Sport

Founder of iSpike aims for shift in culture

  • Spike school: Youngsters work out as part of the iSpike volleyball programme, a new initiative for boys and girls held at CedarBridge Academy and designed to improve skills on the court, organised by former college player Sonia Romero, who is also a qualified PE teacher. Pictured Daniella Stegmann 12 and Coach Sonia Romero. (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Spike school: Youngsters work out as part of the iSpike volleyball programme, a new initiative for boys and girls held at CedarBridge Academy and designed to improve skills on the court, organised by former college player Sonia Romero, who is also a qualified PE teacher.(Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The founder of the iSpike Bermuda programme is determined to bring the “volleyball culture” that exists in the United States to the island.

Sonia Romero, who is from Miami and is working at CedarBridge Academy, has been running camps in Bermuda this month, similar to ones she held in South Florida. There is still time to register for the iSpike serving and passing clinic, which takes place from 9am till noon on Tuesday at CedarBridge.

“ISpike Bermuda is an effort, in conjunction with the Bermuda Volleyball Association, to promote and grow our youth volleyball programmes on the island,” Romero said, “This is the first of its kind – the first volleyball camp such as this offered to athletes 12-18. It’s co-ed, being that volleyball is a non-contact sport.”

Romero explained what she meant by “volleyball culture”, which she hopes will help provide a pathway from high school in Bermuda to college overseas. Leticia Ferreira, 18, will head to Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada, having starred for the island’s junior national team at the Bermuda Open in April and for the senior women’s team at the NatWest Island Games in Gotland, Sweden last month.

“This is a sport that we learn in our school gyms,” Romero said. “This is a sport that we can definitely grow in our schools and this is how we’re trying to grow that – build that volleyball culture. We play in our schools and in the summer we go to camp. That’s what we are providing here.

“I call them clinics because we focus on developing young athletes’ fundamentals. Through the entire week, they learn every single skill, all the way into tournament play.”

It is that attention to developing young players’ fundamentals that is crucial to Romero’s philosophy.

“My coaching philosophy is that athletes this age should learn every single position,” she said. “They make themselves more marketable and you’re able to play them more, so they get more playing time. A tall player that only learns the front row, especially at the age of 12 and 14, we’re doing a disservice to that athlete. Simply because you’re tall, that wins games but it doesn’t develop the athlete all-round.

“Can we specialise players? Absolutely – when they get older, when they understand the game and they’ve mastered every single skill. Until then, we’re handicapping them. So yes, you will see my little ones in the front, my tall ones at the back playing defence.

“We’ve got athletes here from novice all the way to junior national team, boys and girls. We’ve got students from private schools and public schools. I did receive sponsorships from Ariel Re. I did receive a sponsorship from the Bermuda Volleyball Association, who have been very supportive. They have donated 35 balls to help us get this programme started, so teamwork makes the dream work. And it just so happens that this was an arm of the BVA that they wanted to help expand.”

Romero is married to a Bermudian and moved here in June last year, and the growth of her programme has been remarkable.

“I went to watch some tournaments [in Bermuda], I started asking questions and I noticed that there was something missing,” she explained. “[This is] that piece. Look at how wide and eclectic this group is. I have students from public and private schools, some athletes that are visiting from Rome, Canada and I had one last week from Georgia. Our athletes are learning and they are having fun.

“The culture in the United States is that athletes go to camps and in camps we get recruited. The colleges and universities are the ones hosting these camps. I have hosted camps from 1997 to 2008 in South Florida, so I am delivering a calibre of camp that you would find in South Florida.

“Kids here learnt every single skill - passing, setting, blocking, defence, serving, digging, diving and rotations. So by the end they will have played a tournament against each other, they will have learnt the referee’s signals, because we’ve spent 25 hours this week covering every aspect of the game from a fundamental level.”

And Romero has big plans for iSpike’s future.

“Next year, I want to expand. I want to have camps for our beginners, separate from our intermediate and advanced. There have been requests for a beach camp. I find it interesting that being a playground for a sport like volleyball that we haven’t picked up this much momentum, but I feel that starting them this early we’re going to create more of a culture of volleyball from Bermuda.”