Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 June 2019

UAE's volleyball players want to win 'so they can meet Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed'

Team coaches reveal huge admiration for their players

The UAE's Special Olympics volleyball team during training in Al Ain. Victor Besa / The National 
The UAE's Special Olympics volleyball team during training in Al Ain. Victor Besa / The National 

For a tight-knit group of enthusiastic Emirates athletes, the next fortnight could end up being a life-changer.

Next week, three volleyball teams from the UAE will step out to take part in their first matches in the Special Olympics World Games.

The excited squads – this is the first time the country has fielded beach volleyball teams – have trained extensively for the highly anticipated event.

And in the months leading up to the Games, the energy of the players has increased exponentially, along with their devotion to their coaches.

The athletes call us before they go to bed and if we’re not around then they constantly ask about us,” said coach Adel Ateeg, 36.

“If I am sick they call me at home and are genuinely upset that I’m not working.”

In readiness for the Games – which run from tomorrow until March 21 – the UAE’s squad has been training hard at Al Ain Stadium.

Players spend at least two hours a day on court, focusing on improving their fitness, strength and technique.

Two of the teams are set to take part in the indoor volleyball tournament, with the first consisting of 11 players with intellectual disabilities.

The second is a squad of 12, with a mixture of those with and without intellectual disabilities. The third team will focus solely on the outdoor beach volleyball competition.

“They can go on playing all day,” said Saeed Al Habsi, 31, another coach. “They are so happy and definitely have their eye on the prize. You have to love them and be patient with them and then they will give you their best.”

The UAE's Special Olympics volleyball team during training in Al Ain. Victor Besa / The National 
The UAE's Special Olympics volleyball team during training in Al Ain. Victor Besa / The National 

Team manager Mohammed Naser said he now considered the players part of his wider family. He said it was the first time many of the coaches had been involved in training people with intellectual disabilities and that it had been a “life-changing experience”.

“They are my children away from home and I have learnt to be even more compassionate with my own because of them,” he said. “I hope the players have learnt something from us, but I believe that we have learnt more from them.

“Every player has their own personality and different issues. You have to hear them out and work according to their needs, not the other way round.

These players have so much love for the game and are in tears when they lose a match. As coaches, nothing breaks our hearts more than seeing that.”

Mohamed Al Buni, originally from Syria, is one of the athletes on the volleyball team.

He said he wanted to win so he could shake hands with leaders such as Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. “I want to make the UAE proud,” Al Buni said. “This country has given us all the support we need. We are a good team and I know we will win.”

Updated: March 12, 2019 07:44 PM

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