November 12, 2010

The Role of Club Volleyball?

Hi Coach,

To echo the statements of previous readers, I very much appreciate your blog and the insights it offers.

I am a club director (and coach) of an organization which has made the transition from more of a Regional club to at National club as the ability level of our athletes has warranted. I am happy to say that in recent years, we are routinely sending players to strong volleyball programs across the county at all variety of levels. As I see it, it is the role of club volleyball to help prepare its players for the next step in their careers. That may be simply making their Varsity High School team or going on to play in a top DI program. To that end, I am interested in your thoughts on the following questions:

- At what age level should the club engage and educate PSAs and parents about the college recruiting process?

- What are some of the things that a club and its coaches can do to best assist a PSA decide if college volleyball is right for them and achieve that goal should they choose to?

- How important is strength / agility training for potential PSAs? As opposed to volleyball skills training? Do you have a recommended ratio?

- If there was one thing that club programs could do to better prepare PSAs for their respective college programs, what would it be?

- If there was one thing that you could change about club volleyball, what would it be?

Any other thoughts you may have on the topic are certainly welcome and appreciated. Thanks for all that you do!


Thank you for your set of questions - As crazy as this may seem, this is the first set of direct questions about the role of clubs not via a VolleyFamily.

It is an interesting/challenging time for the club system of youth volleyball in the USA. There are so many dynamics in play - Cost, Travel, Facilities, College Recruiting Pressure, Sand Volleyball, High School Volleyball Conflicts, USA Volleyball/AVCA/JVA/AAU Sponsorship Organizations - Quite the beast.

In answering JR's questions - I will try to blend my professional impressions, along with my biased opinions. Don't know it will provide the clarity which many of us want in life and olive oil, but it will be sincere.

- Educate? I believe there should be a tiered system of education provided to players/parents. For those players in the junior high school age range (into 8th grade), there should be a basic update about NCAA rules (freshman year of high school is when the NCAA kicks in all its rules and the player now becomes a PSA) and the typical recruiting time frames for high school, but this should be lightly touched upon - In a sense, the clubs should be communicating that "this is what will happen, but don't worry about it now, just play volleyball". The main push should be to encourage skill development, so when it comes time to pursue recruiting, the talent is there.

The in-depth education about college volleyball recruiting should be done over the Holidays of the freshman year in high school. This will provide the families a more detailed understanding of the time frames, NCAA rules, current trends, etc. The freshman year can still be a year of innocence and should be because the physical abilities are still developing. What we want to stay away from is the peer pressure panic associated with the game of college volleyball recruiting. Sure, the polo wearing crew is stalking those freshman courts but no coach in their right mind is going to offer a freshman in high school just because of all the skill development or lack of development still coming. The Sophomore year is the start of the craziness, which will continue through until high school graduation for many PSA's.

- Assist? The best thing club coaches can do, other than develop talent, is to provide honest feedback about player ability. VolleyFamilies need to be told, even if they don't listen, about the strengths and weaknesses of the PSA and how this affects their college volleyball options. It can be a tough thing to tell a PSA she is a mid-level DII player, because we don't want to place a ceiling upon a PSA's goals. Also, VolleyFamilies are paying a lot for club, so there is the said or unsaid pressure to please VolleyFamilies upon club coaches and directors - Many small white lies can be told by club coaches and directors to avoid the painful truth which will eventually arrive.

After straight up feedback, the club coaches need to continue the 'how to' of the recruiting process based upon this feedback. If you tell a PSA they are DII, then provide the 'how to' of contacting DII programs and what to look for at a DII program on a Official/Unofficial Visit. Let them know that the DII facilities won't look like an ESPN show on Ohio State Athletics and that is OK.

- Training? Strength and agility training is overdone at the early ages, and it negatively impacts skill development. The majority of International players who arrive to the USA for college volleyball really have no concept of the physical lifting and agility routines we do, yet many times they are significantly ahead in volleyball skills, intelligence and ultimately competitive ability. I have been at schools where the USA players laughed at the Internationals who can't lift the bar on a bench press, but it is these same International players which were starting while the USA kids were shagging water on the bench.

It is my humble opinion that the lifting/agility/power/speed fad is a result of football, and it is an easy thing to do. What takes more effort - Having club players do squats/bench/ladders or working on passing technique and punching a thousand balls?

What is ironic, is that rally score volleyball puts a premium on ball control/volleyball skills and devalues fitness. Ironic because more and more time seems to be spent on fitness routines which reduces time with the ball. Back in the glorious past of my youth and sideout scoring, you had to be strong and in shape because matches could last a long, long time. Now, with rally scoring, the games finish very quickly (stats have put current rally score games, if scored under side score at around 6 to 8 points per team; those of you old enough to have played side out score, can you imagine being told you are going to play games to 7? Anarchy!) and we still have the same number of timeouts. Since our current system penalizes every mistake, reducing these mistakes is paramount. Are mistakes made because a player can't squat 250 lbs or power clean the Libero, or are points dropped because a player can't dig the ball into the 3 meter zone or can't hit line to tool the block?

On this point, many college coaches could easily disagree with me, but I support a very limited fitness or strength routine for high school players - Just enough to keep good lung capacity and to have the major muscle groups strong enough to fight off repetitive stress injuries. I believe that the overwhelming percentage of gym time should be devoted to volleyball skill development - a 90/10 mix of volleyball to fitness and never more than 80/20. Once a player gets to college, we will get them stronger because of our NFL lifting facilities. But it is much, much harder to get their passing skills to Chinese Libero quality if they were busy doing the PX 90 workout instead touching the ball in club.

- Prepare? Don't overplay. I think that the 17's and 18's age group play way, way too much. By the 18th year, club players have been pounding on cement courts for a long time and start to wear out. Half injured players arriving to campus drives college coaches bonkers (half injured is like tendinitis, stress fracture, bad backs, etc. - not enough to keep a player out, but to keep them from making an impact). When college coaches commit/scholarship a player, we know what skill sets we are getting and we don't expect the club to 'microwave' them into something else. What we do expect is for them to have a solid touch on the ball and be healthy.

- Prepare II? If I could have another 'one thing', it would be to educate the club player that college is a different beast. The most basic difference is that parents don't pay for the player's right to play volleyball (even with walk ons) and therefore, the college coach is the boss. Period. One of the biggest challenges college coaches have is to deal with the club mentality arriving onto campus - Not everyone plays, you can be a stud and sit the bench for 3 years, if the college coach wants to feed you Taco Bell after a match then you are eating Taco Bell, Mom and Dad have zero influence upon college coaches and will do more damage trying to intervene in any way with volleyball issues, you have to work hard every day or you will easily be gone, (generalizing this) but college coaches care only about volleyball, grades and making sure you are safe (not your social life, not how you are feeling, not if you are having a good day, not if you are going on a vacation, not if you had a long night of studying, not if you are tired from lifting, not if you don't feel like diving today, not if you just want to coast in practice). College coaches do not cater to athletes and families; at least not the ones who run good volleyball programs - The good college coaches treat you like young adults who are being paid (either in scholarships or opportunity) to play volleyball. College Volleyball is a privilege not an entitlement.

Prepare, III? (OK, I know I am pushing the limit here!) Once a PSA commits to a college, then the club focus should change to physically preparing the player for college volleyball. This is a conscious change - Initially the club role was to develop volleyball skill sets and team dynamics (learning as an individual to function and excel within the team dynamic), then the club moves into providing exposure/support to the players seeking college playing opportunities, then the final stage is to volleyball prepare the athlete for the transition to the collegiate game. The preparation should be centered upon volleyball skills - Pass better, block better, hit better. An example - I once took over a program where a freshman scholarship player could not dive and roll. No kidding; in the first week of practice, she asked me to teach her how to roll - This was a SA who came through a recognized club system in the greater Midwest and they did not teach her how to roll. This is something the club should have taught or corrected before she came to my DI school. If a MB has poor transition footwork, the club should make it better before she comes to college. If an OH can't hit line, then the club needs to work on this - I view the responsibility of VolleyFamilies to ensure the money they are spending on 18's club to be used towards skill development for collegiate success.

Change? I would change the length of the season and number of tournaments - Basically the format of club volleyball. The current system eliminates any off-season for high school age volleyball players and drastically limits their non-volleyball interests. Additionally, the players are playing way too much; I have been receiving club season schedules of PSA's where they are playing many, many weekends in a row, along with traveling cross country for the big tournaments and/or National Qualifiers.

Why the change the format - The number of tournaments and length of season create more injury opportunities. For some reason, the mass majority of serious injuries I witness are in competitive situations versus practice. In addition to serious injury, players physically wear down, repetitive stress injuries crop up, they mentally start to burn out - Think about the sheer length of the season; from late November to early July for elite clubs; this is over a 7 month season for 12 to 18 year old kids. Secondly, you get better in volleyball by practicing, not by playing, especially with rally score which penalizes mistakes. You get better by making mistakes, then figuring out how to not make these mistakes and you figure out how to not make mistakes in practice. If you are playing all the time, then you are not practicing as intensely or as often because teams will want to be fresh for competition.

If I could throw a third comment into this, and I can since it is my site, it would be that the club format devalues competition. Playing matches is like candy - When you eat candy all the time, it is not special. When you only get something sweet occasionally, you will savor the flavor. Club teams play so much, that there is nothing special about playing matches - I would even go so far as to extend this to the National Qualifiers because teams have played 4 weekends straight leading up to the Qualifier and there are 29 Qualifiers now - The juice or adrenaline of the National Qualifier has been diminished.

Many VolleyFolks comment on the intensity the International players show during college matches, how they seem to have big energy and play with tremendous passion as compared to the USA players - This is the difference in youth volleyball formats. International youth teams don't play nearly the amount of matches and are stunned when the USA players talk about club volleyball - the Internationals are envious of the facilities but not the number of matches. The international teams will play tournaments which are broken into multiple weekends and seldom, if ever, play more than one match a day. These international teams will practice for a month between competitions, there is only one or two big tournaments a year. This creates the mentality that matches are special and the players have practiced for a long time to be able to play in this one match, which results in tremendous intensity on both sides of the net.

If I could leave the VolleyFolk with one club volleyball impression, it would be Balance. Too much of anything is not good Balance and when you lose your stumble.

1 comment:

  1. This is very good information and a good path to follow!


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