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How Can We Make Club Volleyball Better For All Young Athletes?

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I’m going to assume that club volleyball teams want to live up to their published mission statements.  Generally speaking, they’re pretty lofty in terms of expressed goals, which tend to be focused on the development of young girls' characters through sportsmanship and team building and, along the way, the girl picks up enhanced volleyball skills from knowledgeable and respected coaches who have years of experience to share.

Here’s an example:  Club xxxxxxx cares about volleyball and cares about our members.  Our goal is to achieve excellence in volleyball and in life.  We value every player within our club and make a commitment to provide the best opportunities for her growth personally, athletically and as a volleyball player.  We realize you have a choice when it comes to Junior Olympic volleyball clubs.

Do you notice that there’s not a mention of “winning at all costs” in this mission statement? Yet, for every family and girl who’s gone out for, and then is selected to be on, a USA junior volleyball club team, you know you quickly get the “message” the club is basically ALL about winning.  Now this message doesn’t make it into the lofty mission statements . . . who knows, maybe it’s considered too “crass” to mention it there.  But the message on winning IS sprinkled into the clubs web page or other advertising.  They know how that message will resonate with us parents.  Our daughters have shown us that they have an aptitude and maybe even budding love for this exciting sport, so, wanting to help them, we look for avenues to help them be the best players they can be. And, what better than getting them into a club that has told you, “We’ve sent 10 teams over the last five years to the USA Volleyball Junior Olympic Championships”.  Reading that, you say to yourself, “Jeez, I’d like to get my daughter involved with a club like that!  There’s GOT to be great coaching and my daughter will definitely benefit from that!”

I believe this is every parent’s hope when they approach a club on try-out day.  And this hope is a really GOOD thing.  What many parents don’t realize is their attraction to an organization that has essentially told you that “Hey, we’re WINNERS!” can really back-fire on your child in a very horrific way.  YOUR decency as a human being and your desire to pass along your decent traits to your child leaves you TOTALLY unprepared for what some club owners and their coaches are capable of doing to young children on their way to winning.  Truly, these types of clubs are USING young children to keep the money train pulling into their stations and to keep building accolades for themselves. Some children with these clubs get a happy by-product as they’re being used of getting play-time, building skills and probably being able to translate their experience into success at the collegiate level.  However, many, many (and the number grows each year) young players do NOT get that happy by-product.  In fact, they get the opposite.  They’re chewed up and spit out by these clubs, where the club takes what it needs from these kids and their families . . . . mostly their money, but also they take the kid’s self esteem, confidence, and trust in adults who hold themselves out as people interested in helping children, as the coach marginalizes these girls, doesn’t play them in meaningful  games – at meaningful parts of the game, or uses them at practice to be the girl who serves it into the “starters”.  Actions like that.

Yes, these coaches WILL string you and your daughter along with false promises of how, with just a little more effort at practice, your daughter will earn more play time, but, probably, a coach like this is just happy to keep winning with his/her chosen six. From my perspective it just seems like a coach like this, working for a club that allows it, just figures it’s easier to play the same girls over and over again rather than to work out some rotation where every girl that was selected on try-out day, who IS paying the same amount as everyone else – gets to play in a meaningful game.  Who knows . . .maybe it’s too hard to do, especially when viewed against the back-drop that you (the coach) are winning with just these six!  A coach like this obviously isn’t giving a thought to the extreme damage being done to the “bench-warmers” heart and soul.  I’ve never been in a situation like this, so, best I can tell, the thoughts that you are just a great coach . . .because you WIN, just somehow glosses over the feelings that just about every other human being would have, which would be, “yes, I’m winning, but at what cost?  At the cost of destroying a young child’s self esteem and her love of a sport?  Well, that’s really not “winning” and I’ll have no part of it!”

I have some thoughts on how we, as parents of children interested in playing volleyball, could help clubs do a better job of living up to their mission statements.  I have NO doubt that if they did they’d actually enjoy greater success vs. run the risk of what’s happening now to club volleyball as more and more players and their families catch on to the scam that many clubs are running.  Simply put, these clubs can’t run teams if all they have is six girl/six families that are willing to write the checks to allow their girls to be used by the clubs (and the girls and their families get their acceptable by-product of being “show-cased” by these organizations).

I’ll share those thoughts in a future blog but I’d sure be interested in hearing from any club parent on this issue . . . .especially ones that have had success in helping their clubs care first about being decent to children and care about winning in a more secondary role.