As a NCAA Head Coach, my most important responsibility was recruiting (you can be a poor coach but a great recruiter and have a job for a long, long time). Recruiting is pursuing the Prospective Student-Athletes (PSA) along with developing relationships with club coaches. In today's accelerated recruiting cycle, it is by club coach relationships that college coaches are able to gain early access to PSA's and parents. With the title of NCAA Head Coach, both of these groups (club coaches/families) tended to be on their best behavior around me and did not 'open' up too much about ancillary club volleyball issues. In my book, Inside College Volleyball, club volleyball and its challenges/opportunities is one of the main topics.
Now that I have joined NCSA Athletic Recruiting to lead their volleyball business relationships and serve as their national speaker for volleyball, it has provided me a different perspective on club volleyball coaches and parents. This NCSA perspective is a more personal; at my talks and via collegevolleyballcoach.com, I have a number of parents sharing feelings/opinions about club volleyball. In addition, club coaches are now a bit more relaxed around me and when in social situations, I am privy to conversations about their players/parents.
Club Volleyball can be a challenging situation for the coaches and the families. Specifically, it is a team sport and as such, there are certain principles of a team which must be followed. But, the parents (or players) pay a fee to play with the club and since they pay, they have certain rights (either specified or implied) when it comes to participation concerns (or needs).
This situation is the reason that I have not coached club and have stayed within the collegiate coaching ranks. As the head coach, there is a certain way I will conduct my program. Should a player not live up to my expectations, or if a player is not satisfied with their experience, I have the final say in participation because I control the money (as the representative of the athletic department). If I was a club coach, I would not be comfortable with this type of benevolent dictatorship because the family has paid for the right to participate, which provides them an accommodation.
Club volleyball is a balance between the needs of the team, as led by the coach, and the needs of the player, as represented by the family (parents). When successful, this balance is a collaboration which yields a wonderful experience. When unsuccessful, there is no collaboration and it is a disappointing experience and expensive for all.
I view myself as a neutral observer; I have not coached club volleyball and I don't have a child playing club volleyball. With this United Nations stance, a few suggestions/observations for both parties:
1. Club programs, and by default club coaches, need to define the importance of winning. Is the goal of the team to win at all times or is the goal of the team to develop player talent? Is there some combination of these two objectives, dependent upon each event or certain times within each event.
2. Parents need to define what they expect for their child (or what their child expects) of their club volleyball experience. Is it to be on a winning team, is it to develop skill sets, is it to obtain a college playing opportunity, is it to experience the social dynamics? It is rare to achieve all of these within club volleyball because each club is different and each each player/family is different.
3. Communication must be very good in the tryout process. The club needs to communicate what their goals and philosophy is, so parents can make an informed decision about participating. Parents need to be clear about their expectations of the club, and specifically their needs (or their child's needs) when they participate.
It is at this stage that many future problems are created because there is not effective communication. Too many times, the details are not clear and as we all know, the devil is in the details.
- Is the team a national team or regional team?
- Will a player need to play MB, even though she is an OH?
- What is the missed practice policy for affecting court time?
- What are the steps for addressing playing time concerns for players?
- What are the steps for addressing training effort concerns for coaches?
- Is there a certain formula for playing time or is it the best six play at all times?
- Can a player receive training in one position, even though they may play another position?
- How involved or supportive is the club in the recruiting process?
- What is the grievance protocol?
- Is there an opt-out process should a player or the team not be satisfied?
These are all items which should be addressed before the season begins, because these are all items which will come up in some fashion with the coach/player/parents.
4. Coaches need to understand that parents are imperfect and often times, irrational creatures. Why? Because they are parents. I have witnessed good friends of mine, whom I know are intelligent and balanced, become irrational when it comes to their children. Parents can easily become overprotective mama and papa bears with our babies. This need to understand applies to collegiate coaches; it took me awhile to comprehend that no matter if the stats showed a freshman OH hitting .110 and passing the least in her position with three senior OH's ahead of her, the parents could not understand why she was not starting and angry about it.
5. Parents need to understand that their child is not the only focus of the club team/coach and there are times, often many times, that things will not be perfect. There is a certain ebb and flow to the season and parents that get too high or too low, create unnecessary drama for their child. If there are significant issues, then these should be addressed adult to adult and in the proper environment. Parents and coaches need to remain the grown-ups and not devolve into some high school drama show. Too many times, parents are complaining to other parents, being as cliquish as anything we see on Bravo, having a poor attitude and a sour look on their face.
Parents should also realize that their children can often times swim on their own, and manage their own challenges. I reference this because of my NCSA education talks at recruiting combines. At the combines in which I speak, the parents are not allowed into the gym to observe the combine. With this situation, there are usually a few upset parents, but I have yet to see upset athletes. At some combines, I will address the players and when I mention that their parents won't be in the gym to watch, I am always surprised how happy this rule makes so many players!
6. Because the parents (or players) pay for the right to play, they have the right to express their concerns about their daughter's experience. Club coaches must accept this fact, no matter how much they may not want to. If you pay for a product or service, you have the right to question the quality of that product or service.
But, questioning is different than just complaining and being rude about it. We have all seen that one person in a restaurant or department store who is just a jerk because they are not happy or something is not perfect. That type of parent in club volleyball is toxic to the team and their daughter.
If you have a concern, as a parent, you should be clear in what the issue is, be clear about why you feel this is an issue (provide details or examples) and allow the club coach/director to present their observations about your concern. Then suggest a solution and be open to their suggestion of a solution. Just complaining does not fix the problem, and being inflexible about a solution won't fix the problem.
7. When I hear club coaches vent about athletes, their number one issue is the attitude of the player and secondarily, the practice effort. A family paying a fee does not automatically guarantee equal playing time and coaching support. Coaches are aware of which players work hard and have a good attitude; these are the players which will receive more playing time. Paying the club fee does not entitle your child to act like a spoiled brat, or to just show up and play. The club volleyball team is still a team, and team principles must apply.
Club volleyball can be a wonderful opportunity for young athletes. It teaches volleyball skills, creates a social environment for players and parents, exposes players to different regions and cultures of our country, and can result in the chance to play college volleyball, along with potentially receiving a scholarship. But, it is not perfect and managing the challenges in a mature, adult manner is critical to an enjoyable experience.