This blog is designed to educate parents/players that are new to the game and looking to get started. Maybe you moved from a different area, or your kid is looking for a new sport and their friends are playing volleyball.
It is important to research the clubs in your area to find out what the best fit is for your FAMILY. Club volleyball is a family commitment. It is a huge investment of time and money so this process should be taken seriously! Depending on the athlete’s skill level and when they get started will affect what clubs they will make a team for. The positive is there are over 100 clubs in the southeast (Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama) and the number continues to grow as more youth fall in love with volleyball.
Beginners Youth Training Program – Age 8 - 12: Find a local club with a youth volleyball training program. These programs are typically offered seasonally, and are twice a week, 4-8 weeks long and cost between $150-$300.
Tip: Look for a program that focuses on general skills before they start game play.
Beginners Club Team: Age 10 - 16: Kids tryout for teams based on their age and are offered a spot based on their skill level and athletic potential. Tryouts are in October – November. The season is typically December – April, 2 practices per week, 5-8 tournaments starting in mid-January, and cost between $1,000 - $3,000.
Tip: Find a team that looks like the athletes have a similar skill level and has a positive coach.
Competitive Club Team: Age 11 - 18: Yes, some start very young! Kids tryout for teams based on their age and are offered a spot based on their skill level and athletic potential. Tryouts are in October – November. The season is typically December – June, 2- 4 practices per week, 8 - 10 tournaments including travel tournaments, and cost between $2,500 - $5,000 per season.
Tip: Dive deeper into your research. At this level, it is no longer about playing with your friends, but playing on teams that best fit your level of commitment and dedication. Also, attend train for tryouts clinics and get to know the coaches.
Middle School Feeder Team: Age 12-14: Most High Schools have junior programs designed for kids to get involved at a younger age and start building the future! The middle school season is usually August – October. Since the sport is growing so fast, many schools do not have the capacity to take all the kids who want to play. If you do not make the middle school feeder team get involved with a beginners training program with a club.
High School Team: This is also getting more and more competitive. Not making the high school team can be devastating to players. Playing club will help you make the team! Coaches in Georgia can run tryouts at the end of May, and have preseason training throughout the summer. The actual season runs from August through the beginning of November if you make it to the state finals!
When working in TEAM youth sports, the hardest thing to do is keep EVERYONE happy. After all, parents are paying for a service and are expecting to see their kids do well and get some playing time. If they don’t have a POSITIVE EXPERIENCE, people can leave with a negative impact and the club could potentially lose business and create a lasting impression. So how can you effectively manage teams and better connect with your parents and players?
Here are some tips:
1. Create Healthy Competition
- Use numbers to your advantage by creating healthy competition
- Players need to know that they are competing for playing time. There may be players who rarely leave the court, but everyone has their moments of weakness.
- At any time, a player could get injured and someone else must step up and fill that role.
2. Establish a Role for Every Player on the Team
- How to do this depends on the potential of the team. Some athletes may have the potential to play multiple positions, others may be more specialized.
- Use 2 Liberos: If one is struggling there is another option. I like to use my 3rd or 4th back row specialist for the 2nd libero, so my 2nd best can play backrow for another position and anytime we have a good lead I can flip liberos to allow the 2nd libero more playing time.
- Use a Serving Specialist: Most teams have a utility player that may not regularly play unless one of the starters is having a bad day. That player can be the serving specialist, and can mentally prepare to come in to the game to serve some tough balls.
3. Train 2 Setters
- The setter position is probably most crucial to a team’s success. Identify what kind of offense is best suited for your team, and try multiple before making the final decision. It’s nice to have options, teams may run different offenses depending on their competition.
- Refer to healthy competition, if you only have one setter they may not work as hard knowing they’re going to play no matter what.
4. Have Player/Coach Meetings
- Meet with your players at least once a month to talk about their individual progress/contribution to the team
- You can ask players to come prepared with 3 things they’re doing well and 3 things they want to focus on improving most in the next month.
- Be open and honest with your players, explain things from a coach’s perspective and mentor them to be a great teammate
5. Create a Grading System
- For the 12’s team that Coach James “Buzz” Busby and I have the pleasure of coaching, we use a system called “ACE”. “ACE” stands for “Attitude, Communication, Effort”. Players are graded each practice on these three things on a scale from 1-5. 1- poor, 2- needs improvement, 3- average, 4-good, 5-excellent.
6. Be a Great Communicator
- Communication is really the key to success, and the hardest thing to do. Be open to speaking to parents and appreciate the time/money they invest in their kids!
1. Set the Expectations from the Start - My expectations during practice are as follows: respect/encourage each other, contribute maximum effort always and have fun. On the first night, we teach kids how to introduce themselves by shaking their hand, looking them in the eye, smiling, to say, “Hi my name is Sally.”
2. Always have a Plan – You might not follow it exactly, but it’s nice to have a guide in case your mind goes blank. My typical plan: movement, skill work, mini games, conditioning, review.
3. Focus on Low Numbers/Repetition - Design drills that are quick and easy to explain, do a demonstration, and let them work. Start with individual work, partner work, and finish with small groups.
4. Build on the Basics - Use drills that evolve from the fundamentals and have more challenging levels to build upon. Partner Passing Example: Catch/Toss, Catch/Pass, Pass/Pass, Catch/Toss Alternating Short and Deep, Catch/Pass, Pass/Pass.
5. Develop a Universal System – Everyone should call the ball the same way, call for sets the same way, have the same signs for the set calls, learn the same defenses, and the same serve receive, etc.
6. Emphasize Teamwork – Many young athletes do not understand the team concept and can take a while to catch on to positioning when the ball is not to them. Give high fives, shag balls together, do as much as a team as possible.
7. Avoid saying “Don’t” –– Anything you want to say negatively, flip to a positive. Example: Instead of saying “Don’t swing your platform.” Say, “Emily, hold your platform steady!”
8. Review the Session – Every kid should leave each session knowing they learned something new and with an eagerness to improve on their new knowledge.
9. Assign Homework - Keep it simple, but give them something to work on. Example: 100 ball touches every day and one footwork drill 3x.
10. Be Positive and Have fun! – Sometimes groups will be great, other times they may slack off. Be positive, have fun, and remember they are young kids trying to learn something new!
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!