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RENOWNED COACH

Which way coach Bitok after Rwanda success?

Volleyball coach Paul Bitok
Volleyball coach Paul Bitok
Image: COURTESY

Is the celebrated volleyball coach Paul Bitok a perfect example of 'prophet' who is never recognised at home?

Well, the 45-year-old’s 10-year reign with Rwanda Volleyball Federation cStakeholders happy Bitok i back and might throw his hat in the ring for the KVF elections.ame to an end last month having religiously served the nation the best way he knows how. He is expected back in the country next week.

A former national team right attacker had professional stints in Croatia and Tunisia before he called it quits in 2004. A graduate of Jaramogi Odinga University having studied Business administration and an old boy at Kapsabet Boys High School, Bitok has also studied Sports Science in Hungary, specialising in volleyball.

 

Bitok is an ardent fan of the sport from way back and played alongside Webuye West Member of Parliament Dan Wanyama, Kenya Volleyball Federation technical director David Lung’aho, Equity Bank men’s volleyball team coach Sammy Kirongo, beach volleyball coach Patrick Owino and former national team coach Sylvester Kioko among others.

Bitok joined KCB club as the head coach from 2005 -2008. While at the bankers, he juggled as the national women’s senior and junior coach and within that period fielded teams to the World Championship, African Nation Cup and World Cup among other events before Rwanda came calling in 2009.

Kenya Volleyball Federation Chairman Waithaka Kioni (R) with Paul Bitok and national team player Janet Wanja.
Kenya Volleyball Federation Chairman Waithaka Kioni (R) with Paul Bitok and national team player Janet Wanja.
Image: COURTESY

In Rwanda, he was attached to Rwanda Patriotic Army but his stint with the club was cut short in 2012 by the then RVF chairman Charles Uyisenga and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Sports and Culture Jean Pierre Kabaranga, who thought he was qualified to handle the Rwanda national.

Bitok took the opportunity with both hands and fielded the national teams (indoor and beach)—junior/senior men/women in almost every international event that came their way as the government was willing to walk the extra mile to support them.

He says although it took time for the results to start coming, it was worthwhile and he doesn’t regret moving to Rwanda and believes he has left the country better than he found it as far as the sport is concerned.

While Rwanda had hoped that Bitok would reconsider his decision to renew his contract, the acclaimed coach seemed to have made up his mind.

In an emotional post on his social media accounts on Sunday, Bitok wrote, “10 years ago, I set out to challenge myself professionally. With a great passion for sports, specifically Volleyball, I accepted a role to coach volleyball in Rwanda. What was intended to be a short-term mission ended up being the most amazing and interesting long-term challenge I have ever undertaken. With the unconditional support from God, my family, friends, players, the federation, the ministry of sports and culture and the people of Rwanda, I want to say a big thank you from the bottom of my heart for we have achieved tremendous results together,” the post read in part.

 

“The volleyball foundation in the country is now stronger than ever before. I can ascertain without any doubt that Rwanda has set its name as a regional volleyball powerhouse. It shall remain a force to reckon for a very long time owing to the structures I put in place. Thank you, Rwanda.”

It’s no doubt that the former Kenya women’s coach has uplifted  Rwanda volleyball teams (indoor/beach) to be a force to reckon with, improving in each and every championship while on the flip side, his motherland has continued to stall.

With his expected arrival, however, pundits and critics in equal measure believe the tactician is the change that the sport in Kenya needs. With current KVF chairman Waithaka Kioni not keen on defending the position, sports fraternity are pointing fingers at Bitok to take over from the long-serving businessman.

Stakeholders are happy that Bitok is coming back and think he might throw his hat in the ring for the 2022 Kenya Volleyball Federation elections, where he arguably stands to win any seat he will be vying for, thanks to the goodwill from the clubs and the volleyball fraternity at large.

And many argue that his return is timely with the word on the streets indicating that he might be headed to take over the national women’s team ahead of the forthcoming competitions.

Volleyball coach Paul Bitok
Volleyball coach Paul Bitok
Image: COURTESY

Well, only time will tell whether Bitok will go for the leadership seat or decide to remain on the technical bench. That Kenya and more specifically the women’s outfit has become a pale shadow of themselves is a clear indication that it’s not business as usual and something will have to give.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Amaco/Paul Bitok tournament at the Eldoret Polytechnic grounds, Bitok said he was happy to be returning home and he looks forward to make volleyball great again.

However, the father of three said for the sport to grow, there is the need for many things to change and for something to give including players/coaches transition,  set up of academies and government investing in the sports.

Player’s transition

The former Kapsabet Secondary school player had kind advise to the players who are hitting their sunset. Bitok said Kenya tends to cling on players in certain positions for a long time and there is no interest in taking the risk and give upcoming players a chance. He said the technical bench should always take a risk and take a leap of faith with upcoming and promising players. He added: “We have amazing talent back at home and if we can invest in them and feature them in any available age group competition, I believe Kenya will remain a household name as far as the sport is concerned.”

Coaches’ transition

At the same time, Bitok said Kenya coaches have become comfortable in whatever they do and are not keen on embracing the technology in the sport and no wonder, the national teams are no longer shinning. The former KCB coach said it was high time most of the ageing players ventured into coaching and officiating to offer options. “It’s out there. There are few coaches coming up. Since I left the country in 2009, there have been no new coaches evolving- and if they are there, then they are not getting chances and it’s sad,” noted Bitok. He added: “Until now, the country is recycling the same coaches for various international assignments. The truth is that the sport has grown and gone scientific and the old tricks cannot work.”

School Academies

Bitok said while he is aware sports academies have stalled due to one reason or the other, he is optimistic school structures can work pretty well.

Bitok said while KVF have youth development centres in some of the schools that do well in the sport among them Kwanthanze, Lugulu, Malava, AIC Kosarai, Kabula and Tulwo, there is a need to attach coaches to these centres to monitor players.

“The first thing I did when I arrived in Rwanda in 2009 having been attached to Rwanda Patriotic Army, was to come up with junior and youth sides. Definitely, the results were never going to come easily. We had to field the outfits in the different championship and as much as they never recorded good results, they gained exposure and the experience was, in turn, helpful in the senior ranks,” observed Bitok.

“While on many occasions, teams in Africa are not patient and want immediate results, I think investing in junior/youth teams is the way to go. I mean the results in Rwanda are there for all to see. I’m aware KVF are working with certain schools as far as developing the talent is concerned but they need to get coaches with contracts attached to those schools to look out on the progression and growth of the players-. However, leaving the players with the school coaches alone won’t help much,” added the soft-spoken tactician.

Government Support

Bitok admits the sport doesn’t get as much support as it should. He said while it’s unfortunate the country has only one standardised facility (Moi Stadium Indoor Arena-Kasarani), the government through counties should do better.

“It’s unfortunate that national teams still pay to use the facility when preparing to represent the same nation at international events. The players’ allowances have also been a hard nut to crack and these factors in one way or the other affect results,” observed the tactician.

He continued: “I believe the script would be different if the players were accorded the support they deserve.  For example, engaging in international friendlies prior to championships would go along way in helping them gauge themselves.”

The tactician, who also runs a Paul Bitok Sports Foundation said besides being keen on the development projects, his focus will be on his foundation.

“I have been away but now that I will be back, my priority will be to ensure athletic and volleyball which is the main sports at the foundation get the much needed time,” said the tactician.

He added: “I will be the hands-on coach and manage these players after they clear with their primary school education level. For example, I will help them settle in the secondary schools and if they have good grades, I will ensure they get scholarships where they will study and at the same time explore their talent.”

“They are not getting chances and it’s sad,” noted Bitok.


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