Why GORSE Academy schools have shunned traditional sports in its Leeds schools

A volleyball coach at an inner-city Leeds school has been inspiring children from disadvantaged communities to take up sports that for years have been considered 'elite'.

By Emma Ryan
Friday, 6th November 2020, 6:00 am

Elaine Brown has been working with the Gorse Academy Trust since 2016 as a volunteer, and since last year as a permanent member of staff, to promote its 'Big 3' sports of volleyball, rowing and karate.

She has recently been named the coach of the year by Volleyball England and is also up for The Sunday Times Vitality Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year accolade.

Now she is hoping that more coaches come forward as there are increasing numbers of people getting involved in the sport and more teams are being created to keep up with the demand.

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Elaine Brown.

The Gorse Trust Academy teachers volleyball and karate across all its primary and secondary schools and rowing is taught from year 7 upwards.

When Elaine moved to Leeds after completing her masters degree she sought a volleyball club to keep fit and meet new people and became involved with Leeds Volleyball Club which is now Leeds Gorse Volleyball.

She said: "It (award winning and nomination) has been great for the Academy, the school and for volleyball in general. It has been quite exciting to see the volleyball community in England share their support because it is helping raise awareness of the sport, especially for juniors - there are more getting involved."

Ms Brown was encouraged to start playing volleyball back home in America as her mother was a keen player. She played throughout school and also at a competitive level in Texas. The sport is hugely popular in the States and is the second most played sport in the world.

Elaine Brown, Volleyball Coach at The Gorse Academy Trust and Director of Youth Development, Leeds Gorse Volleyball Club.

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However, there are around 50,000 people playing volleyball in the UK compared to around 2 million who play football and around 1.4m who play netball regularly.

These are also the most common sports on school curriculums and so Gorse took the decision to offer different ones as its main sports to give pupils the opportunity to try something they might not normally have access to.

Ms Brown said: "It appeals to students whop have not yet found their sport. It is a fast paced game but involves skill, ability and quick-thinking. The nice thing is, there are so many modifications you can do, it gives everyone a chance to play/

Elaine Brown with the trophy she was awarded after being named 2020 Volleyball England Coach of the Year.

"The age drop off for sports is 15 or 16 so the time we can keep them on side is so important. We had two girls in particular who had no interest in after school activities but their parents have come to us saying 'thankyou for giving them something to care about'. Since they started coming they have never missed a session and now they are the backbone of the junior girls volleyball club."

There are now volleyball afterschool clubs at all the Gorse Academies and prior to the coronavirus pandemic there were plans for a competitive after school league which will be picked up again when regulations allow.

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Elaine Brown on the volleyball courts at Ruth Gorse Academy.
Two of the junior girls from the Leeds Gorse Volleyball Club (with players from The Ruth Gorse Academy).