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-of-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.
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.