My Invictus Diary: The Master Plan
26th September 2017
Richard Osborne will be one of the only Brits who will be backing another country at this year’s Invictus Games. His incredible coaching journey has seen him become the coach of the Georgian sitting volleyball team and he’ll be mentoring them at this year’s Games. While in Toronto, he’s writing an exclusive diary for Volleyball England. In his fourth piece, Richard does some homework on the opposition as he anticipates a tough opening match...
After the weekend's hiatus it's time to get back on the floor for training - our last chance to fine tune before the preliminaries start. There is a problem though. My captain and main interpreter is unwell and cannot train. We board the shuttle bus and head out to the Pan Am Centre. The roads are particularly busy today so our driver calls for an escort. Before we know it, six Canadian police arrive on motorbikes and we receive the blue light treatment all the way to the training centre.
Roma, my setter, speaks a little English and we get by. I use the last session to focus on some quick passing moves that I hope will catch out our opposition and after a few failed attempts, it starts to sink in. After watching Jordan train last Friday a tight knot turns in my stomach every time I think of them. It's going to be a very hard match and the outcome will dictate the future of our competition. I have to take time out to do a couple of interviews and my players have a short break in which they interact with the volunteers.
Oh, the volunteers! They are so good. At our beck and call, no job too small or hard. I even get one to step in as coach while I'm interviewed. But they love the Georgians and after the session, in conversation with a few of them, they agree that the Georgians are great guys. Despite the fact that most of them speak no English, they make friends wherever they go. They are mischievous, love to laugh and joke, are very polite and courteous, and I think the warmth they have for each other is tangible to the outsider. People just love them - as do I.
Training continues and before we know it almost three hours have passed. The guys need to rest so we stop and they head back to the hotel. I stay behind to scout. On view today is Afghanistan, who are looking much better than last year; Canada, our hosts for the week are getting a little help from members of the Canadian national team; Estonia, who we will also face tomorrow in the pool matches; and the team on whom I have become fixated - Jordan. I scribble notes furiously while observing as furtively as possible. It's like a top secret mission. I assess each player and identify who will be the main threats and targets and once that is done I, too, head back to the hotel.
Back in my room I piece together all the intelligence I have gathered over the last few days in preparation to discuss with Goga, the Georgian's coach. He is flying in today from Georgia following a competition at the weekend that he could not avoid. It was agreed before the games that I would deliver the training while Goga was away and he would take the lead for the preliminaries and finals, if the team gets there. It's absolutely right we do this, as Goga works with the team two or three times every week and I could not, in all good conscience, nudge him aside once a year for the Invictus Games. They are the national team, after all, and will be competing in the European Championships in Porec, Croatia in November. While I am delighted that they have an enduring arrangement in place in terms of coaching support, I have an equal measure of regret that my time as the Head Coach is inevitably coming to an end. I feel like a proud parent letting my children go as they stand up on their own to make their mark on the world.
I have also detected this week that the team feels somewhat under pressure to perform well this week because of its status as a national team, the only one competing at the games. They are also the custodians of the Land Rover 'Above and Beyond' award which they received at the 2016 Games for the team that best encapsulated the Invictus spirit. This adds a further level of pressure as they feel they need to live up to the accolade. I have to pinch myself at how far they have come in such a short period of time. But our focus is on the present and ensuring we give a good account of ourselves tomorrow. The master plan is drawn. There's that knot again!
Read Richard's other diary pieces: