February 8, 2010

Club Volleyball Challenges

My daughter is 14 years old and currently in 8th grade. She has been playing volleyball since the age of 8 for clubs. She is also a starter for her junior high school team.

She took a year off of club ball last year due to an injury, but she did attend a few clinics and continued to play for her school. This year she tried out for her club ball team again and was placed on a level that I feel is beneath her capabilities.

I'm very concerned that the weaker players on the team (some who have trouble just passing and serving) will bring down my daughter and other stronger players who are vying for a spot on their high school teams come this Fall.

My daughter is an introvert and sometimes struggles with finding that motivation and aggressiveness and I feel that this is what held her back during tryouts.

She is ready for a more competitive and challenging level of play and I'm concerned that she has mistakenly been placed at the wrong level. I plan to speak with the club director but I'm also worried that the higher level may not have a place for her even if they decided to give her the shot. If by some chance, they are unable to move her, what do you suggest I do in order to not decrease her chances of making her high school team?
Thanks - C. C.

There are a number of nuances in the question that CC has presented and many of them could easily apply to other families and club players. Players and parents not being satisfied with the team they are on or the amount of playing time is a common occurrence at every level from the first year of club right through to the US Olympic team (think Willoughby was happy sitting on the bench?).

Allow me to address a few issues which I picked up on with this e-mail:

1. Taking a year off from Club Volleyball (due to injury) could have allowed those in her peer group to pass her up in abilities. The Junior High time frame is really the foundation level of volleyball because players are just getting coordinated enough and tall enough to start to accomplish the more fundamental skills of volleyball at a proficient level (as an aside, this is one of the weakness of volleyball for young kids; it is easier to kick a soccer ball or bounce a basketball at age 9 than it is to pass a volleyball). Even though she did play in school and went to a clinic or two, the other players in her age group were able to do the same thing, plus get 5+ months of club volleyball - The reality could easily be a number of them increased their abilities beyond your daughter's.

2. Many times, a volleyball team's ability is measured by its weakest link(s). We are not like basketball where you can still be successful by having one dominant player and everyone else just rebound and get out of the way - I can understand your concern with regards to the weaker players hindering her improvement. But, that is more of a game situation - She still has the opportunity within a training environment to focus upon her skill improvement, since practices tend to broken down into individual or group training.

3. Volleyball is a sport in which it is tough to hide or to just blend in - being an introvert in our sport is not a good thing. I would believe that this characteristic definitely did hold her back in tryouts, especially after taking the previous year off from club volleyball. Coaches of the top age bracket teams are looking for talent and attitude - They want players who are aggressive and confident within their positions.

4. Before you speak with your club director, have a relaxed but focused conversation with your daughter. Is she OK with being on the a lower team, because this is a more comfortable fit for her personality and where she is with her skill development. It may be that this level allows her the opportunity to extend herself emotionally and be a little less introverted - If she bumps up to the first unit and is surrounded by aggressive and loud players, will this just push her back into herself? Try to find out what SHE wants, what SHE enjoys; don't project your wishes or your goals upon her, no matter how logical they may be (developing skill level for high school volleyball).

5. Is she happy? Remove your pressure or expectations from her and simply find out if she is happy and enjoying playing volleyball. All too often, even at the college level, coaches have to deal with the residue emotion/goals of parents coming through the players. I have had any number of players who were funneling the emotions of their folks, during a talk or meeting. While the player may not be 100% satisfied, they are not as agitated about a situation as their parents, and it is only after receiving this negative emotion from their parents, do they channel it into their own mental framework.

6. First of all, I suggest you do not move your daughter up to the top team. I say this because the training environment will allow her to improve her skill abilities and many times the same age group will intermix in practices. If she did not make the first team in tryouts, even being moved up mid-season will probably not equate into playing time. I understand the other players on her current team are not great, but she is on the court and playing. It is easier to get better when you are on the court, versus keeping passing stats on the sideline.

7. Because of the gazillion number of camps, private lessons and summer leagues, there are plenty of opportunities to gain volleyball improvement outside of Club Volleyball. From local universities (and by the way, the big name university camp is no better than the small college camp), to YMCA/YWCA leagues and open gyms, to private individual/small group lessons with club coaches, the opportunity is there to increase skills. Even as simple as having three of your friends together and finding a beach volleyball court to play, getting better after club volleyball is done is possible.

If your daughter has a solid grasp of the volleyball fundamentals, can perform these skill sets in a consistent manner, and will project herself in outgoing/positive way, then she should have no problem making her high school team. Remember that high school teams are like a pyramid - big on the bottom and each level up gets smaller. This is why the Freshman group usually has a couple of teams or a large roster, then a big JV team and finally a smaller Varsity roster. High school coaches understand that not all young kids develop at the same pace and the last thing they want is for a potential varsity impact player to be cut as a freshman.

My strong suggestion is to keep things positive, to lift up your daughter and DO NOT FOCUS on negative issues. Put her in a position to keep increasing her skill sets through camps, clinics, lessons and summer leagues when Club Volleyball has finished.

Good Luck.

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