What you need to know:
- The team has won the league title 14 times, which includes lifting the crown four times in a row from 2017.
"Discipline is the foundation upon which all success is built. Lack of discipline inevitably leads to failure,” author Jim Rohn stated in one of his inspirational talks.
The quote by the American entrepreneur, who passed away in 2009, sums up the work ethics of reigning men’s Kenya Volleyball Federation National League Champions General Service Unit (GSU).
The team has won the league title 14 times, which includes lifting the crown four times in a row from 2017.
“A lot of factors have contributed to our success, but discipline tops the chart,” GSU head coach Gideon Tarus, 45, said as we settled down for an interview at Nyayo National Stadium on Monday.
He spoke when the team, which has been invited for the annual Nyerere Cup Championship in Tanzania, held it first training session at Nyayo.
Tarus said that it is a joy to watch GSU grow into a powerhouse locally in recent years.
The former national team middle blocker also played for KCB and Post Bank, before joining GSU in 2000.
Tarus, who took over the coaching role from Moses Epoloto in 2011, holds an FIVB Level Two Coaching Certificate, National Level Three Coaching Certificate as well as an FIVB Beach Level 1 Coaching Certificate that he acquired in Thailand in 2019.
The paramilitary side’s toughest competitors were perennial rivals Kenya Prisons, but that competitiveness has continued to fade as seasons go by.
In August, GSU defended the league title at Kenya Ports Authority Makande Hall in Mombasa County after defeating Prisons 3-1, they hit Kenya Defence Forces 3-2 and Kenya Ports Authority 3-1 to finish the season unbeaten.
“What people might not know is we used to train together with Kenya Prisons in 2011. Then, I was an assistant coach to Epoloto-cum-player,” Tarus said.
“We used to play friendly matches against Prisons twice a week, but things changed when Prisons won the league title that same year. The friendly matches stopped. Henceforth, there was healthy competition. But in 2016, things cracked after Prisons defended the title they had won in 2015,” Tarus recalls.
“Coaches from other clubs in the national league cheered and congratulated Prisons. I stood there in awe when the people I thought supported me, jeered. I didn’t want to go home, nor did I want to see my family. I felt dejected. From that day on, I swore that would be the last time that the team will be a laughing stock,” the 45-year-old adds.
It’s common practice for teams around the world to set goals when a new season starts, but GSU drafts immediate goals.
“For example, at the end of the first leg of the Kenya Volleyball Federation National League, you could hear players or officials from other clubs talking about the play-offs. How can you comment on the play-offs when you don’t know how the regular season will pan out? I tell my players to focus on the game at hand, once we are through, we plan for the next match and that has worked for us,” said the father of three - Victor Kimutai, Brian Kipchumba and Faith Jebet.
Born and raised in Saramek village in Uasin Gishu County, Tarus owes his career to his parents Kibirgen Baisiri and Ruth Barno, who are both deceased.
He said that GSU goes for the best players across the nation, and they don’t get it wrong in their recruitment.
“In 2011, during the National Secondary School Games at the Moi Air Base in Nairobi, the head coach Epoloto told me to go and watch Sila Kipruto who played for Cheptil Secondary School for a possible move to GSU. But as I watched him, I was drawn to this lanky player (Cornelius 'Nder' Kiplagat). I called Epoloto and told him that there was a change of plan, we will not take Kipruto (who now plays for Kenya Prisons) but we will take Kiplagat instead.
"In my own estimation, Kipruto had been given many balls but he made mistakes, while Kiplagat who got fewer balls, lost only one score,” revealed Tarus.
“But that didn’t mean Kipruto wasn’t a good player; Kiplagat had something special and I think time has vindicated me. The secret of having good players at your disposal gives you options and it also makes transition easy.”
GSU has produced top-class players like Benard Musumba, Stephen Mathenge, David Kirwa, Luke Makuto, among others.
GSU players are encouraged to enroll courses of their choice and learn new skills which will be a fall back plan after active sports years are behind them.
“Musumba, Makuto and Wesley Rono work at Central Bank of Kenya. If they had not studied, perhaps they couldn’t have been ready to let go of their playing careers in their sunset days,” said Epoloto.
Epoloto joined GSU as a player in 1987 when the team was known as Samson Cherambos, a former GSU Commander. He was the brainchild of the team.
Epoloto said that the team came into existence when an inter-units competition was held, but failed to pick up.
In 1988, another inter-unit competition was staged and Samson Cherambos team was assembled and registered to play in the then Kenya Volleyball Association now KVF Division One League.
But the team failed to hold, and it was disbanded in 1989. It was revived in 1991 under coach Epoloto who tutored the team until 2011 before he handed the baton to Tarus.
“Other team sports like boxing, darts and football have not earned GSU accolades like volleyball. It’s not because volleyball is special, but it’s the hard work and discipline that players put in training and their commitment to do well,” Epoloto remarks.
“The foundation and culture we lay down once the player has joined the team is followed to the letter. We first scout the player then we do our own background check, we go out of our way to visit their homes just to know who we are dealing with and I think that has helped us. Rarely do you find a GSU player with an indiscipline case,” he added.
Epoloto speaks highly of Tarus.
“He is the future, and if he is given support by KVF and the government, then the men’s volleyball team will rise and conquer the continent,” he said.
Tarus recently guided the national team to a historic 3-2 win against Egypt during last month’s African Nations Championship in Kigali, Rwanda. Kenya finished ninth in the event.
Tarus’ target is to lead GSU to victory in the African Clubs Championships.
“The pressure is on. The national team beating Egypt for the first time showed that the north Africans, who have dominated the African volleyball scene, are beatable. With good support and preparation, we can do it,” said Tarus.
GSU contributed five players; Brian Melly, Simon Kipkorir, Cornelius Kiplagat, Noah Bett and Naftali Chumba to the national team.
“There is no need to professionalise our team. Remember, we are first officers, and then players. Going forward, most of our players will turn professional because they are being noticed, for example Abiud Chirchir,” he said.
Chirchir left GSU early this year to join French side Grand Nancy Volley-Ball Club.
“Every month, players have a get-together. This helps the players to gel,” Tarus said.
“We have received a lot of support from the management, and more so, the chairman of volleyball Andrew Changwany. We usually have a goat-eating party at the team's place of choice courtesy of Changwany and this has tightened the bond among players. Every year, the management allows us to recruit players and kitting of the team has never been a problem,” narrated Tarus.
Critics claim that GSU is a tribal outfit, which draws most of their best players from the Rift Valley.
Tarus acknowledged that GSU has been in the spotlight.
“It’s unfair to say that GSU is a tribal outfit. We have players from other parts of the country such as Bonventry Wekesa, Shadrack Misiko,and Kelvin Omuse. But again, what if the players who are in form are from the same region, does it mean I will should not field them? The answer is absolutely no,” he said, adding that for a team to win or perform well, you have to go for the best players.
Musumba, a former national team and GSU player, holds the team in high esteem.
“There are no two ways about it. GSU is built around discipline, a winning mentality and proper recruitment. Generally, the confidence and intelligence comes with the type of work they are employed to do. All those factors have made GSU not crumble even at their worst moment,” Musumba said.
Tarus said he will stop at nothing for the team to retain the title.
“I have a supportive technical bench in Dunson Tali and Solomon Bitok, who are former players. David Kirwa Tonje has been a key figure in the team’s success. He is a go-to player who relates well with fellow players. They listen to him,” he said.
Tarus attributes the team’s endurance to the strength and conditioning, morning runs and gym workouts.
“When a match extends to five sets, we are able to win because the team has endurance,” he said.