Sport

Australian Volleyroos captain Tom Edgar on the fame and fortune of playing overseas. By Tracey Holmes.
Credit: VOLLEYBALL AUSTRALIA

Standing tall: Tom Edgar, 26, volleyball player

Volleyball just sort of happened for me. I got interested at school while playing at Bundaberg State High. It evolved very quickly from school level to state level to a national talent identification program, and I just kind of fell into it.

It’s a really interesting dynamic to be one of the most recognised players in the sport in Europe but barely recognised at home. I’m more well known in more countries around the world than most of the Australian sports stars in football and stuff like that. Volleyball is so popular and a very big sport worldwide, so to come home and be recognised by only a select community… It’s a little different. 

I was offered the captaincy after the London Olympics, in 2013, when our team was going through some changes. But I really needed to focus on my main role, so I said I thought other people could do the job. I became captain later on and it wasn’t really my decision, to put it bluntly. Roberto (Santilli), our new coach, sat me down after he’d been with us for two weeks. He told me he enjoyed how I interacted with the team and what I brought to the team in games and training and just sort of said I was captain this year. I’m one of the older, most experienced players internationally and have played some of the biggest tournaments in the world, but I am still settling in to the captaincy role.

I’m a very loud player on court and I’m always trying to generate energy and mood within our team. That’s just the way I’ve always been. My position is “opposite spiker”. I guess if you had to compare it to other sports people are more familiar with, it is the main attacking position. You could compare it to a fullback or centre in the NRL and the most apt comparison with the AFL would be a full-forward. I’m pretty much out there to score points and hit the ball as hard as I can.

This is my eighth season overseas. I’ve lived and played in Sweden, Poland, Italy and Korea [currently playing for LIG Insurance Greaters]. I really can’t complain about the lifestyle I lead. It’s really made me grow not just as an athlete but as a person – experiencing all these different cultures from Europe and Asia and getting to learn how other countries operate.

The best thing about being overseas is getting to experience new things with new people. But the other side of that is one of the worst things – family, friends and relationships at home are difficult when you are living overseas for six months and then for another four or five months travelling with the national team.

A lot of the boys recently have been talking about our qualification process for the Rio Olympics so it got me thinking about London 2012 again and honestly, looking back, it was such a big experience. Life outside the volleyball hall for those two weeks was incredible – walking around with some of the best and most recognisable athletes in the world. We got to go see the basketball, all the water polo games and the hockey, so it was really good that we got to share some of the success and atmosphere of the rest of the Australian team.

When I watch some of those other sports it’s always easy to wonder “what if”, but my biggest concern growing up was that I wanted to be great at something. I spoke about it with my parents when I was younger because I was good at a lot of sports – pretty much any ball I picked up I was good with – but I wanted to be great in one. I never actually played basketball but maybe if I’d grown up in the US, things may have been a little different with my height, body type and co-ordination. But I never regret my decision. Volleyball has given me so much.

You can pretty much set yourself up for life after retirement. I’m still working towards that but some of the guys who I play with and against make an extremely good living – upwards of what the top echelon of AFL and NRL players make in Australia, so it just depends on your opportunities and your exposure around the world. There are some big leagues around Europe – such as Russia and Turkey – and then into the Asian leagues where I’ve been for the past few years – Korea, China and Japan – that all have massive sponsors.

Australia is still such a young team. We have three or four guys who are on our starting six who are under 23 and that’s virtually unheard of in top volleyball teams. We’ve played a lot of games in the World League and even against the world No. 1 team, Brazil. We were right there but just need to learn to take our opportunities. To be ranked 13th in the world is quite an achievement.

This week’s highlights…

• Volleyball: World League – Australia v Brazil

Saturday, 7pm; Sunday, 4.30pm (AEST), Sydney Olympic Park Sports Centre

• NRL: North Queensland Cowboys v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 

Saturday, 5.30pm (AEST), 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville

• Super Rugby: Waratahs v Highlanders

Saturday, 7.55pm (AEST), Allianz Stadium, Sydney

• Soccer: FIFA Women’s World Cup – Australia v Japan

Sunday, 5.45am (AEST), Commonwealth Stadium, Edmonton, Canada

• Tennis: Wimbledon

Monday, June 29, until Sunday, July 12, London, England

• AFL: Collingwood v Hawthorn 

Friday, 7.50pm (AEST), Melbourne Cricket Ground

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 27, 2015 as "Standing tall". Subscribe here.

Tracey Holmes
is a journalist and presenter on ABC News Radio.