Martin Reader Bids Farewell to VNSW

Published Fri 09 Feb 2024

Martin Reader was one of the driving forces behind the creation and development of the NSW Phoenix Program.  A passionate role model to many of this state's young Volleyballers, Martin leaves a lasting legacy for future NSW stars.  


Volleyball NSW recognises Martin's hard work and dedication and wishes him well in his next journey in life.  


Please peruse the following sentiments, aspirations and farewell wishes from Martin.


My journey with VNSW started when I first arrived in Australia in 2019. I had just landed in Sydney and planned on building my youth mentorship business “OffBall Athlete” down under. Baz was just starting as CEO of VNSW, he loved the concept of creating better people while creating better volleyballers and promised he would bring me on board. A year later in March 2020 he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse…


Fast forward to 2024 and VNSW is now an Australian leader in Volleyball across every facet of the sport. The Phoenix Pathway has exploded from two programs to a podium contender in six programs across indoor and beach. I am confident Phoenix is the best state team program in Australia, but it isn’t our results that make us the best, it is our culture that separates us.


When I was first tasked with building the Pathway I was confident that 25 years of experience in Canadian and International Volleyball meant I had answers. When I evaluated the local landscape in 2020 I noticed people were simply trying to replicate their home nation's experience. I took a step back and realized that Volleyball in NSW and the Australian sporting system as a whole was very different to the rest of the world. It is a rich sporting community with exceptional athletes. However, athletes play multiple sports across a year with a large emphasis on school sports. This is a stark contrast to North America and Europe where athletes specialize very early and commit to a single sport through private performance clubs and academies that train every day. I understood early on that for Phoenix to be successful it would need to be a collaborative effort between many people, clubs, schools and environments across the entire state.


Phoenix was going to be one of many environments, so the question became - how can we make Phoenix the most meaningful and impactful program without taking away from others? The solution was building camp-based programs, a culture people wanted to be part of, values that transcended performance and working with people who cared about making a difference. I am so grateful we had the ingredients to get Phoenix off the ground and I know it is just getting started.


Imagining, building and leading Phoenix has been one of the greatest calls to action in my life. There were certainly some challenges and deep learnings along the way, however, building anything ambitious requires failure, reflection and resilience.


Although performance in sport is always a metric for success, my personal goals were to:

  1. Take on as many people as we could for as long as we could to further the sport
  2. Create more opportunities for and include more regional athletes and coaches
  3. Integrate technical, mental, and physical performance education and services into our programs
  4. Develop an aspirational culture of excellence both on the court and in body and mind

Looking back I am proud to have accomplished these goals. Volleyball is in an amazing place in NSW and Phoenix has become a national force that is influencing how other states develop their athletes and prepare for national championships. For those that know me I find it very difficult to claim these successes personally as this mission was so much bigger than me as an individual. I did not accomplish this, we ALL accomplished this as a community.


So with that, I want to share a heartfelt thank you to all the administrators, coaches, mentors and athletes I have had the honour of working with over the past four years. A big thanks to Baz for believing in me, working with me and giving me the space to build this vision. Shoutout to Jason Laffer, Lauren O’Shea and Filip Zapala for being great teammates and my administrative firepower over the years. A huge thank you to Chris Todd who has been an incredible partner in executing this vision. Since coming on as Phoenix Head coach, he increased the professionalism of all our programs and led the expansion and success of our performance-based “Sky” teams in all disciplines. Lastly, I want to welcome Jo Fernandes who is replacing me as Pathways GM. Jo brings a wealth of experience in sports science and management with an exceptional history working with FIFA and growing Women’s soccer in Australia.


To all the volunteer coaches who have given countless hours of their time to facilitate empowering environments for athletes to develop and grow - THANK YOU! You are the soul of the sport so please keep sharing your magic.


To all the athletes - keep striving. You are the heart of the sport and it is you who are the present and future. You can only believe in possibility if you believe in yourself. So play boldly, develop yourself fully and dream ambitiously. Your “beat” is responsible for driving NSW culture on and off the court.


The Future of Phoenix


The strength and potential success of Volleyball in NSW lies in collaboration, not isolation. Nobody “owns” an athlete and no athlete can do it alone. The better everyone can work together across all environments the more possibility there is and the better the experience will be. Being selected to represent the State and then competing at a National Championship event is the most important annual opportunity for an athlete and their development in Australia. It is how the National Talent Identification pathway functions and how athletes are nominated to represent the country. This is how it is and it is not changing. So how schools, clubs and the State program collaborate on developing and showcasing NSW athletes is where the opportunity lies. Together we rise.


In classic fashion, before I say goodbye, there are a few guiding principles I would like to share with NSW athletes -


Culture is collective but it is driven by individuals. Stop waiting for someone else to step up, make a change, stand up for something or improve the environment. Be the change! The foundation of culture is clearly defining a vision, laying out the behaviour required to achieve that vision and then holding each other accountable to elements of change that are in your control. Your beliefs, language, habits, attitude, actions and response to adversity are ALL within your control and dictate the quality of your team. Be intentional with this and see your team soar.


Getting better means being better. Volleyball in NSW has reached a point where everyone no longer needs to play in everything. Playing as much as you can is good to a point, however, playing more doesn’t always mean you are improving. Be intentional with where you allocate your time and then give it your all. To consistently show up as your best you will need to make decisions about what is important and what is not based on your personal goals. Prioritize physical practice beyond the court to develop the attributes required to be a successful volleyball player. To be the best you must be robust enough to excel in the finals, just getting there isn’t thinking big enough. Develop your mental game and your ability to perform under pressure. Reflect on how you speak to yourself, how you handle stressful situations, how you communicate with teammates and whether you make those around you better. Understand your strengths and weaknesses and create a plan to improve both. Being a great volleyball player is more than being a great volleyball player.


How are you giving back to the sport? Developing yourself to be the best you can be is a selfish pursuit. That doesn’t mean it is bad but when you are at the center of your story you are the main focus. Know that for every year you play you have one more year of wisdom, experience and context to pass on. Find opportunities to give back to the sport and see how much more fulfilling your journey becomes. Go out of your way to share something with a younger athlete, offer to help a coach before or after your practice, and maybe even coach or create a local team. Believe me, we all underestimate our ability to make an impact. Start small and feel how contributing to the community makes a difference to your game and your heart. Your legacy is more than how you play on the court.


And with these words, I step away from VNSW and Phoenix. I look back at this chapter of my life with a full heart and a smile on my face thanks to the friends, colleagues and athletes I had the privilege of working with. Thank you for giving me honorary NSW status; I will proudly wear the Phoenix jersey for the rest of my life.

- Martin Reader