Volleyball for all on a famous Rio beach
Roberto Bosch's volleyball school was getting nowhere. Then he invited kids from the slums to join for free.
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"It's good when you have someone who likes the same things as you," Gabriela adds.Skip to next paragraph
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Erick Washington, who lives in the nearby favela called Vidigal, has come to the beach volleyball school every day for two years.
"Any problem I have, I come and play volleyball to feel calm," says Erick, a short, poised boy who plans to study gastronomy after graduating from high school. "It is a very professional class. They push to make us better."
Betinho observes the students from a plastic table near a juice bar. In addition to mixing students of diverse social and economic classes, the project has taken on another ambitious mission – to train an upcoming class of Olympic-quality athletes.
While businesses happily sponsor famous athletes who give brands exposure on TV and on other media, those who dream of making it to that level often lack the sponsors they need to train intensely and gain the skills to play in professional leagues, Betinho says.
Beach volleyball, which was first included as a summer Olympic sport at the 1996 Atlanta Games, has a weak network in Brazil to train these young athletes, he says.
"We have a very poorly formed base of athletes for beach volleyball [in Brazil], so this project is to fill this gap," Betinho says.
One help has been 2008 legislation called the Law to Incentivize Sport, which was passed just before Brazil won the right to host the 2016 summer Olympics. It allows businesses to pay up to 1 percent of their income taxes to a list of approved athletic projects, from those that provide leisure and fitness activities for children to those whose aim is to groom young athletes to be future pros.
The automaker Nissan and the Brazilian transportation conglomerate CCR have recently become sponsors of Betinho's pre-professional teams.
Monica Rodrigues, a medalist from the 1996 Olympic Games, says she admires how Betinho has used his volleyball skills since his playing career ended to pass along a sense of professionalism to his students. She and Betinho had played on the same volleyball circuits as youths when Brazil first began to recognize beach volleyball as a competitive sport and not just a seaside leisure activity.
"I admire a lot his own growth and his desire to make [his school] into a great place for beach volleyball training," says Ms. Rodrigues, who has accepted Betinho's offer to become a trainer for one of his competitive female teams. "I went to the girls' team to see these new talents, and to work with young women to see if in four years we will see girls from this school of Betinho in the Olympics of Rio."
Meanwhile, on this school holiday Isabella Alves has left the favela Vidigal to spend the evening training here with her peers next to the high Atlantic Ocean waves. She says she hopes to be a professional athlete, though she also says her good grades in math and physics lead her to want to study engineering as well.
(Betinho requires his students to prove they are attending school regularly and to show him their report cards.)
"There are three people [here] from Vidigal, and three people who are not, and I know them all," she says pointing at her fellow athletes. "It helps us to not have prejudice."
Despite the rigor with which he trains his students, Betinho says he has a realistic vision about whether a career in sports will be feasible – or even the best path – for all his young athletes.
"Few will be able to have a professional [career]," he says. "But physical education, as its name suggests, has more to do with educating than with just reaching a certain level [of performance]."
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