April 4, 2012

Early Specialization of Volleyball Skills and Wednesday Webinar

Yes, yes, yes.....it is true!!!!! Tonight marks the return of the Wednesday Webinar after a one week vacation (it was Spring Break week and even webinars need some vacation days!)

Tonight's topic is The Unofficial Visit!

To join in this webinar, please cut and past this link:


Then Click Guest and type in your name or something non-identifying yet amusing to the webinar participants.

As simple as a free ball pass!!!


Because of a conversation I have been having with a Puerto Rican friend of mine, I wanted to share my thoughts about the too early specialization of skill sets within club volleyball.

I have written extensively in my book, Inside College Volleyball, about different training systems and training suggestions for volleyball player positions.  As a tangent to this, I am concerned because too many players are being slotted into specific volleyball skill set training environments at an early age.  A negative consequence of this early focus on primary position skills, is if a player physically moves into another position definition, they are ill prepared to succeed.

For example - the 12/13 year old middle blocker.  All too often, the club training and playing environment means that these players do not practice or play in the back row.  The MB practice skill sets, are those which will just be used by that player within their narrow match responsibilities.  Because of this, the young middle blockers do not have the opportunity to develop their passing and defensive skills. This is great as long as that tall 13 year old continues to be one of the taller players in her age range; if she is able to play collegiate volleyball, it will be a front row volleyball life.

What happens if this same player was just an earlier grower, and now by her freshman/sophomore year, all the other attackers have surpassed her height?  The natural step is to move her to the outside spot.  Sound great, except she is not prepared to be a successful outside hitter because she has not laid the passing and defensive foundation.  You can't learn passing late, you can't just start playing defense.

Another example is the Defensive Specialist/Libero.  Same analogy.....she is short so she only plays the back row, and does not receive the opportunity to work on her front row skills.  What about if she grows late?  She will be a great passing OH, who can't attack or block very well because of her stilted training environment.

These two instances are not the fault of the players; they do what they are told to do and most parents don't understand the nuances of the game.  This is the fault of the coaches and the environment of club volleyball.  There is too much value placed upon winning at early ages, as opposed to using these young years to develop the breadth of skills applicable to playing volleyball.

Contrary to what may be interpreted by my writing, I am not against the Libero.  But rather, I am against the early use of the Libero.  If winning becomes a pleasant by product of youth volleyball, as opposed to the focus, then middles can get passing repetitions in practice, can actually experience what life feels like north of the 3 meter line.  The shorter, ball control groms can block and attack and move within the outside hitter patterns if everyone is not trying to win some no name tourney which everyone, including that crazy aunt who remembers everything, will forget in 4 months.

A reminder of the wrath of position training gone wrong, is when we see an older age group team having to use players out of position because of injury or the prom.  It is disheartening to watch just how out of balance the team is, how helpless the coach looks and how ill prepared the players are to move outside of their all too narrow court comfort zones.

If I was Zeus of the VolleyWorld, then I would mandate only 3 substitutions per game and no Libero until the 16's year of club volleyball.  By this time frame, a player's physical development would be nearer to done than developing.  My Zeus Rule would allow players to play front row and back row, to develop all around skill sets, and to display which skill sets they are the most adept at.  I have a hard time believing there would be any negative consequences.....maybe the middle blockers knees don't hurt as much because she has not had to take an extra 9000 jumps in practice because she is only allowed to do front row stuff?  The DS/Libero still can pass, and play defense, but now she has also been able to hit.  Hitting is a good thing, just ask any college Libero!!!

I would also cast a spell on all players/parents/coaches, that made winning just like a sunny day in the summer; nice but no big deal.  If we take the focus off of winning, then we can concentrate on becoming better volleyball players and enjoy the great family experience called club volleyball.  It just turns my stomach when I hear parents anguishing that their daughter's team lost match, and she is in the 14's division.  Or worse, to see a parent's body language around their child after a match which has no real value.  If winning was not important, then these losing efforts would be seen for what they should be seen as, as opportunity to learn and develop.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Coach,

    Your thoughts on this subject really hit close to home.  The scenarios you mentioned actually occurred in one of our tournaments this year. 

    Daughter started out as middle blocker in 12s last year due to height and ability. No back row training. This club year she moved up to 14s and moved over to OH. Fortunately for us, we trained over last summer and it included back row training.  In the tourney,  daughter played back row  due to injury and absence of the starting back row player. Daughter was amazing.   The summer training combined with her eagerness to play and heightened court sense (like reading the possibility the OH's hit might get blocked and fall on our side beyond the hitter's ability to recover)   made her a standout fill-in defensive player.  She was able to exhibit some skills the coach may not have recalled until he  had to prep for the tourney.  Previously, he had focused only on the one position he had in mind for her, and since she was not the "tallest", she  sat the bench.    Had she not had the training in overall skills the team would have suffered and probably not had done as well in the tournament as they did.

    Her change in growth pattern in comparison to the changes in others makes her one of of the less tall OHs on a team that runs deep in this position.  Her abilities and summer training allowed for her to work as a utility player in this tournament.   Might not be glamourous right now but it gives her a better chance to play in games instead of looking on from the bench. She still prefers being OH but she is open to the fact she will grow in skills in other areas and be the go to gal in a pinch.   I'm sure by 16s  when her body has grown more and has been groomed  into a more powerful athlete, she will be an amazing OH with all around skills ---- able to pass nails like a DS,  be a strategic backup setter, hit a pike with power and block like a wall.   All this is only possible by training in her"uncomfort" zones now.

    Your knowledge of the game and the back story most of us have no clue about, gives us, her parents, confidence to make less  popular decisions that ultimately will guide us in the right direction.  Thanks so much.....

    Proud and appreciative volleyball parents!


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