Checking in with Shelby Maher

Shelby Maher is one of the recognised names across the State’s indoor and beach volleyball competitions. 

We checked in with Shelby earlier in 2020 and, with event wins, awards, and even a new role coaching younger athletes in her spare time, now is another opportune time to catch up.

Read on for some reflections on the game, the future for the sport’s juniors and what else is in store for 2021. 


A Highly Successful Season in 2020

Shelby had a highly successful year on the court in 2020, capped off by awards for Volleyball WA’s  State League Indoor Player of the Year and Beach Player of the Year. 

She puts the exceptional results down to some new changes: 

“I’d shaken things up for the 2019-20 Alcohol.Think Again Beach Volleyball season by changing my teammates for each of the tournaments.  I ended up with 5 event wins with 5 different teammates across the shortened season: I think that change really helped me to develop more rounded skills and teach me different ways of thinking about the game.  

I carried some of that form into the 2020 Indoor Volleyball season with ECU Chequers, but it was really the consistency that was probably the difference for me personally. This was the first season in a little while that I’d managed to play all the games in the indoor season!” 

Since graduating from university and joining Cannington Physiotherapy, Shelby’s also had to adjust to structured schedules and much smaller windows for training. It’s a change that she seems to have enjoyed: 

“Now that I’m well into senior competition and the world of ‘9-5’ work, I’m  lucky to be a part of a crew of girls who’ve become much more self-directed in our training. We’re building on all the skills that we acquired earlier in our careers, from great coaches like Marty Suan. 

I’ve also realised that, in the absence of competing for a spot in junior teams, I’m playing volleyball with a bit more freedom now. I think I’ve embraced the opportunities to take control of my training and change my schedule to fit work . Even though I’ve got to train at certain times and be accountable to myself, I’ve thrived. That link between on- and off-court performance has really clicked in the past year.”


An Opportunity to Give Back to Emerging Junior Athletes

2020 also provided Shelby with an opportunity to expand her horizons into coaching.  With so much to offer from her own competitive experience, Shelby seemed to be a natural fit with the  junior development squad supported by Volleyball WA. 

“I started coaching in 2020 with the State Junior Beach team. There is a great set of coaches in that program and it went really well! My focus was the Under 17s Girls, and they went on to win gold at the National Titles and the other Under 17 team took out bronze. 

It was just so exciting to experience the build up and the energy in those big games, and it was great to be around junior players who have so much potential for big things in the future. Perhaps the highlight was the camaraderie in the squad: all the age groups were so supportive and had so much energy. 

Three of these athletes have subsequently been asked to join the Australian Volleyball Academy.  It amazes me that there are so many great junior players going through the system, compared to years before. In previous years the scene was smaller and we would compete as individual teams, not under the training and structure that VolleyballWA has built in recent years. I think the efforts in this area are really paying off now. “

The improvements to these pathways gives Shelby a sense of pride and optimism for the next generation of volleyballers. 

“When I came up through the system, we had a small crew who’d take a program from a coach and head to the gym. We were pretty independent. 

There has been a really strong commitment to make the whole system better over the past, say, 5 years. Volleyball WA has done really well by upgrading the systems and setting a clear direction for the juniors in the indoor and beach volleyball scene.

It’s also been great to see gyms and structured programs emerge specifically for juniors. For example, Diamond Fitness has built a great program for young girls and boys. This type of program really accelerates the growth of these athletes: they’re stronger and better skilled at an earlier age. 

Junior athletes are also gaining those really important ‘soft skills’ like organising and programming, and understanding the work ethic required. These soft skills are the foundation for success as a senior competitor. “


Volleyball: a Lifestyle, not just a Sport

Shelby’s noticed the growth in volleyball and puts some of that down to the game’s inherent appeal as a social, active pursuit that transcends sport:  

“Volleyball has a lot going for it as it really offers a lifestyle. It’s a bit like golf at times: you go out for a hit, and you come back four hours later. You’re with your mates, you play, and then you go for coffee, and you might play again. It’s social and it’s competitive all at the same time. It’s so simple, enjoyable and well-rounded.

Of course, there is a lot of work being done to grow the sport across all levels, and the passion and professionalism shown by all those involved is evident to Shelby: 

“From my perspective, Volleyball WA is doing a great job with the marketing and growth of the sport. The list of achievements is really incredible and covers all the steps needed to make the sport even bigger and better. We’ve got healthy competitions in beach, indoor beach and indoor. 

The increased attention on schools is so important for the future. I started this way: a prac teacher, Tenille Ryan, offered volleyball as an option at my school and I was hooked. There are passionate people all across our game that are putting in this effort at a grass-roots level, from the coaches right down to the photographers. 

We’re also also seeing new clubs coming though. Again, it’s a group of passionate people who’ve sparked a change, and some of these new clubs have gone on to win titles very soon after they’ve launched. It’s fantastic to see this kind of rapid change in the sport.” 


What’s next? 

After an incredibly strong 2020 across all aspects of her involvement in volleyball, Shelby is keen to keep pushing her game in 2021. 

“I’m seeing how much I can push myself. I still get that nervous energy from competing and I still want to win everything! 

I’ve also really enjoyed the coaching and I want to help the younger girls out too. I know what I experienced at their age and I can see the young girls can really benefit from experienced coaches. I’m looking to help with advice and support wherever I can. “