Following the departure of head coach, Simon Loftus, at the Christmas break, UEL faced the challenge of finding a new coach to take the reins of not one, but two high performance teams. Low and behold, by January the club had not one, but two world-class coaches.
Legrand has been part of the coaching staff in over 200 International matches, for both sitting and indoor volleyball. In 2012 he won High Performance Coach of the Year at the Volleyball England Annual Awards. He also helped build and create one of the most successful clubs in the country, London Docklands. All while holding down a full-time job in the NHS and Whizz-Kidz foundation.
Like many athletes and coaches, Legrand’s route into sport was through sheer luck. Chase Cross School, in North Romford, had a new sports hall built, and they decided to introduce volleyball, back in 1973 when Legrand was still a student. He started coaching soon after when his brother started at school, and he was a sixth-form student.
Legrand recalled: “My brother and his mates wanted to start playing, but by then the sessions had stopped as there was no one to run them. The PE Department told me if I was happy to run the sessions then we could use the gym.” And that’s when the bug for coaching first began. A few of the guys he coached went on to play National League in Essex. “I saw one of them earlier this season, so more than 40 years on, and he’s still playing!”
London Docklands was set up in 1993 with Legrand on the coaching personnel. They started in Division Two, and within one season had won promotion. The team now competes in the Super 8 division and constantly finishes strong in the National Cup. It was at Docklands that Legrand and Williams first worked along-side each other, some 23 years ago.
‘I did the worrying’
On his relationship with Williams, Legrand said: “I think we have complementary strengths. . . Someone once said Jeff did the coaching and I did the worrying! But there’s a lot of trust in our views of what needs to be done and how we go about things is similar.
“We have coached over 100 matches together now, and we aren’t bothered about who gets the credit when we are successful, because it’s not just down to what you see on match day.”
The coaching team of Williams and Legrand has always been successful, since the early 90s, when they first worked together. They won National Titles with their clubs and ran the England programmes together. However, in 2009, Legrand took a different pathway in volleyball.
The Great Britain’s men’s sitting volleyball team appointed a new head coach, in Legrand. While it is still the same sport, the concepts couldn’t be more different. Having worked with rehabilitation and the disability sector for nearly 40 years, he wasn’t surprised by what he saw, and knew what to expect.
“None of the squad knew me from Adam, as sitting volleyball had very little contact with the indoor version of the game. I had a really good assistant coach and the squad we had soon helped me to avoid going off in the wrong route,” Legrand said. The basics were the same, working on fundamentals, then training more to get the results the team needed.
“The whole Paralympic experience was incredible, we took unpaid leave or the guys were students or were self-employed. We trained nine sessions a week plus two weights sessions. The whole experience was amazing and it gave us the insight in what it’s like to be a full-time coach/athlete and what can be done with this type of programme.”
Volleyball in England has a lot to learn from other countries, in the way of performance programmes and competing internationally. The key is to hone in on recruitment as the teams have shown what they can offer at London and the Invictus games.
But, the biggest asset to Legrand’s success, he says, is “having an incredibly supportive and understanding wife! Finding time to properly plan sessions is probably the hardest part. I now work part time and my job has change in the last year or so I can now manage my workload better so I can leave on time, when necessary I’ve gone into work on Saturdays to stay on top of things.”
The commitment and courage Ian Legrand shows on a weekly basis is mesmerising. A part time job, two club teams, weekend fixtures, and taking on the UEL Performance programmes is a massive task for anyone to undertake. Together Legrand and Williams have led the women to retaining their Premier South Title at Essex University, the men finished fifth Nationally at BUCS where the women also took home third place.
The journey continues.