PALAPYE: As with most young boys, Odirile ‘Driller’ Sibanda’s first taste of sport was through football and athletics.
He was a budding high jumper, blessed with good height.
Towering over his peers, Sibanda’s path in high jump was fast tracked, as he was pushed to the senior team earlier than his counterparts.
He turned out for Mabogo Junior Secondary School football side and only got a chance in the second year at the school. His side was knocked out prematurely in the zonal games qualifiers.
His lanky physique attracted glancing eyes from his colleagues in the volleyball court.
The volleyball team had qualified for the zonal competitions and they roped him in to beef up the team.
They got knocked out in the group stages, but the moments remained etched in his heart and were the start of a successful volleyball career. Being the tallest player in the tournament, Driller felt he could have contributed more for his team.
During school holidays, he joined Motlakase volleyball team and before long he was playing league games around the country. It was, however, against the will of his family, which preferred football.
When schools reopened, he never went back to the soccer fields, as his love for volleyball blossomed. He led Mabogo volleyball team to the national finals, where they went out in the group stages.
In 1999, while a Form Four student at Lotsane Senior School he was selected for the Under-20 national team by coach Isaac Samuel. He won his first gold medal at the Confederation of Southern Africa (COSAFA) junior championships.
“The medal was a blessing to my persistence. It helped me convince my family that I had a future in volleyball,” Driller said.
The next year he captained the Under-20 side to silver medal in the same competition. This booked the team a berth at the Africa Junior Championships in Tunisia where they won a bronze medal.
After completing his secondary studies in Palapye, he headed to the capital Gaborone. His parents had advised him to join BDF IX for possible job opportunities at the barracks. Driller turned out for training with the soldiers, but the talent at the best team in the country was overwhelming. That, combined with the lukewarm reception, demoralised the greenhorn.
Unnoticed at the barracks, he instantly switched to Mafolofolo where he knew some colleagues from the junior national team. He found a kinder reception, but also solid competition.
He had to sacrifice his dear central blocker position for any basic position he could salvage in a tough environment.
There were four top-notch central blockers ahead of him. Two of them, Francis Dingwe and Onthusitse Letsholo were national team players. In fact, the entire first six-team players turned out for the national team.
Most of them were students at the University of Botswana. They were usually excused from friendly games due to academic commitments. It served as an opportune platform for the Palapye lad. He grabbed the first-team jersey and never relinquished it.
In 2002, he was drafted into the national team preparing for 2003 All Africa Games.
When the year began, he had received a scholarship at the International School of Physical Education and Sport in Havana, Cuba. He left before he could don the national
In Havana, he schooled and played varsity league with compatriots Shadrack Kapeko and Peaceful Seleka. A year later, he decided to return home for vacation.
With the newly acquired skills from one of the best volleyballing nations in the world, he returned a menace at Mafolofolo. He needed no introduction at the national team and was handed a jersey on a platter.
Before he completed his five-year sports science degree in Cuba, the star player had represented the nation in World Cup qualifiers, Olympic qualifiers, Africa Senior Championships, All Africa Games and Zone Six games.
After completing his studies, he received interests from Alexandria Club in Egypt and Qatar Police in Qatar. Simultaneously he got his first job as a sports development officer at Botswana National Sport Council (BNSC).
Qatar was appealing with the Police Club preparing for the Club World Cup at the time. He missed the opportunity, falling below the requisite two-metre height the club wanted. In Egypt it was trials, he had to choose between that and his new job, and the former won.
He was stationed in Francistown and it compelled him to leave Mafolofolo for northern city-based Diphatsa. Four years later he was transferred to Maun.
There was no volleyball team in Maun, which affected his career and was consequently dropped from the national team. Driller looked elsewhere to advance his sport skills.
The 38-year-old mentored a group of young athletes that trained at the Maun Sports Complex, amongst them Karabo Sibanda, Leungo Scotch, Tshepiso Masalela, Tumo Nkape and Kemoreng Tiisang. They all made it into the athletics national team.
He doubled up by helping at Sankoyo Bush Bucks, then a First Division side.
He assisted them to gain promotion in the elite league and was subsequently elected team manager.
His newly found pastimes were cut short when he left his BNSC job for a teaching job and was posted to Mosu.
He hit a U-turn to volleyball and was elected vice president of the Botswana Volleyball Federation (BVF), but served briefly. His long time dream of starting a volleyball team for students in the northwest came to fruition and he quit BVF.
His interest lay in coaching his new Yaros Olympic Club. It rose from the dust in 2017, finished in the top eight in 2018 and was a force to reckon with in 2019, albeit with junior players that had an average age of 19.
The dreaded coronavirus (COVID-19) pulled the brakes on the Yaros train that was catching momentum.
However, his coaching exploits had earned him a position as national Under-20 coach, a seat he assumed last year.
The father of one reckons volleyball was uninspiring and faced with natural death. He figured amongst other things owed to the code’s inevitable death was loss of the out-of-school training camps, vacation training camps and development camps.
“If we can’t inspire players we are as good as doomed. I have seen volleyball move from a P120,000 prize money to zero thebe. In this day and age, nothing would happen until by hook or crook, we figure a way of becoming at least semi-professional,” he said.