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04/04/2015 17:00
Upcoming stars of the sport search success in Volleyball courts and in Social Media
2015 CEV U18 Volleyball European Championship - Women

Plovdiv, Bulgaria, April 4, 2015. The biggest difference between Volleyball nowadays and the sport, say, ten years ago may not just lie in the playing system, or in the concepts of the game; not even in the diversity of the attires. The main contrast can be perceived in what players do when they do not have the ball in their hands – and sometimes even when the round spherical is nearby - especially in under age categories.  

“I spend a lot of time with my phone!” states Bulgarian Radostina Marinova. “From the moment I wake up untill I go to bed, I am with my phone. I go to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Volleyball sites…” declares the middle blocker of the host team participating in the 2015 CEV U18 Volleyball European Championship – Women being held this week in the Bulgarian cities of Plovdiv and Samokov.

As the tournament heads to the decisive phase of the competition, and while four teams are clashing for the honour of lifting the championship crown, another title is at stake: The queens of continental Volleyball in Social Media. The proliferation of the use of Social Media among youngsters has propitiated that under age Volleyball tournaments are also to be played in the courts of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram, as players, team staff and national federations clash to gain increasing support, 140 characters, a short video or a post at a time. The growing relevance and impact of this newer approach to reality in this stratum of the population makes an event like the championship being held in Bulgaria the perfect exponent of how Social Media can play a relevant role in these types of competitions.

In fact, 28.7% of the 1.2 billion Facebook users are situated in the 13 to 24 age demographics, according to recent studies by Social Media ads platforms. The numbers rise in the other media targeting younger audiences, such as Instagram, with 37% of its 200 million users between 18 and 29, or Twitter, with 35% of 271 million users among the same age demographics. “I think Social Media are extremely important for this age group since it is the easiest way for them to communicate with one another,” declares Marco Mencarelli, coach of the Italian team. “Social Media provide everyday conquests that make the world smaller,” he adds.   

Most players competing this week in Bulgaria rely on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, among others, to keep in touch with family and friends when they are away, or simply as an immediate way to socialise. “I like to chat with my friends (in Facebook), I look at photos and I like to tell my friends what I am doing,” declares Bulgarian player, Madlen Rasheva. “I am on Facebook all day! I chat with my friends and search for news, mostly,” comments Czech player, Sarah Cruz, while German player Vanessa Agbortabi declares: “I use Social Media to contact people from other countries, players from other teams and to keep in touch my family because they live in America and Italy.”      

However, this newer habits of socialising comes with an evident dark side. “It is necessary to pay attention because these girls who are very young do not often recognise the difference between private and public spheres,” alerts Italian coach Marco Mencarelli. The expanding presence of Social Media in daily life produces that the new generations see normalcy in practises that may have been characterised as bizarre only a few years ago, like sharing their utmost feelings to a surprisingly large number of followers. “Sometimes I may get afraid of people taking the things I write the wrong way, but I am a strong girl,” states 17-years old Madlen Rasheva , while her teammate, Radostina Marinova comments: “I am not like that, I do get scared”.  “Anyway, my Facebook friends would never write something mean or rude to me. They are too afraid of me!” jokes Rasheva. “I have never had problems. I just interact with my friends or with my family; I don’t actually plan to share everything with the world,” states Vanessa Agbortabi.   

As coaches become tutors of the girls at these young ages, the staff members receive the responsibility of guarding their pupils’ safety, inside the court, outside the sports hall and also in the environment of new technologies. “I absolutely impose control of usage of Social Media. Rules are very important, and it is necessary for them to understand the importance between private and public; sometimes young girls or guys do not get that,” affirms Mr. Mencarelli.

“They (staff members) get upset with me all the time. And they take my phone away, because we stay too late at night,” said Bulgaria’s Madlen Rasheva. This method of dealing with this issue is extrapolated to most teams. “Yes, our coaches tell us that we cannot be on Facebook at night; they tell us that we have to rest,” states Czech player Tiziana Baumrukova.

Success in sport is not necessarily transferred to victories in Social Media, or vice versa, but experts agree that popularity today is paved with a strong presence in Facebook, Twitter or YouTube. “When a player is famous, it is required for them to look after their image. Sometimes in our sport we may not easily find symbols like Totti for AS Roma, Zanetti for FC Inter or Del Piero for Juventus, to use examples in football, but I think that players like Valentina Diouf could become a symbol for Busto Arsizio and for Volleyball; however, in under age categoríes, I am convinced that young players must think only in playing the sport,” states Mr. Mencarelli.

As the impact of Social Media in young athletes is an evident phenomenon, and as the upcoming stars of the sport, the team staff and parents strive to find boundaries to the normalisation of new practises, the near future heads to a reality in which events like this 2015 CEV U18 Volleyball European Championship – Women are not only won with a ball over the net, but also inside the screen of a computer or smart phone.    

Click here for more information, including schedule, gallery and statistics

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