November 24, 2007

Club Volleyball - Choose Wisely!

USA Junior Volleyball Clubs have become the avenue to improve your abilities and your scholarship opportunities - in theory.

The current state of Club volleyball has way too many teams. As club coaches and parents have discovered, establishing a Club team can be as easy as finding a gym and filling out paperwork. USA Volleyball provides all the registration forms, insurance coverage, instructional manuals - why is USA Volleyball this proactive? One, to bring more volleyball players into the umbrella of USA Volleyball where they can be have more volleyball playing opportunities. Two, to generate more operational money via membership fees and tournament registration fees. USA Volleyball is like a union - the more dues paying union members, the better it is for the union (or at least the directors).

This over-abundance of Club teams has watered down the positives of playing Club volleyball. While the sheer increase of Club teams has led to more roster spots for players, it has also led to less quality teams and coaches; a tough combination if your primary goal in joining a Club team is to improve your abilities. Currently, there is a bit of a Club team revolt going on in the Junior volleyball community against USA Volleyball. A large number of the better Club team directors, feel that USA Volleyball is more interested in quantity versus quality tournaments - bigger tournaments mean more money. Because these very large tournaments (I am talking 100 courts in a convention center) potentially dilute the quality of competition, the top Club teams feel that the early rounds are just throw away matches. To this end, a surprising number of Club programs have formed their own national type tournaments outside of the USA Junior Volleyball guidelines.

The hard truth is that our sport has more players than it does good coaches. By good coaches, I mean individuals that have some level of adult maturity and the background in technical skill instruction and game management. When I stepped into college coaching, after a stellar NCAA career and lengthy professional accomplishments, I realized just how little I knew about the actual coaching of volleyball - technical skill instruction, player management, game coaching. Because there are so many Club teams, the number of good club coaches cannot keep up - they have to draft into service inexperienced college players, uneducated high school coaches, adults who played back in high school. I will go to Club tournaments and just be amazed by the lack of quality coaching and leadership.

In volleyball and I would think all athletics, you improve by either receiving quality skill instruction or mimicking the skills of other players that are superior to you. With so many Club teams, the number of quality players gets distributed thinly - there are not enough good players to fill up all the teams. What happens is that Club teams may have, what college coaches would consider, one solid player and the rest are just average. Since the majority players are average in skill, unless the team has a superior technical coach, the players will remain average throughout the year because they will be practicing with average players and competing against teams that are filled with average players.

If the goal of your Club volleyball participation is to garner a college scholarship, the sheer numbers of Club teams will not help you. Some may think that if you are a good player on an average team, your skills will stand out by comparison. This argument is true on the surface, but college coaches get paid to see through these situations and to evaluate your abilities. Because there are so many Club teams, it is hard for for college coaches to sift through all the non-elite level teams in a large tournament.

The larger Junior tournaments have their age groups divided into Open and Club levels - which is volleyball speak for good teams and not good teams. If you wander about a Junior tournament, you will see the college coaches congregating at the Open courts and a scarce few on the Club courts. If the tournament runs in waves, the college coaches perform a subtle disappearing act when the Club wave begins.

To bring everything together - choose your Club program wisely and examine exactly what you want to obtain from your participation. This costs money, so you are paying for the experience - here are some general guidelines:

- If participation and social interaction is your goal, then a Club program that is defined as local would be best. Local is the least expensive of the Club teams, will only practice once or twice a week and will play in tournaments generally close to home.

- If the goal is to improve your playing ability, while getting a feel for Club volleyball and not spend a ton of money, then a regional team is the way to go. Regional teams are still not too costly, will practice a couple of times a week and tend to play in a variety of tournaments that will allow you to attain a higher level of skills by the end of the season. These regional type teams tend to play in the Club division of the big tournaments.

- For those wanting to aggressively pursue college scholarships and physically prepare for the higher level of ability required in college volleyball, then a national team is for you. National teams practice a few times a week, play a very expansive tournament schedule that focuses on the USA Junior Qualifiers and the season will run from November to July. This is also the most costly of the Club volleyball options, with seasonal costs easily passing $10,000.00.

When choosing a type of Club team, be very aware of your goals and how the potential Club team will fulfill them. Many Club teams really want to be a national type team, but unless they can garner top flight players and get accepted into top tier tournaments, they may become a regional team by default.

If you just wish to be on a local team, then it is a rather easy process - find out which teams are local, by communicating with your USA Volleyball Regional Commissioner ( and then arrange to go to a tryout or open gym. For a regional team, you have to be a bit more inquisitive in your communication with the Club directors - ask what the costs are, what is the proposed tournament schedule, what is the playing philosophy of the team, how many times a week will be practice and where?

In looking at a national Club team, you should consider trying out for a few such programs, if your location allows for this. If there is only one potential national team in your area, then the choice is made for you. But, if you live in a region of the country that has a few such teams, then plan on visiting/trying out for all of them to see what the coaching staff is like, what the talent of the team is like (for instance, if a Club team has a few great hitters, but the setter is poor, then that may not be the best choice) and what are the anticipated costs. Since this level has the highest costs, the most potential for scholarships and the biggest time demands, you should expend the most effort in your selection.

Club volleyball can be a wonderful investment in your future and volleyball enjoyment or it can be an extremely frustrating waste of time and money. Somethings are just out of your control, but if you take time to choose wisely then I believe the odds are significantly better to have a great experience!

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