April 6, 2009

Club Volleyball - Regional or Travel Team?

I am the parent of a 7th grade PSA who loves volleyball. She is a 5'4 DS/L and according to her coach (been coaching school and club for 25 years) is very good (skilled and coachable) for her age and has only played 1 season in school and then this year in club. This past season she played in the 14U division for a small club and played in in some smaller in state (Indiana) tournaments. My question is when should I consider having her move up to a national or open team? Because of her age/grade she will get to play 2 years of 18U (Junior and Senior year). I have looked at some clubs that play in the CZ Shootout in Indy and the Midwest Power League and MPL Championship here in Indy as well as 1 local memorial tournament and the Holiday Inn Classic in southern Indiana. Then I have looked at some regional teams that play in the CZ Shootout, the MPL, the Presidents Day Cup in Dayton as well as 1 NQ and 1 national championships (assuming they qualify). And then I have looked at several clubs that travel all over the country playing in large tournaments and NQ's. I am just not sure how beneficial it is to spend the kind of money it takes to play National/Open @ her age and for that many years. I was considering keeping her on 1 of the better regional teams that plays a little bit of a mix but mostly here in the Midwest until her junior year and then have her play on a national/open team and then maybe again her senior year. Or would it be beneficial to move her up sooner then that and have her play national/open as long as possible? As I am new to the whole club ball scene any input would be gratefully appreciated as I want to do what is best for my daughter and there is so much conflicting information out there about what is best and how to get recruited and etc....
Confused VB Dad

Dear Confused VB Dad - I like your Internet handle! No shame in being honest. Well, the first thing that I can advise you to do is just RELAX!!! Your child is in 7th grade and old for her year in school!!! As an average song in the 80's once said, "Don't worry, be happy".

OK - Now that I have given you the equivalent of a club volleyball Valium, let's move on to answering your question(s).

1) Keep her and your family comfortable by having your daughter stay with a better regional team until her freshman year in high school. I agree that the cost versus benefit analysis does not make sense to go big this early.

2) Her sophomore year in high school, should she still enjoy club volleyball and sincerely wish to pursue the opportunity to play college volleyball, then have her join a National/Travel club team. Sophomore year is the Mark and Mail year for recruiting (mark the player and mail out the letter).

3) I would move her up to a National/Travel club team as a freshman if she is clearly better than anyone on the team and better than those players she is competing against - This would provide her the opportunity to increase her abilities because of who she is competing against.

As a seventh grader the focus should be to develop correct technique and have the opportunity to play the game. More important than the type of team (National, Travel, Regional) is the quality of the coach. You should be more concerned with the quality of the practice sessions.

Volleyball is a sport where you make the biggest jumps in ability by training. Playing is fun, but practice is where ability is increased. Be focused on how the trainings 'look' to you. A National or Open team may be good, but are they good because of latent talent or because of the type of training which they are receiving? At your daughter's age, I would want to see practices which are oriented towards correct technique, court movement patterns and free play situations that try to teach some of the nuances of the sport. College coaches pay the price for unhealthy technique learned by younger players.

By 'paying the price', I mean losing players to repetition injuries - you can only do something technically incorrect before some type of injury occurs. If the arm swing is not good, then shoulder problems will develop, if an approach is not correct, then stress fractures can occur, if a player drifts on the block, then ankles get blown. Some folks think that college coaches have a magic wand which will fix 5 to 7 years of learned muscle motor memory, but we don't. Now is the time to make sure your daughter is learning the correct technique to ensure a healthy, long term volleyball experience.

DO NOT worry about recruiting until she is a sophomore in high school and then you should only 'worry' about getting her information out to potential schools. Please just read my Recruiting Plan - It is what you need to do. If you get too far ahead of yourself, then you really run the risk of passing over what could be the best time of club volleyball.

As you indicated, your daughter has not been playing that long. It is now in which she will make quantum leaps (how often do you read the phrase 'quantum leaps' in any web page that is not written by someone dealing with technology or NASA?) in her abilities. Her volleyball learning curve is quite steep and will begin to flatten out in a few years. Now is the time to be amazed in how quickly she improves, how she applies new skills and makes some plays that completely make you burst with pride. It is much like riding a bike for the first time - don't look ahead to getting the mountain bike and miss the training wheels coming off.

Good luck and enjoy the ride.