It’s 5PM on a Monday night as I pull up to Hopewell Baptist Church. There are a few cars in the parking lot already because tonight is the first night of youth volleyball training. As I step out of my car eager heads turn to see who’s heading in. It’s raining, so I give a wave, then jog into the gym and immediately start setting up the nets. By 5:30PM the gym is full of young girls anxious to start their first Crossfire Ignite volleyball session, 2 hours of learning a new game! There is a wide range of talent, height, size, athleticism, beginners to some experience, fourth through eighth graders, all hoping volleyball might be the sport for them. Keep in mind this program is designed for beginners, so a portion of this group may have never played volleyball before, or any sport for that matter. This program is building THE FUTURE!
Our job is to create a fun and challenging team environment where all kids experience SUCCESS and fall in love with the sport so everyone wants to come back. Anyone who has kids or works with kids understands that this is no easy task, so how do we start with this wide range of individuals to eventually transform them into strong minded, team oriented, powerful young ladies ready to compete in volleyball tournaments and use what they learned from team sports to be contributing members in the next generation of society. We are not just teaching them volleyball, but how to run, jump, skip, throw a ball, etc. WE TEACH KIDS HOW TO BE ATHLETES! These kids could spend the next 4-10 years playing for the club; as coaches, we could play a HUGE ROLE in their lives and watch them grow up! Not to mention their parents may spend upwards of $3,000 a year to play with us!
Day one is one of the most exciting. This is our first session of our second year running the program, so there are some familiar faces and a strong showing of Cherokee Christian girls, where I help coach the middle school teams. We begin with the typical dynamic volleyball warm up, add some extra movement to test their athleticism, then bring them in to talk about “ready” position and what their passing platform looks like. Kids have short attention spans, so we explain key points with an athlete demonstrating what they’re supposed to do, then put them through several footwork sequences. It is important that the athlete demonstrating can set a good example for everyone, so we must be wise when choosing and make an adjustment when necessary.
Next, we move on to playing with a volleyball. We already know “ready” position. We have an idea of how to move on the court. We know how to make our platform, it’s time to try some passing! Everyone gets a ball and passes to themselves. Right away it is obvious who gets it and who doesn’t. The coaches spread out and focus on the kids who need the most help. If the whole group is struggling with the same thing, we stop and quickly demonstrate what to correct. We continue to pass for a few more minutes, then progress to moving and passing up and down the court. Next we introduce partner drills. We explain how to be a good partner by being a “good tosser” and of course, making an effort. Partner drills are great because the kids love them and they can get a lot of repetitions in a short amount of time. Sometimes you may have a kid who needs extra help, or have an odd number, so one of your coaches may end up having to be a partner. Once we get through the partner drills, we break for water. We have several traditions when we come together, the first is that the girls all cheer as they’re coming into the huddle. This was established by the founder the Crossfire, Joe Auriemma. I LOVE this because it brings up the energy level and helps build positive culture. Once together, new groups must learn each other’s names/make new friends, so we have them meet 2 new people every time before getting water. We teach them how to look someone in the eyes, smile, shake their hand, and say, ” Hi my name is Sally.” After that, most groups would say “1, 2, 3, water!”, but after coaching with a good friend and mentor of mine Bert Blackburn, who didn’t understand the meaning of getting together to say “water”, I learned to implement the rule and have the girls say “hustle” or a fun word that they come up with to get them more focused and excited about the task at hand.
It is time to move on to the next skill, hitting! The first thing we need to do is test arm strength and the best way to do that is to see how far kids can throw. So, we start by having the girls throw and chasing their own ball. We briefly talk about hand contact, but really, we just want to see what everyone can do and let them experience hitting a ball before we get too specific. We introduce what the front row sets are called, get in 3 lines, and hit for a while. We then progress to passing and transitioning to hit. Once everyone starts to have some success we get water again, and have 15 minutes left to play mini games.
My favorite type of game to start with is short court/half court 1v1 or 2v2. As new athletes, most kids do not yet understand the concept of team and it takes some time for them to get it, so if you have too many kids on the team, they end up playing ping pong and it is not productive. Short court/half court allows the kids to get a lot of touches on the ball and it challenges them to move. Any form of the game is great, and you can make all kinds of different rules: 1 touch platform only, 2 touch setting only, 1 touch anything goes, 3 touch passing/setting only; jump when you play the ball over the net, etc. Be creative and make it fun! Choose a number, typically 11 is my favorite, once 1 person wins 11 times switch the format. With high numbers, play queen of the court. With low numbers, play to 3-5 points.
At Hopewell, there is a sweet lady named Miss Evonne who manages the gym. Miss Evonne always lets us know when our time is almost up, and we use every second we can. The girls come together for one more loud cheer, everyone helps put the equipment away, and the first night is done. It requires a lot of effort, energy, patience, and support to be successful with this type of group. My best advice is to be passionate and get kids to fall in love with the sport!