In football there is a thing called the ‘Club vs Country Debate’. This isn’t really a debate as much as a bunch of people with different interests yelling at each other, but let’s follow it anyway. Football clubs invest millions of dollars/pounds/euros into developing (or at least buying) players to play for them. Once they reach the required level, they then give more millions/pound/euros in salary to those players. Those clubs hold the belief that club football is the most important thing, the players belong to them and they should have the final say in what they do. National federations invest millions of dollars/pounds/euros into developing players to play for their national teams. Those federations hold the belief that international football is the most important thing, and the players owe their countries for developing them and should thus prioritise their participation. The ‘debate’, such that it is, erupts every time the national teams play during the club season. Clubs are upset at lost continuity and the risk of fatigue and injury to players that can disrupt their goals. Federations are upset at the lack of preparation time that hinders the ability to achieve their goals.
Volleyball has its own version of the ‘debate’. Like the football version it is not really a ‘debate’ per se, in volleyball’s case it is more like constant murmurings of dissatisfaction. Players ‘owe’ the clubs who pay them and ‘owe’ the federations who developed them. In the eyes of each party, the other goes out of it’s way to hinder the player’s ability to perform for the other. Clubs/federations train the players with no regard for their physical health so they are unable to perform for the other. Players are essentially blackmailed emotionally, morally or financially to withdraw from one or the other or to continue to play through injuries. This is exacerbated by the reality that there is no actual break in the volleyball calendar. The international season begins one week after the club season finishes, and the club season begins one week after the international season finishes.
I’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have been on both sides of this discussion. While with the national team I’ve worked with players who returned from their club season having played for nine months with no proper weight training or medical support and who required a period of treatment and rehabilitation before they could even train properly again. While with clubs I’ve worked with players who returned from national teams having not done any weight training for four months or with long term injuries that they had been forced to play with, and could not perform at their normal for weeks or even months. Even when returning from good situations (of which there are also plenty), the grind of it all does nothing to encourage high performance.
In all cases it is the player who is in the middle, essentially with no right of reply and almost certain to be criticised by at least one side for lack of loyalty/heart/professionalism. Very occasionally a player makes his feelings known publicly. Lorenzo Bernardi sued the Italian federation after the 1996 Olympics for it’s management of an injury situation, and for three years during the peak of his career did not play in the national team. Most recently Polish star Mariusz Wlazly wrote an open letter to the volleyball community after being criticised in public by the federation President. For every Bernardi and Wlazly there are dozens and dozens of other players with equally valid points on both ‘sides’, who don’t have the same avenue to reply and many who simply don’t/can’t play any more.
None of that is good for volleyball.