What might 10 women from the Middle East have in common with the coaches and girls of the under-12 team in the Arlington Volleyball Club? Quite simply – a love of the sport and the desire to excel in it.
The visiting volleyball players and coaches from Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, and Yemen are in the United States as part of the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative. “Sports are a key component of our strategic efforts to empower women and girls,” says Lee Satterfield, deputy assistant secretary for Professional and Cultural Exchanges, who leads the State Department’s sports diplomacy programs worldwide. He explains, “Through this initiative we aim to increase women and girls’ participation in sports and across all aspects of society.”
The group’s first stop was at the Madison Community Center in Arlington on December 5 to meet with Beth Ann Wilson, head coach of Marymount University’s women’s volleyball team. Wilson is also the technical director and coach for the Arlington Volleyball Club (AVC). It is through her work with AVC that she was asked to participate in this program.
Arriving straight from their long flight, the visitors were exhausted but excited to be in America for the first time and to begin adding to their volleyball knowledge by attending an AVC practice with Coach Wilson, Assistant Coach Nancy Nixon and their under-12 girls’ team.
Coach Wilson had the girls run demonstration drills and explained her coaching techniques. The visiting athletes enjoyed taking part in some of the drills, as well. Delighted to share her coaching experience, Wilson says, “I’m so happy to meet with these players and see their enthusiasm for volleyball. We can learn from each other. And it’s wonderful to be a small part of a program that broadens opportunities for girls and women around the globe to play sports.”
Marwa, who is from Bahrain and plays on her country’s national women’s volleyball team, has clear expectations for her U.S. visit. She states, “I hope to gain coaching experience and learn how American coaches think about the sport.”
Asma teaches volleyball at a university in Yemen and play’s on the women’s national volleyball league. She adds, “I want to gain experience from all the athletes I’ll meet and take that knowledge home to implement.”
Yusra is a coach and organizer of a women’s volleyball team in Oman. She is also the only woman on the board of her region’s sports club. Yusra explains, “In Oman, there is no government funding for women’s sports – only private sector support. We established the first women’s volleyball team in the city of Sur in 2009, and the team managed to place first in the region that same year; they placed second nationally.” She points out that several of their players have gone on to play for the national team, which recently placed third in the Gulf Championship.
Looking ahead, Yusra says, “I’m hoping to bring American coaches over to Oman to help us advance. The girls are hungry to know more. We deserve it.”