The island Republic of Vanuatu is not what you would call an athletic hotbed. Located in the middle of the South Pacific, Vanuatu has a population of less than 225,000 people living on 83 islands. You won't see its beach volleyball team on SportsCenter or making national headlines—unless it qualifies for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That's a possibility if the players can raise enough money to cover their expenses. Some talented Vanuatuan women are already competing on the FIVB World Tour.
With little funding for equipment, the team has been forced to come up with some creative training methods. "We have used coconuts and [flip-flop sandals] for training markers," says Vanuatu head coach Lauren McLeod. "Local stairways become training runs, and the harbor has become our water-recovery facility. We are trying to create a high-performance standard and environment using whatever methods and tools we have available to us."
Teams that lack access to multimillion-dollar facilities or big budgets may want to try some of Vanuatu's methods.
Spend as much time with the ball as possible.
Even in fitness workouts, the Vanuatu volleyball team trains with the ball. This gives the players good "ball touch," which is key to feeling comfortable on the court.
Focus on balance in strength and conditioning workouts.
This is partially due to lack of resources, but is also based on the belief that working the core provides a better base for training.
Do sand training for cardio.
Lacking resistance bands, the team finds deep sand and uses its depth and gravity to provide resistance. The players use the force of the sand against their feet to strengthen their cores.
Work on flexibility.
Training includes a combination of yoga, Pilates, core training and general stretching.
Endurance is key.
The women have dedicated themselves to staying on the court and training for as long as it takes to perfect their craft. They take a more relaxed attitude toward time than is typically seen in Western cultures. "We have had very little injury in our daily training environment over a four-year period," McLeod says, "I attribute this to the girls' belief that things take whatever time they take. They have no stress in their mindset, so they carry little stress in their bodies—which helps to reduce risk of injury."
Work on building confidence.
"Some of the more delicate training has been in self-belief, eye contact, pride and finding one thing that is important to each girl—the thing that makes what they are doing important enough that they are willing to sacrifice so much in order to chase their dreams," says McLeod. "I believe this is what takes four little island girls, wrapped up in mamma dresses and looking at the ground, and turns them into professional women, athletes and ambassadors who are proud to represent their country, family and themselves."
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