Ex volleyball international, Essien-Anwan Blue-Jack was discovered at a catch the young talent programme organised by Lagos State Sports Council at Rowe Park in 1971.
She became the first National female captain to the Ghana/ Nigerian games where the country won gold medal and then the ECOWAS games.
The experienced player told www.aclsports.com how the women’s volleyball team qualified for the 1982 World Cup in Peru.
Aclsports.com: How did you start your volleyball career?
Blue-Jack: My Volleyball career started way back from my primary school at Ladi-Lak primary school where we were spotted by the Lagos state coaches during their talent programme in primary schools.
I was discovered by the late Veteran Walter Oyatogun who was then saddled with the responsibility of catching young talents from different primary schools and training them at Lagos State Sports Council at Rowe Park in 1971 precisely.
Thereafter, he traced me to my secondary school the following year and with the help of my Physical Education teacher started training me and the school team at Reagan Memorial Baptist Secondary School.
My school from then got involved in friendly matches in other sports including volleyball with other girls schools in Lagos State like Bariga Girls’Grammar School, Gbagada under the tutelage of Sir Walter Oyatogun. Not too long after that these two schools were invited to Rowe Park for training sessions in preparation for the 1st National Sports Festival being prepared for at that time.
So that was how my Volleyball career started with Coaches Taiwo Noibi and Patrick (Coach Patrick is late now) as my first State coaches in the latter part of 1972.
As we prepared for the festival, first Lagos state intermediate girls team was formed in 1973 and I became the 1st intermediate team captain (at age 14)of the Volleyball team to the 1st National Sports festival held at the National Stadium, Lagos. My team won a silver medal.
Q: Which team did you play for and how were you invited to camp and compare to the ways it been done now?
Blue-Jack: I captained the Lagos state Volley Ball female team again to the second national sports festival in Lagos in 1975. Before now I led to team to a competition in Kano where we also won a silver medal (our arch rival was the Bendel team at that time). I was later drafted into the women’s team as the captain also and remained the Women’s captain.
At the 1977 National festival at Kaduna some of us were picked and were later invited to the National team under the watchful eyes of Coach Odele. The training at the National camp was something else you just had to work so hard for your jersey. It was really tight and competitive because out of almost 30 players only 12 were to be finally selected.
There were three different stages of selection which you just must distinguish yourself in training sessions. I scaled through the first selection of 20 girls in camp when about 10 girls were decamped. The second and third stages of selection were tough.
We were then made to know that we were preparing for the first Ghana/Nigeria games in Lagos. This called for total commitment and hard work. I was thinking, talking and dreaming of Volleyball. This paid off because at the training you just had to distinguish yourself in all aspects and positions of player as a spiker, a good receiver and also set up for spikers sometimes.
However, I distinguished myself as one of the best spikers of my time who could also serve as an all round player; I could play any position very well. This earned me my jersey no 5 and eventually the 1st National female captain to the Ghana/ Nigerian Games (gold medal) and then the ECOWAS games too in 1978. I played with the likes of Omolara Lawal,Franca Otowo and other ladies from Bendel and Oyo states in those games.
Q: How did you and your teammates qualify Nigeria to the 1982 World Cup in Peru?
Blue-Jack: After Ghana/ Nigeria and ECOWAS Games, we were being prepared for the 1978 All African games in Algiers. At every point you are invited to the National camp, you do not take this for granted because you could be displaced. The female national team then was made up of determined, talented and resilient ladies who were ready to put Nigeria on the world map.
Our training sessions were explosive with our coaches Odele and the Chinese coach that at the end of each training sessions, you will be too tired to gallivant around before the next training session. You must think of how to improve on a style of play you had not perfected.
My being a National captain at Ghana/Nigeria games or ECOWAS games was not a ticket to be captain at 2nd All African Games. I worked hard and still retain my position as Captain to the 2nd All African games in Algiers. I was very happy but had a goal in mind to come back with a gold medal. One had to talk and pray with the team and by the way, we had a good support from the male team because we had to train with them.
You must go to each training with the mind of receiving correctly the hottest spikes from the likes of Tony Oghuma, Mike Okoli, Peter,(Agbara po) and Suraju(Mansu of blessed memory). We went to the 1978 games and beat teams like Egypt, Tunisia but lost gallantly to the hostile host, Algeria to get the silver; but I tell you this team was the darling of the day.
It was from here that our team started preparing for the world championship which took us to Burkina Faso for a qualifier defeating the girls there in a very serious game that brought us from 0-2 to eventually win at 3-2. This earned us our ticket to the World Championships in Peru.
Our experience at Peru was a very rich one. We met with world class female Volleyball players from America, Cuba, China, Germany and others. Before the team got to Peru, we stopped over in China where we had our training just for two weeks or so if I am not mistaking. Our camp in Nigeria was not also more than 3 weeks after struggling to ensure that funds were released to take this trip.
Q: What can you do to help NVBF develop volleyball in Nigeria?
Blue-Jack: To develop Volleyball in Nigeria, funds are needed to ensure programmes and championships are organised and then go for competitions.
Total dedication and commitment on the part of players and coaches are needed to develop training programmes and seriousness at training sessions are very important.
Proper and early preparations for competitions are very important. When we got to China we met with children of ages 4- 15 being groomed for the next world championships. We did not even meet with the ones we played with at Peru. These girls of ages 4-15 were taken through different rudiments of Volleyball whilst the ones we played with at Peru had been training together in preparations for the same competitions for 4years.
The American girls were off school for one year just to prepare for the same competition; and so many other teams that came. The least training preparation we found out was for 6 months. Our team only prepared for 3 weeks for a world Championship-that was serious. Even though we put in our best with the Chinese coach; our best was not good enough to earn us a good position.
Catching players at a very tender age is vital. I liked what I saw at Ibadan during the South-West VB awards, very young children being groomed. Also what is being done by some of our coaches here in Abuja at Karu or such places where talent hunt is currently going on to catch them young is good but these children must be properly groomed.
Coaches Development: Being a Volleyball player does not make you a good volleyball coach. Our coaches must go for good coaching courses that would enable them teach the right Volleyball skills to our players. Some of the players I watched during the last competition do not have the right Volleyball skills, so coaches should first of all imbibe the right skills to impart the players.