up people. It never jelled. So what did they do? They called us anarchists to the rescue. And they turned over the registration fees of $14.00 each player for 4 months of indoor volleyball to us to do what we saw fit. Terry Reegan and I have now been joined by 5 others and we administer the volleyball in winter and summer. No-one is paid and we have no hierarchy.

New Age Volleyball

I am convinced that volleyball is a new age activity which humanizes those who play when it is conceived as described in my poem 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 are 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 accesible. 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.

I see volleyball as a social contract berween 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 passess, 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 play is reasonably high, as it usually is with our group, outdoors volleyball can be joyous - like the pulling togerther of a harmonious family.

And for the Future ...

If the parking lot owners would let us, we should play in the parking lots of our cities, like the Chinese community now does in a parking lot Sunday mornings on St. Lawrence Street in Chinatown in Montreal. Let's expropriate the parking lots for volleyball courts. The workers will play during their lunch hours and after work. When I taught English at the C.O. FI. language school on the south shore, my obligatory non teaching job was organizing the volleyball for the immigrants in the courtyard beside the school.

I believe that volleyball, when conceived as a social contract, and not as competition, is a deeply humanizing activity and even a convivial tool. Accessible, 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! Spreading appropriate volleyball consciousness throughout Canada and the world is important and I will do what I can to propagate it.

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By Robert Silverman.

Published in City Magazine, 1986.

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© Robert Silverman 2001