Paul Bitok: The undying dream of an impeccable Kenyan legend - Beaking Kenya News

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Sunday, 9 June 2019

Paul Bitok: The undying dream of an impeccable Kenyan legend

Rwanda's national team coach Paul Bitok reacts during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Kenya on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
SAMUEL GACHARIRA
By SAMUEL GACHARIRA
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There is never a moment that passes without him roaming up and down his technical area. Hands akimbo, hands in the air, at times clapping; he does everything to urge his team on.
Paul Bitok always cuts a restless figure anytime he is on the touchline. And when he glances on the electronic score board, he is always pondering his next move. The bell, is probably his best friend, whenever he stands on the touchline. It’s what he uses to announce his decisions and display his tactical acumen.
Against Kenya in the recently concluded Zone Five qualifiers, he rung it 15 times. In total, he made a dozen substitutions and called six timeouts as his Rwandan side coasted to a straight sets victory (26-24, 25-23, 26-24) over Kenya at the Kasarani Indoor Arena.
Rwanda's national team players celebrate a point during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Kenya on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Rwanda's national team players celebrate a point during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Kenya on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
“Bitok is a risk-taker. When he was a player he left a stable job at KCB to go Tunisia for a professional stint and it worked well for him. He is never scared of making tough decisions and that’s why he is so successful as a coach,” offered his former team manager at KCB, Kenneth Tonui.
“He is a determined and focused guy. He always wants to win. Kenya needs him at the moment. Technically he is up there and his knowledge would really help raise our standards,” observes Tonui, who is currently the Kenya Volleyball Federation treasurer.
'MISSED THE TICKET'
While Rwanda, just like Kenya, missed out on the sole slot for the 2019 African Games, Bitok's achievements over the past decade cannot go unnoticed. That tactical masterpiece he delivered on Tuesday saw him break the hearts of thousands of Kenyans but it also served as a timely reminder that Kenya’s reputation as a continental powerhouse in volleyball is slowly being eroded.
Under Bitok, Rwanda has emerged as a force in volleyball not only in Africa but globally. That Rwanda can now go toe-to-toe with Kenya in matters volleyball is evidence of progress. Their women’s beach volleyball team is a perfect example.
ACTION PLAN
Since 2012, the pair of Charlotte Nzayisenga and Benitha Mukandayisenga has graced the World Championships from junior level to senior level. And from June 28, Bitok will be guiding them to another global championship in Hamburg, Germany.
“I’m happy with what I have achieved in Rwanda over ten years. I am grateful they accepted my action plan and the government has been very supportive which has made it easy for me,” said Bitok.
The Hamburg trip could well be his last assignment with Rwanda as he mulls a leap into management away from his “passion” coaching.
“They have asked me to continue serving as coach until the end of the tournament since my contract expires end of this month. They have opened negotiations but I have asked them to give me until 15th for my final word. I am really interested in administration because I believe I have a lot to offer back home,” said Bitok with striking confidence.
“I think (KVF President Waithaka) Kioni has done a good job. During his tenure, we have qualified for the Olympics and the Grand Prix which are big competitions. I think we deserve to be among the top eight countries in the world. That’s why I want to move into management to unlock our potential and take Kenyan volleyball to the next level,” he added before posing to shed light on proceedings on court.
Rwanda national men's volleyball team coach Paul Bitok gestures during their African Games Zone V Qualifiers match against Uganda on June 5, 2019 at Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Rwanda national men's volleyball team coach Paul Bitok gestures during their African Games Zone V Qualifiers match against Uganda on June 5, 2019 at Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
At that particular instance, Kenya was playing Egypt in its last game of the qualifiers. With the set scores tied at 1-1, the Mfalme Strikers were leading 24-20 in the third set. At 24-22, Bitok says:
“Kenya will end up losing this set.”
His prediction turns out to be right! Nicholas Matui’s spike was poor and hit the post before Jairus Kipkosgei’s attack was blocked. A series of errors from Kenya saw the Pharaohs clinch the set at 28-26.
“This is exactly what I was telling you about. We have very good players but they lack the experience to compete in high level tournaments. We need to send our players to professional leagues so that we can improve our national teams,” he shares with deep concern.
“Every year I get many opportunities for our players but their clubs refuse to release them. Eventually I end up giving those opportunities to Rwanda and Uganda. You can see how they have improved over a short time,” added Bitok.
Daudi Okello, Ivan Ongom and Kathbart Malinga are the professional players in Bitok’s stable that inspired Uganda to a second-place finish in the Zone V qualifiers.
“Whenever you’re playing a high pressure game is when you see the value of having a professional player in your team. They don’t panic because they are exposed to similar conditions week in, week out. There is no short cut. If we want to improve, our players must turn professional,” asserts Bitok.
As both teams change sides for the fourth set, the giant frame of Sila ‘Rashid’ Kipruto catches his attention as he takes his seat on the substitute’s bench. Bitok pounces on this opportunity to stress his point. The 25-year-old started against Egypt but was later benched by Jairus Kipkosgei and he never returned on court thereafter.
“Look at a player like Sila. He was the best player during the East Africa School Games in Burundi in 2013. I had an opportunity for him in Japan but he turned it down and chose to stay in Kenya. You can’t compare him to Yves (Mutabazi) who is now playing in Turkey yet he was not as good as Sila back then. Yves is now earning good money around $4,000 (Sh400,000) per month. Other players under my management earn as much as $10,000 (Sh1 million) depending on how good you are,” a visibly distraught Bitok underlines.
“When I become President I will change the constitution to ensure clubs don’t stand in the way of players who want to go abroad. We need to work together to improve our game. Once these players succeed they will open doors for many Kenyans out there.”
Kenya's national team players react during a timeout during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Rwanda on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |
Kenya's national team players react during a timeout during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Rwanda on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO |NATION MEDIA GROUP
As the fourth set wears on, every Egyptian service badly exposes Kenya’s Achilles heel; reception. It eventually proves to be the difference as Gido Vermeulen’s charges win the set 25-20.
“We are very good on the net that is in defence and attack but our biggest challenge is reception. Even our ladies team could be up there with the likes of Brazil if we get the basics right.
“As a federation we ought to have our own youth programmes. We tend to rely so much on schools and those teachers are not well trained to teach basic skills. The end result is we end up having half-baked players from our youth ranks. It's very difficult to correct reception for an 18-year-old.
“When I moved to Rwanda, I focused more on youth players who were in school. I partnered with schools so that their teachers could be trained professionally as youth coaches. These young players now form the core of the senior teams and you can see Rwanda is now a force to reckon with. Youth development is one area that I really want to invest in when I get into office,” revealed the 45-year-old.
OUTDOOR VOLLEYBALL
The national league is currently played in a league format over nine legs across different outdoor venues in the country.
The top four sides in both the men’s and women’s category then contest for the title in the end of season play-offs played at a centralised indoor facility.
“Our league must adopt the home and away format to make it more interesting and challenging. The league matches also have to be played in indoor facilities so that we can encourage our clubs to build gymnasiums. Every club in the Rwandan top-flight now has its own gymnasium yet ten years ago that was not the case.
“I introduced the current format of the play-offs after coming back from Tunisia but it is high time we change it. The play-offs should have semi-finals and finals which will be played in a best-of-three series and not round robin to attract more fans and sponsors.”
Rwanda national men's volleyball team coach Paul Bitok (second left) talks to his players during a timeout during their African Games Zone V Qualifiers match against Uganda on June 5, 2019 at Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Rwanda national men's volleyball team coach Paul Bitok (second left) talks to his players during a timeout during their African Games Zone V Qualifiers match against Uganda on June 5, 2019 at Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Bitok argues that the new format will also benefit the national teams benefit by having less time to prepare for international assignments.
“The players will be active throughout the year and this is a big boost to the national teams. For instance, I only prepared my team (for the Zone V qualifiers) for two weeks because majority of the players were active in their clubs and they are already used to playing indoor,” he pointed out.
As he prepares for life as an administrator, Bitok draws encouragement from the annual Amaco International tournament which has grown over the years to the biggest event in the local volleyball calendar.
“Thirteen years ago it started as Paul Bitok tournament but ever since Amaco came on board in 2004 it has gained international recognition.
“This shows that sponsors are willing to support volleyball if we enhance accountability,” he says of the tournament that was sponsored to the tune of Sh9.3 million by Amaco Insurance this year.
Rwanda's national team coach Paul Bitok reacts during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Kenya on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Rwanda's national team coach Paul Bitok reacts during their African Games Volleyball Zone V Qualifiers match against Kenya on June 4, 2019 at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani Indoor Arena. PHOTO | CHRIS OMOLLO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
In a few years’ time, Bitok will probably be ringing a different bell. That is door bells in search of sponsors and partners. He has two years left to practise coaching and Kenya will certainly benefit.
“Coaching is my passion so I can’t run away from it. I want to come back and help the ladies prepare for African Games, Olympics qualifiers and the World Cup. Then in 2021, I will vie for the KVF presidency,” reveals Bitok.

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