Home / Coaching / The Challenge of Coaching at Small Clubs – Practice and Tournaments

The Challenge of Coaching at Small Clubs – Practice and Tournaments

I received an email from a coach asking for feedback about players that miss practices and tournaments when part of a small club. In theory, the principle of missing practice and tournaments at a small or large club should be the same, but there are some unique instances that always spring-up. Following is my reply. Your feedback on this subject is appreciated too.

Missing practices and tournaments with a small club will always be a delicate balancing act. There is no real competition for girls to lose their roster spot, so certain concessions are inevitable. As you know, it spirals into a terrible precedent for the others on the team (what’s good for one, the others follow). Take a look for a moment, outside the small city in which you live, and the small club environment you are accustom to coaching. Check-out Northern Lights Juniors Club, the premiere club in Minneapolis. They own an 8 court training facility, including a state-Northern Lights Volleyball Clubof-the-art weight room. Each age group (12 – 18) is at least 3 teams deep. The dues can be as high as $3,500 per season. This type of club obviously has other issues, but missing practices and tournaments (which is flights around the country) isn’t considered. When someone is there to take your spot, you make practice, and missing a tournament is never an option. The underlying internal competition is what makes Minnesota volleyball great.

But when kids grow up in their “bubble”, the real world is not relevant. Making two practices a week, should not be an issue and tournaments are scheduled out enough time in advance. It comes down to what these kids really want and how do you motivate these kids that are raised in an unique environment? All kids at these small clubs will tell you they want to play volleyball in college, but they will also tell you that they want to be a professional golfer and celebrity actress too. Their parents are paying for them to take lessons in everything, and the local papers rave about their accomplishments, so they must be the next in line to be Annika Sorenstam and Jennifer Anniston. All they have to do is show-up…when they want to.

There obviously needs to be a paradigm shift for most of these kids to learn how to struggle and fight for what they want, but that will happen when the beach erodes. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions, but you know the overwhelming majority. Am I preaching to the choir?

So what’s the answer? I believe it is difficult to reign in the leash in the middle of the season. The precedent has to be set at the beginning of the season. From purely a coach’s perspective, it is great that kids were cut this past season at tryouts, the competition is good for them. I’m sure the girls that wanted to make a team didn’t miss a tryout? The problem is after tryouts is over, they enter the “safe zone”. Its during the initial organizational meeting, throughout tryouts, and at the first parent meeting announcements about missing practices and tournaments will not be tolerated. It needs to be followed-up with a written letter to the parents outlining the team guidelines, including the part of the Player/Parent Handbook about missing practices which they signed. Following is a letter that was written, in the most part, by Terry Pettit, University of Nebraska Hall of Fame Coach, to parents that was adopted by us at Georgia Southern. Along with this letter was an NCAA packet of rules and GSU Volleyball Team Guidelines.

Dear Eagle Volleyball Parents:

When your daughter comes to Georgia Southern University, I pledge that we will use all our resources to give her the opportunity to develop into an outstanding volleyball player, student, and citizen.

We will treat her the same way that we would like our own child to be treated, which means that there will be times when she will be challenged, encouraged and pushed to do things beyond what she believes she is capable. We will not physically or mentally abuse her. We will not ‘run her off’ to another school when we have the opportunity to recruit someone with more talent. This is our commitment to you.

Here is the commitment we need from you, the parents: There will be times in your daughter’s collegiate career where she may be frustrated, anxious, or angry for any of the following reasons. She may find the expectations more than she anticipated. She may be asked to play a role on the team that is not the one she dreamed. She may not enjoy competing every day against other athletes as skilled and talented as she is. She may not yet have an appreciation for delayed gratification. She may interpret information as judgment. She may long for something else that appears easier or more comfortable. She may be overwhelmed by a combination of these factors.

If she is, then she is having a normal college experience that is typical for someone who is moving through adolescence to adulthood. While this happens, there will come a moment when she calls, emails, or texts you and wants to do one of the following: leave school and come home, transfer to another school, or organize a plot to get us fired.

I need you to make a commitment that when your daughter calls you will listen, you will communicate your love for her, and then you will tell her to get back to the tough business of growing up and becoming accountable for the challenges that she is lucky enough to have before her.

If you cannot make this commitment, then you need to look at other options. If you can, fasten your seatbelt and welcome aboard.

Sincerely,

Of course, with this letter, we still had issues. This at least set a foundation. My second year coaching club at Low Country Volleyball Club in South Carolina (we had three teams in our entire club), I had to let a couple kids go during the season because of practice and tournament absences (among other issues). As a young coach, this was a gut wrenching decision, but a blessing in disguise. Principles must be upheld. So, we ended the season with 6 players. These 6 players and parents were much happier after the removal of the less committed kids. Coaching was much more enjoyable (knowing how many would show up at practice was a pleasure!) and we ended up winning the USAV Palmetto Region Power Division that year. There is a lot to be said for kids that want it versus those playing for other reasons.

In my opinion, a balance between being too demanding and too lenient must be determined. The rules of the club must be public, gone over (sometimes many times) and enforced. Sometimes your team might have specific situations and policies outside the club guidelines. The player and parents of the team must aware of these situations and maybe even allowed to meet together about them. It is also crucial that the the club director is involved and backs your decision.

In a tough economic time, especially for club volleyball, you have great empathy for the parents. I appreciate that, but look outside the bubble, look at a majority of the clubs across the country. These parents are not paying even half of what these other clubs charge. You coach club, just as I always have, on a volunteer basis. These parents don’t know how good they got it.

12 comments

  1. Great blog. I coach at a smaller club which, in a good year, has two teams for each age level – select and club. However, most that play on the club team do so for a number of reasons – financial, commitment (both weekly and length of season), and others. There are times when players are placed on the club teams since there is not a role for them on the select team.

    I currently coach younger girls, 14’s, and we run into choir practices, band concerts, etc. which conflict with our practice time. It is encouraging to see players show up to practice right after their school event in order to get whatever practice time they can get. That shows their commitment.

    I have a harder time with those who go on vacation during the season. I understand that spring break vacations are now the norm but it can do a disservice to those players who remain. To miss a play-date or tournament affects both the team and the player. I hope as the player grows older they, and their parents, will weigh the “now” gratification of going on such a trip against their commitments to the team.

    For most girls in our club at this age it is their first experience at serious competitive volleyball. Some will not be back to play at this level in the future as they may see that it is more than they want. Which is fine. Better to understand that now than to move forward and be constantly conflicted between self and team.

  2. Great blog. I coach at a smaller club which, in a good year, has two teams for each age level – select and club. However, most that play on the club team do so for a number of reasons – financial, commitment (both weekly and length of season), and others. There are times when players are placed on the club teams since there is not a role for them on the select team.

    I currently coach younger girls, 14’s, and we run into choir practices, band concerts, etc. which conflict with our practice time. It is encouraging to see players show up to practice right after their school event in order to get whatever practice time they can get. That shows their commitment.

    I have a harder time with those who go on vacation during the season. I understand that spring break vacations are now the norm but it can do a disservice to those players who remain. To miss a play-date or tournament affects both the team and the player. I hope as the player grows older they, and their parents, will weigh the “now” gratification of going on such a trip against their commitments to the team.

    For most girls in our club at this age it is their first experience at serious competitive volleyball. Some will not be back to play at this level in the future as they may see that it is more than they want. Which is fine. Better to understand that now than to move forward and be constantly conflicted between self and team.

  3. Its awesome you are coaching too! I didn’t realize it and that club is lucky to have you!

    Club Volleyball has gotten way out of hand with time commitments. These poor girls are playing year round (especially the top girl – look at Harms, Dixon, Whitman – with the USA Jr. Team commitments). They have no personal time, no down-time, and these kids are coming into college programs with overuse injuries. Its a shame.

    Another scary fact is that at 14 years old, if they aren’t already serious, they are already at a disadvantage. Only those physical prodigies like Foluke Akinradewo (who never played club) have a chance to pick it up late. And Foluke was a middle, so there isn’t the need to learn ‘touch’ as a OH or libero.

    Junior development needs some reform. I know the JVDA has some great ideas, with the AVCA’s backing, but there’s a long way to go.

    I think you are doing the right thing by giving these girls their space. Only a handful of those you coach will play in college. Let them have a life too 🙂

  4. Its awesome you are coaching too! I didn’t realize it and that club is lucky to have you!

    Club Volleyball has gotten way out of hand with time commitments. These poor girls are playing year round (especially the top girl – look at Harms, Dixon, Whitman – with the USA Jr. Team commitments). They have no personal time, no down-time, and these kids are coming into college programs with overuse injuries. Its a shame.

    Another scary fact is that at 14 years old, if they aren’t already serious, they are already at a disadvantage. Only those physical prodigies like Foluke Akinradewo (who never played club) have a chance to pick it up late. And Foluke was a middle, so there isn’t the need to learn ‘touch’ as a OH or libero.

    Junior development needs some reform. I know the JVDA has some great ideas, with the AVCA’s backing, but there’s a long way to go.

    I think you are doing the right thing by giving these girls their space. Only a handful of those you coach will play in college. Let them have a life too 🙂

  5. I agree about the club season. I think back a couple of years ago when I spoke with Kreklow’s mother at the state tournament. Kreklow started her high school season the second week of August, played in the state tournament, had JO try-outs the day after the tournament concluded, started practice the next day, played thru the JO nationals in July, played with the YNT right after for two weeks, attended a camp after that, had about two weeks off and then started the new HS season. I think it’s just too much.

    I don’t know why the JO season can’t conclude Memorial Day weekend. Give the girls a month or so off to heal, refresh, and be kids.

  6. I agree about the club season. I think back a couple of years ago when I spoke with Kreklow’s mother at the state tournament. Kreklow started her high school season the second week of August, played in the state tournament, had JO try-outs the day after the tournament concluded, started practice the next day, played thru the JO nationals in July, played with the YNT right after for two weeks, attended a camp after that, had about two weeks off and then started the new HS season. I think it’s just too much.

    I don’t know why the JO season can’t conclude Memorial Day weekend. Give the girls a month or so off to heal, refresh, and be kids.

  7. I agree. I hear rumors its money driving, but I’m not in the know enough to even speculate. The grapevine continues to talk too much volleyball, but I haven’t seen a change yet. I hope it happens soon. Coach’s included can get burned out.

  8. I agree. I hear rumors its money driving, but I’m not in the know enough to even speculate. The grapevine continues to talk too much volleyball, but I haven’t seen a change yet. I hope it happens soon. Coach’s included can get burned out.

  9. I really think its the parents job to regulate this issue on an individual basis. Even with reform, to allow the most opportunities possible, it just means you will play more tournaments in a shorter period of time, making each season more demanding on the athlete. What about those that play beach also, or in high school many female athletes play both volleyball and basketball at the same time. I have a friend that turned down playing for the National A2 team while in college based on this. Was it a great opportunity, of course. Was it a once in a lifetime chance, probably. But, the decision was made.

    On the other hand, if your daughter/son wants to play on their own accord, it is going to be hard to stop them. Some girls play volleyball every season from age 12 and have no injuries throughout their entire career. Should we stop having tournaments based on the ones that get injured?

    Back to missing practices and such… From a financial standpoint I think that clubs have a hard time cutting kids. Especially in a small club, it is hard to give away $250-$600 dollars per month. I don’t know how you did it Chuck.

  10. I really think its the parents job to regulate this issue on an individual basis. Even with reform, to allow the most opportunities possible, it just means you will play more tournaments in a shorter period of time, making each season more demanding on the athlete. What about those that play beach also, or in high school many female athletes play both volleyball and basketball at the same time. I have a friend that turned down playing for the National A2 team while in college based on this. Was it a great opportunity, of course. Was it a once in a lifetime chance, probably. But, the decision was made.

    On the other hand, if your daughter/son wants to play on their own accord, it is going to be hard to stop them. Some girls play volleyball every season from age 12 and have no injuries throughout their entire career. Should we stop having tournaments based on the ones that get injured?

    Back to missing practices and such… From a financial standpoint I think that clubs have a hard time cutting kids. Especially in a small club, it is hard to give away $250-$600 dollars per month. I don’t know how you did it Chuck.

  11. I just stumbled onto this blog. I figured I would start at the start. I love the letter that the GSU coach sends out to parents. As a long-time high school coach (and a former JO coach too), I am going to revamp it for my purposes, run it by my AD and hopefully use a version for my parents.

  12. Thanks for stumbling Matt. That letter is a modified Terry Pettit letter. We like to ‘share’ ideas in volleyball 🙂

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