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Sporting Schools School Yard to Sports Stars: Damien Schumann and Chris McHugh

Damien Schumann

Image: Damien Schumann says he’s always loved sport but wasn't very athletic when he was young.


Commonwealth Games gold medallists Damien Schumann and Chris McHugh played the game of their lives to beat Canada in a three-set nail-biter and win a historic beach volleyball gold medal on the famous Coolangatta beach in April.

The Aussie men’s pair, who only began playing volleyball together after the Rio Olympics, were one-time rivals.

Their success started at the 2017 World Tour Event in Shepparton where they took out gold. Sporting Schools spoke to them both about their sporting journey.


What's your funniest sporting memory at school?

Damien: Me slipping over when trying to serve a ball in a game.

Chris: Funniest sporting memory from school was from playing cricket. I was running in to bowl and slipped on the last step resulting in me falling backwards into the mud. I got up and had mud all over my whites.


Were you always good at sport?

Damien: I always loved and wasn't bad at ball sports but I wasn't very physically athletic at all.

Chris: I wasn't always good at sport. When in primary school I was one of the larger kids in the class and wasn't very good at running. My PE class had to do a weekly 1.6km time trial run which is four laps of a football oval and I don't think I ever finished it in time. The teacher told my parents "Chris will never be an athlete".


How did you get into volleyball?

Damien: I started playing volleyball at my high school Mazenod College.

Chris: I started playing volleyball with some school friends in Year 4 through Spikezone. I wanted to play as it got me out of clarinet and keyboard lessons on the same night which I was not very good at playing. Our team was called the Fruit Flys.


Do you remember your first victory?

Damien: I do! I was playing at a beach volleyball school competition and we were the C team and we beat the A team from another school in the final. Seems so silly now but at the time I thought it was a pretty big deal!

Chris: My first professional victory was on the Australian Beach Volleyball Tour when I was 15 playing against older men with my friend Harry Peacock (2012 Olympian). We beat a team from Victoria but then lost the next two games. My first big international win was an Asian Tour event in Thailand in 2008 where it was super hot and humid beating a very good Indonesian team in the final. We surprised everyone, including ourselves. That was one of the best feelings I have had and really encouraged me to keep striving to relive those experiences again.


When did you decide you wanted to do volleyball competitively and put all your energy into it?

Damien: Roughly when I was in Year 11. I stopped playing footy and loved playing beach volleyball so much. I didn't know how far it would take me but I promised myself to put everything I had into it so when I stopped I could be happy with whatever would happen.

Chris: I have always wanted to play volleyball professionally since I was in Grade 6 but probably didn't truly believe it  and put all my energy into training until I was selected in the South Australian Sports Institute junior squad and played at the under 19  Beach Volleyball World Championships in Bermuda when I was 16.


How often would you train?

Damien: I would train roughly 4-5 times a week before and after school and on the weekends.

Chris: We train 6 days a week here at the South Australian Sports Institute and split our time between sand skills training, weight lifting and cardio training. We need to be very fit for playing in the sand with some competitions requiring us to play eight games over two days.


What are your top three tips for children playing sport?

Damien: 

  1. Play as many different sports as you can!
  2. Don't think you have to specialise in one sport too early. 
  3. Don't get disheartened or intimidated by seemingly talented kids you are playing with right now. Your hard work will eventually overtake lazy talent.

Chris: It would have to be to have fun, play by the rules and don't take it too seriously. Sport when you’re young is meant to be an enjoyable experience playing with friends. There is plenty of time to be serious later in life if you want to be a professional. 


Sporting Schools is a $200 million Australian Government initiative to get more children playing more sport, before, during and after school. Want to run a Spikezone Volleyball program at your school? Check out all the details on the Volleyball Australia page.

Looking for a club in your area? http://spikezone.com.au/?page_id=2267


Chris McHugh

Image: Chris McHugh wanted to play volleyball professionally since he was in Grade 6.