For Eastridge’s Rafiq de Villiers, 42, rediscovering the sport he loved as a teenager came with its own challenges after an accident left him having to deal with serious injuries.
The sport helped him rediscover how to use his body to its full potential and to appreciate the ability to play.
Moreover, he wants to pass down that love to juniors at his club as well as to his two sons, as he does his part to help grow the game he loves.
“I became involved with volleyball at a young age, while at Athlone North Primary School. I saw the kids playing and decided to try it out. I was always very sporty and volleyball just worked for me.
“In high school I started taking it more seriously and began playing competitively.
“I loved the fact that it was a game that required a deceptive amount of fitness and observation – you need to be aware of what was happening all over the court, on your own side and on your opponents’. After school I played at club level for a few different clubs but then left it for about eight or nine years.
“When I had my accident I came back to the sport as a form of rehabilitation. Once I learnt to handle my injuries I fell in love with the sport again,” he said.
De Villiers went on to represent Western Province on the court after that and more recently discovered a love for the beach version of the game. Played on sand, it comes with its own challenges.
He partnered up with Abe Louis and they began training on Muizenberg beach, honing their skills in a form of the game they knew very little about.
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“When we heard about the Flying Fish beach volleyball series we thought we’d enter and see how it goes. Last year we found out exactly how tough the league was and we weren’t able to cope with the pace and skill of our opponents but we didn’t give up. In fact, that motivated us to take our game more seriously and we went back to the beach and trained harder.
“This year we missed a few tournaments due to work commitments but a real highlight for us was playing in the Cape Town leg last weekend, at UWC, where we made it to the quarter finals. That alone was a shock as many people never gave us, an unseeded team, a chance.
“In that game we came up against the current log leaders and the top-seeded team of Casey Augoustides and Colin Pocock. We proved to ourselves and to anyone who doubted us that we were good enough and deserved to be there. We even stole a set from them,” he said.
Although the impetus for self-improvement has been great, the father knows that passing on the skills they have learnt is as important. With that in mind their beach squad has gone from two lonely players to a group of 14 and they have double that at their club in Tafelsig, the All Stars Saints, who train at the Thusong Centre.
“Volleyball is a sport for all ages and we cater for everyone from 12 years old onwards. Our goal is to get as many youngsters involved in the sport as possible. The club initially operated in Athlone but many of the kids came from Mitchell’s Plain so we saw a need to offer them a place to play close to home as transport was often a problem. We train on Tuesdays and Thursdays and have about 28 players of all ages.
“Like any other sport in a development stage, funding is one of the biggest problems. Equipment is difficult to come by and can be expensive if you don’t have a sponsor. We’d like to see more government initiatives to provide capital where there are people willing to grow the sport at a grassroot level. We want to see volleyball being brought back into our communities and not taken away.
“Our next big project is getting our players ready for an under-21 development tournament that will happen in Muizenberg in March, in which my two sons will play, even though they are only 14 and 16 years old. If we train the kids the right way we can have more going on to do what they will,” he said.