Wednesday, December 7, 2016

My daughter (or son) didn't make a club team. Now what?

This question comes up every year...and it is time for frank talk.

First, there are a number of reasons kids don't make club teams:
  • They tried out for the wrong teams.  That is, teams that were too good for their ability or teams that really didn't need any players and were just going through the motions at tryouts.
  • They got cut from a team they made last year and didn't have any backups
  • They got cut from teams that they were sure they could make. 
  • They missed tryouts all together
  • They didn't understand about select teams and so failed to even try out.
There are many more, I am sure.

Second, there is a chance, a good chance, that your daughter or son just isn't very good at volleyball but they like it and want to get better.  That doesn't mean they are a non-athlete.  They just, for whatever reason, don't have the skill set to make a select team at this moment.   Note that in grade school there are a number of kids who play volleyball because they have failed at every other sport.  I have seen this time and time again.  Kids that really shouldn't be playing competitive sports wanting to play them.  Still, the system should exist that those kids get a chance to work on their skills and become the best players they can be.   I have personally seen kids who had no ability in volleyball continue to work hard at it and become good high school players. 

Let me say this: ANY kid who actually wants to play a sport and truly wants to get better at it should have that chance.  There are plenty of opportunities for kids to improve in volleyball outside of select teams.   In fact, it may be a blessing that your son or daughter got cut from a select team as there are some really bad select teams out there.    Maybe it is due to bad attitudes by the players, bad coaches, lack of practice time, low skill level of the team, whatever.  Whatever the reason, parents and players who got cut from select teams should begin with thinking that it is really a blessing in disguise.   For a kid with limited volleyball skills the old Groucho Marx one-liner comes to mind 'I wouldn't want to be part of a club that would have me as a member'.  Translation: If your son or daughter doesn't have the skills to play a select sport yet and is average (or smaller) size, what does it say about a team if it is filled with those players and how much will they actually improve?

So, once you have come to the realization that it is probably a good thing your child is not playing select, now you should consider other options.   Here is what I normally advise parents to do:

1. There are leagues for kids who get cut from select teams.  They normally play in the winter.  Sometimes these are run at your local Y.  Sometimes these are run by sports facilities looking to fill court time.  These are sometimes run by club teams as a public service and/or as a fundraiser.  Be warned that these are generally VERY basic, maybe not even as good as a grade school league, but these are places where your kids can constantly get touches.

2. The cheapest club team (besides mine) that I have found is $600.   Teams generally cost over $1000 and can go as high as $3000 a year per player, all things considered.    If we look at the low end of $1000, that is a lot of money.  I have done a calculation that showed that if you just consider touches on the ball, if you just go to 4 one-week, 8 hour a day camps you are likely to get more touches on the ball (and likely better individual instruction) than you would get on a local-only club team.    Plus, those touches would be in the summer right before the grade school or high school tryouts, meaning your child would polish their skills right when they need it, as opposed to getting better at volleyball only to have those skills atrophy between April and August.  How many summer, week-long camps do you think you could go to for $1000?  I think, if you choose correctly, the answer would be 3-4.  For many people, this will be money better spent than playing on a low level club team.

3. Here is the big one for me:  parents have to get involved.   In addition to finding out about 1. and 2. above, you have to be willing to get involved in their child's improvement.   Be honest, if your child is doing well in school do you spend 2-3 hours a night helping them with their homework?  Probably not.  However, if they are struggling in school don't you put in more time to help them?  Probably.   The same is true for volleyball.   If you, as a parent, can learn more about volleyball technique you can be the biggest asset your young athlete has.  Practicing with them in the back yard or at the playground is a great way to get them plenty of touches on a ball.   Here is just one example of a good drill that you can do with your child.

Passing: stand underneath the basket of a basketball court and have your child stand facing the basket at the top of the key.  Toss them the ball and have them try to bump (forearm pass) the ball into the basketball basket.   Once they are good at doing that you can toss the ball a little to their right or left to give them practice at accomplishing that skill if they have to move.

Setting:  Do the same drill but stand  perpendicular to foul lane, halfway between the end  line of the basketball court and the foul line about 10 feet away from the foul lane and have your child stand at the foul line facing the basket.  Toss them the ball and have them set the ball into the basket.

Serving.  Have you child stand at half court and have them serve the ball so it hits the backboard.  This works for overhand as well as underhand serving. Or, if you  are in the back yard and have a garage, draw a line on the garage wall about 8 feet off the ground, have your child stand 40 feet away from the garage wall and serve the ball over that line.   Note that I have seen kids make select teams just because they could serve hard overhand and all they did to learn that skill was to practice over and over again for months in their back yard serving the ball off their garage.

There are many more things you can do to help your child improve.  The internet is full of volleyball technique videos.  You don't have to be a volleyball player to teach your child volleyball.   You just have to surf the web to get the information and have to have a passion for your child being successful at something they like.   Any kid can become proficient enough at volleyball that they can be an important part of a team.   It might require more hard work than taller or more athletically gifted athletes but it is worth it, believe me.  But it has to start with the parent being an advocate (1. and 2. above) and a supporter of their child getting better. 

If your child isn't good enough to make a select team it means they have some deficit in their skill set.  Help them to fill in that deficit by being their advocate and their biggest supporter.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Agenda Teams

What, you may ask, is an agenda team?  Good question.  Here is my definition:

In club volleyball, any team whose goal is something other than to make all the players on the team the best they can be.

Unfortunately, any team that has favoritism in playing time or whose goal is to qualify for nationals might fall in such a category.  But, for now, let's limit our definition of agenda teams to those who are put together for some defined volleyball purpose and that this purpose may or may not be in the best interest of individual development of players as volleyball players.

Hey, don't get me wrong.   I think agenda teams have their place in club volleyball.  

In the past, select basketball teams whose players also play high school volleyball have gotten together to play volleyball just to keep their skills sharp.   The season was tailored to and made so it didn't interfere with high school and select basketball

There have also been clubs over the years, especially clubs founded in rural areas, that are designed to help keep their HS program strong from year to year by getting the kids from a HS team to play together all year. 

There are probably more examples of agenda teams that I haven't thought of.  

The key in all this should be the coaching and the commitment of the players to excellence.

I have seen too many times that an agenda team has bad coaching or the commitment of the players is less than necessary to accomplish the goals of that team.

I have seen HS coaches who have steered their kids towards a team that helps their HS program but not making sure that team has a competent coach, at least as good or better than what those players would get if they just went to tryouts like everyone else.

So, as parents, when you are asked to be on an agenda team, just make sure that you are getting your money's worth.   No favoritism, good coaching, reasonable fees and enough commitment from all the players and coaches to make it worth while.   Ask these questions and, if necessary, have a frank discussion with your HS coach to make sure they are aware of any concerns you have.

Good luck at tryouts!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Here's how it should be done!

OK, I have hinted around it but now is time to put all the cards on the table.  Two problems I think exist in club volleyball in our region:
  • Volleyball is too expensive in the Gateway Region.   Club volleyball has become a big business and with that comes high overhead which is passed on to parents.  Plus the smaller clubs, seeing how much the bigger clubs are charging, think that it OK to charge a lot because it will still be much less than what the bigger clubs charge.  
  • This region has become saturated with clubs and teams.  When there are 80+ teams in a division and close to 500 girls TEAMS in our region how likely is it that your daughter will end up with a good coach? Or, how likely is it that 700 kids per age group really need to be playing club volleyball and how does that effect the quality of the learning experience for the better players if the progression of training is based on the weaker players on a team?
What we are left with is mediocrity.   That is not necessarily a bad thing as only 10-15% of kids who play club volleyball in this region are likely to end up with college volleyball scholarships and most of those that do are concentrated in the top clubs.    But with mediocrity (as defined by just getting better for your HS team) should come low cost and THAT is what is not happening.

Many clubs are STILL having their kids buy warmups and bags.  Some of the lower ranked teams in our region are STILL going to out-of-town national qualifiers and big tournaments spending over $1000 per family per tournament if they go with their child.  Clubs are also not looking for cheap practice facilities because the cost of practicing doesn't matter to them because they just pass it on to parents AND, since most clubs are charging $700 or more per player per season, there is room in the budget to pay for expensive practice time.

Club volleyball in our area can be done differently and I have said how over and over again.  Now, here is the proof. 

My club is QUICK VBC.   In the 2015-6 season we had two teams.   They both cost under $300 to play for, uniforms included.   We didn't do any fundraising.   We just kept costs down to the bare minimum by effort and in the spirit of volunteerism.   Here were their results:
  •  The 8th grade team finished ranked 26th in the region.  All 9 of the kids on that team made their varsity as freshmen.   I would like to see any other club make that claim and, if they can, tell us what it cost the parents over the past 4 years to have that result.   The parents of our 14s have paid barely over $1000 to parents TOTAL over the past 4 years to play for this team.  Most other clubs charge over $1000 for just one year.  And, while I love these kids and they are all good volleyball players and athletes, they all come from the North County CYC program, which, annually, has ZERO teams even win one match in the City/County playoffs IN ANY AGE GROUP.  So, its not like we just got a bunch of great players and they had this success on their own.  Bottom line: these kids worked hard and were trained well and we did it cheaply. 
  • The 17s team practiced once a week, on either Saturday or Sunday afternoon.  We only played tournaments in Illinois to keep the traveling down for parents. This team finished ranked 36th in the region (out of 80+ teams).  Bottom line: we fit our schedule into the players' lives and not the other way around and STILL were successful and trained the kids well and cheaply.
Hey, I am not trying to get you to play for QUICK VBC.   We don't have enough coaches or facilities yet to grow the program bigger than it currently is.   However, EVERY club should be able to do what we have done...and do it every year.   That is, keep costs down and train the kids well.

So, as you go into the club season starting with open gyms, I think you should ask yourself these questions:
  • Why do I need to pay $10 a player for open gyms or tryouts?   I doubt that people are getting their $10 worth but the clubs, who sometimes have over 100 kids show up per age group, are certainly getting their money's worth.  Should we really be funding these open gyms for the big clubs when, realistically, 95% of the kids who attend the open gyms for larger clubs have close to ZERO percent chance to make the #1 team or even the #2 team in that club.
  • Why do I need to buy all this extra equipment like gym bags and warmups? 
  • Did my club work hard enough to find free or cheap gyms?
  • Is my club being fiscally responsible with my money?
  • Is my club going to play my daughter at the position SHE needs, instead of the position where the team needs her to play?
  • What is my coach being paid and are they worth it?
So, what is the bottom line for parents: Do your research.  Club volleyball has become and will remain a business.  Unfortunately, unlike websites that rate businesses and services or the Better Business Bureau complaint system, there is not a single place you can go to get a rating of clubs.

Start now and do your research.   That research will help parents become better consumers.  Looking at regional rankings from last year is a good tool.  Asking clubs in advance of tryouts what they will charge and having frank discussions with them about whether they are REALLY looking for a whole team or whether they are just looking for a couple of players.   Asking them about their travel schedule also will help.

To clubs I say let's stop the overcharging families and giving them a crappy product.  I once heard that a certain club director said that they wanted to personally make over $100,000 a year running their club.   Another club director quit their steady, decent paying full time job to become club director.   Another club allowed undertrained grade school coaches who had no business coaching a select sport to not only coach but to have their kid play for free in that program.  Just because they needed a coach for a team they wanted to have in their club.   Teams are traveling to expensive tournaments spending a lot of the parents' money when they have no chance to do anything but win 1-2 matches, usually on the last day of the event when they are playing other teams like themselves.  There are hundreds of stories of kids having to play out of position because the team needs them to do that for the success of the team. Hey, isn't this about parents pay the money to get clubs to train the kids at the position best for that player, not what's best for the team?  There are story after story in this region of people making money and not providing a good product.   None of these examples above should EVER happen if this is really grassroots volleyball and if providing good training at a reasonable price is the goal, as it should be FOR EVERY TEAM IN EVERY CLUB. 

So, to end, here is some more advice for clubs:

1. Don't build your club budget on having 3-4 teams per age group.  The last team (or two teams) in an age group almost always gets the crappy end of the deal.  There was a #2 team in a big club that, this past year, finished in the bottom 15% of teams in the region in their age group.  Thousands of dollars and they finished that low.  Ridiculous.   Did that club give the parents a refund for such a bad product?  I doubt it.
2. If you are NOT a top 10 team in the region, don't charge a lot of money trying to be. 
3. If you are in the bottom 1/3 of clubs in the region in terms of average performance, stop going to out-of-town qualifiers and large tournaments, wasting the parents' money.   You are there to train their kids just to make them better.   From 30 years of experience I can tell you that traveling out of town does little or nothing for most of the kids in this region to make them better volleyball players.
4. Clubs need to stop asking kids to buy sweatsuits, gym bags, etc.   Nobody really NEEDS those things and, guess what, looking good doesn't make you any better as a player...or as a team.
5. Stop charging so much for the cattle calls that are tryouts and open gyms.   Stop using it as a club fundraiser.  The tryout system is so set in stone by now that charging $5 instead of $10 for open gyms and tryouts will not significantly increase the number of kids who show up.  The only thing it will do is make your club make a little less money and to that I say SO WHAT?
6. Coaches need to stop asking to be paid if they can't vastly improve every player on their team every year.  I sincerely doubt that there are over 500 coaches in this area that can do that.  You should coach because you love it and if clubs can't get enough coaches that love to coach AND have the ability to do that, they should have fewer teams instead of paying mediocre coaches to do a mediocre job.  If you are not good at coaching why would you expect to be paid for doing it?  It's like life.  If you are good at your job you usually get paid for it.   If you are not you usually get fired or can't get that job. 
7. Don't form any new clubs or teams out of frustration with the current system.  There are already too many clubs out there.  I don't know for a fact but I would say as many as 10-20% of kids who play club volleyball get cut before they make their varsity team in high school.   That is a sign to me that too many kids are playing club volleyball.   If parents would just save those thousands of dollars and spend it on summer camps they would likely be better off, in my opinion.

It is time to make a change to club volleyball in St. Louis.   Time to make it better and parents should not expect to be crapped on and, when it happens, they should not say "May I have some more, please"

As long as the parents put up with overcharging, bad coaching, not putting each player's development first AND paying the large amount it costs to play on many of these clubs, the situation will not change. 

Time to make club volleyball a better, more cost effective part of the St. Louis area. It should be both things, with clubs improving across the board so that EVERY kid has the best experience possible.  And, if the clubs can't do that they either should have fewer teams or not be in operation.   

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Balance between volleyball and life

We have probably all seen the t-shirt slogan "Volleyball IS Life". 

Let's start by saying that people with some passion are generally more driven people than people who just go through life like life is a buffet.

So, if your passion is volleyball I am there with you.

Passion for an activity is something that makes you forget about the ups and downs of that activity, the lack of fairness, the heartbreak, the individuals you have to deal with on your way through that passion.   To coin an expression, you can change your job but you can't change your expression.  

So, how do we balance our passion for volleyball with the reality of the world?

First, understand that your passion or vision of what that passion should be is not the same as that of everyone else who claims to have a passion for that activity.   I cannot tell you how many people over the years whose 'passion' for volleyball died out soon after their kids stopped playing it.   I also don't have enough fingers and toes to count the individuals I have met over the years whose passion for volleyball died away when they found they couldn't make a living at volleyball and, instead (gasp!) had to get a real job. 

Second, understand IF your passion is just because your kids love the game.   Yes, that is enough and it can be pure and not just self-serving.  A lot of great coaches got into the game because they were coaching their own kids.   The ones with passion, however, continued to learn, take clinics, become nationally certified, etc.   They were TRULY passionate about volleyball. 

Third, to build on #2, surround yourself by people who share your passion.   If the coach who coaches your child can't prove to you that they are constantly improving themselves as a coach then they don't have passion.   I don't know what the number actually is but my guess is that 80% of coaches or more in this region do absolutely nothing but coach and maybe work at camps.  When I was young I had a real passion for coaching.    I became a CAP Level II coach and attended three NCAA D-I final four tournaments and the associated coaching clinics.  I paid for that all myself because I wanted to learn.   There are coaches in this region who still do that.   Unfortunately for the average family in our region, those coaches usually coach for upper level age groups in upper level clubs.  Saying, as a coach, that you love the game and want to share that game with kids is a prerequisite for coaching.  However, it is not the only thing a coach needs.   They need to constantly get better.  Most coaches are getting paid for coaching now.  In any business you expect your employees to have continual self-improvement.  

Fourth, and final, if this is truly your passion, give it more time and effort than any other activity in your life.   In my almost 30 years of coaching I have seen parents who started CYC coaching their own kids and then just stayed around, even after their kids were grown, and coached other CYC teams and trained new coaches.

Passion is important in volleyball.    We all need to have balance in life between our passions and the rest of our lives.   However, the really passionate people about volleyball or anything, blur that line because their passion gives them fulfillment.   Surround yourself and kids by people passionate in the sport and you will be creating young people with the passion for the sport. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

High School Volleyball: What should your child have gained from club volleyball

It is high school tryout time.   Missouri tryouts were completed yesterday.   Illinois high school tryouts are next week.  As kids from my club were trying out this past week I thought to myself: what should kids have gotten out of their club team that will help them in high school volleyball?  In my opinion the player should expect to get trained to be effective in her high school environment with training in skills and positions that should maximize where and how she plays on her HS team.   A freshman should make her JV team or, in some cases, even her varsity team.   A sophomore should be on the varsity full-time and, in some cases, be all-conference, a junior should be an all-conference level player and a team leader and a senior should be a go-to player and a team leader and, in some cases, conference MVP, an all-area and maybe all-state player. 

So how should club teams do that?

1. You should expect to be trained in the fundamentals of volleyball

While this is a given for what parents pay for club volleyball, what should happen is that EVERY player should be trained at all skills.   I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an 8th grade girl who is subbed out in the back row and never got to serve, play defense or pass serve.  When I have asked the parents of that kid, in many cases they say that their daughter really didn't get to do those skills much in practice, either.   

When that girl gets to high school she is most likely to be considered a one-dimensional player.    Unless her team has an extreme need for height, she is likely to be on the JV or freshman team.

One of the girls who played for me ended up as state player of the year, played on the junior national team and played D-I volleyball.   She came to play for me because I promised (and followed through on that promise) to train her in the back row IN PRACTICE and to give her at least a few back row chances in games.  Doing this helped make her a more well-rounded player in high school, where she was given the chance to play all the way around as a freshman.  It also helped get her to the junior national team.

2. You should be trained at the best position for you, not the position to help make your club team win more.

Look, sometimes in high school a player is forced to play a position they are not the best at.  If you are the only tall kid in your high school you will likely find yourself playing middle blocker.  If you have only ever played OH or libero you may be asked to set if your team doesn't have a setter. That is because the emphasis is to put the best team on the floor you possibly can. 

Club volleyball should be different.   For what parents are paying their children should be trained at positions that are the best for their development as a player, NOT because playing a particular position will help the club team win more.  That is really the difference between club and high school.   Club should be 90% training and 10% winning and high school should be more like 70% winning and 30% training.

Here are a couple of anecdotes to show what I mean:

a. A number of years ago I coached a 14s team that had two 5'8" kids and three 5'5" kids.   Most coaches would have just played the taller kids in the middle and the shorter kids on the outside as that is where they played on their previous club and grade school teams.   However, I played the 5'8" kids on the outside because that was better for their development and played the 5'5" kids in the middle.   We qualified for nationals that year and even went in as the #1 overall seed based on our wins that year against open-division teams.   The following fall in tryouts the 5'8" girls made their varsities as freshman and the 5'5" kids made their JV and ended up having good high school careers.

b. More recently, I coached a year in a big club at the 14s level.   We had a 5'7" girl with an incredible vertical leap.  We had the luxury of three 5'10" or taller girls to hit middle so we could play the 5'7" girl on the outside.  She was dominant.   I saw a recruiting video of her on the internet with her hitting middle while playing for a different club.   As an outside hitter (she is now 5'9" I believe) with her vertical and power she could have been an attractive player to colleges.   As a 5'9" middle, probably not so much.  How she ended up as a middle for the other club is a mystery to me.  My guess is that with her height and vertical leap they felt it was best for that team if she hit middle.

b. This summer, while scouting HS summer league games, I saw a 5'8" girl who had played for two years for a big club in the area as a middle blocker.   In addition to being 5'8" she had a good vertical leap, making her the 2nd best middle blocker on her club team.    In this summer league game, however, the girl played outside hitter.  Once she got into the flow she was just crushing the ball and appeared to me to be the best outside hitter in the gym that day.    My question was how could this club team put that girl at middle blocker?  My guess is because they looked at her and looked at the rest of the team and saw that their best chance to win was to have her hit middle and let a shorter girl hit outside.  To me, that wasted the years that girl had with that club.   As a big club I am sure they trained her in all the skills but they played her a position that was clearly not the best for her long term projection as a volleyball player.  In my opinion, this was to help the team be successful.

In summary, playing players at positions that are best for them while, in the process, maybe sacrificing team success, is not new.  Sports Performance in Chicago has been doing that for over 30 years as they would routinely pick a tall, thin, athletic girl and turn her into a setter in 6th grade when most people would have made her a middle blocker and even the most inventive team would have had her play outside.   They developed some great setters for years doing this as when those girls got to high school they were competing with much shorter setters in both club and for college scholarships.   For those of you familiar with high level volleyball, would you rather have a great 6'2" setter or a great 5'9" setter?  I think the choice is obvious but, for these girls, that choice was made for them at a young age by a club coach who had to either choose to make the PLAYER the best they could be or the TEAM more successful.  For the money parents are paying for club volleyball, I think we, as coaches, should always choose to make the player better and even sacrifice team success to do that.   You never know.  As I found out, you might even be able to have extreme team success and still think about the development of the players, as well.

So, when you look at how your daughter did in her high school tryouts this year, reflect back and think it any of that had anything to do with how she was trained in club and the position she played on her club team.  As an FYI, we had 9 girls on the 14s team in our club last year.  Seven of them made their high school varsities as freshmen, one will play both varsity and JV and one will play JV with a chance to play on varsity if the need arises.  So, playing kids at appropriate positions and giving them rounded training can make a difference.  

I urge all of you, when you go to club tryouts this year, make sure, if you are invited to play on a team, to ask the coach/coaches what position they expect your child to play.   If they tell you they are going to take your tall, athletic child and play her at middle blocker or they are going to take your ultra-quick 5'1" daughter and play her at setter because she has great hands or are gong to take your 5'8" daughter with great hands and play her at OH or MB, you might want to think about looking for a different club that will play her at a more appropriate position for her skill set.   Probably at the most 10-20% of club volleyball players end up playing volleyball in college.  My guess is that a good number of other players are on teams just to fill out the rosters for the good players.  For what you are paying, your child shouldn't be just a roster filler, at least in my opinion.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Why is your son or daughter playing club volleyball?

What do parents and players expect to get out of club volleyball?  Let's examine some of the answers and look at the truths and the myths:

1. Playing to get a college scholarship: ( estimates that 4% of US high school girl volleyball players get college volleyball scholarships.  Obviously not all high school players play club volleyball.  While I can't find stats on it, let's estimate that 25% of all high school players play club volleyball, probably more in suburban and urban areas and less in rural areas.  That means that roughly 1 out of 6 high school girls who play club ball actually get a college volleyball scholarship with the vast majority of those coming from the traveling clubs who tend to accumulate the players most desirable to college coaches.  So, not a lot of club volleyball players get college scholarships.   What club volleyball likely DOES do is give its best players more opportunities to get college scholarships.  That is, the best players are seen by more schools than they would be if they just played high school ball, giving them more schools to choose from.   Also, some of the kids who play with those kids are seen by those same colleges, meaning that those kids are more likely to get at least 1-2 scholarship offers that they might not have gotten if they played just in high school.  

2. Improving your ability to make your HS team:

 It is a given that the more you touch the ball the better you get.  It is also a given that the more quality the touches you get the faster you improve.  In grade school touching the ball is probably nearly as important as playing at a high level, especially for inexperienced players.  However, once you get to a certain level, say varsity in high school, it becomes more about the quality of the touches and the level of play in club rather than just playing on a club team.   Quality, high level select volleyball does help improve players for their high school varsity season as it replicates and, in some cases, exceeds the speed of the game in high school.   It is not clear, however, how much just touching the ball in a low level club benefits players trying to make their varsity.   It would only benefit the players if the speed of the club ball was greater than the speed of the high school game.  If the speed of the club ball was similar or slower than the speed of the high school varsity play, then the utility of low level club ball compared to just going to summer camps is questionable.  This is probably really true for kids with very competitive high school programs who have little or no club volleyball experience coming into high school.  Those kids need to get better right away and just playing low level club ball might not benefit them as their rate of advancement might not be fast enough due to the level of coaching they will get and the level of play their teammates are capable of.   So, once again, getting with a good coach and good teammates is probably the key if you want to advance fast in high school volleyball.  If the goal is to just keep your skills up to the level they were the previous year or maybe incrementally improve those skills, or for weaker players who really want to advance their skill level quickly, then getting touches are important and getting those touches closer to the next high school season (say at summer camps) is probably more important than getting those same touches during the winter and early spring on weak club teams that can't compete at a high level. 

3. Just love playing the game and hanging out with friends

This sounds bad but it isn't that bad.  Kids who don't even play in high school play club ball, probably for some of these reasons.   There are so many levels of club ball that there is plenty of room for kids like this if they can find a team with the same goals for the season as they have.   Heck, when kids start playing in adult leagues many of them are playing JUST for these reasons so it is not unexpected that even back at the high school level you will find kids playing with the same goals.

Just some things to think about as your son or daughter gets into high school, makes their high school team and then is looking for what to do this winter.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Summer camps - what to expect

Using my standard that only 5% of kids play select volleyball to get a college scholarship or, said another way, only 5% are LIKELY to get a college scholarship in volleyball, what should the other 95% look for in a summer camp?  The same thing most kids/parents look for in their club team: a place to get some good instruction but, above all, a place to get lots of touches.  The higher the coach-to-player ratio the more the value will be on instruction.   The lower the coach-to-player ratio, the more the emphasis will be on touches.

I have heard about one local college camp that the instructors sure worked the kids hard during the weeklong camp.  That is the ideal for me because it means the kids got lots of repetitions with limited, well-spaced break periods.

Let's look at some things parents should look for in their summer camp:

1. Is there an evaluation on the first morning of the camp to place kids with their peers?   Many camps have this so that they can tailor the pace of the drills to the experience and ability of the kids.  Although this may only represent 10% of the time your child is at the camp it may be the most important part of the camp.   If your child is rated to high they will likely be over their head, competing against players too good for their current abilities.   More likely, however, kids are placed too low which means their group will not be at the pace that they will need to improve.  Still, for 95% of the kids, it shouldn't matter as much if you are one group too high or one group too low for where you truly belong.   If you are placed way too low or way too high, however, I might ask the coaches about it right away.  Don't worry if there is no evaluation process, however.  To me it just means that the emphasis is a little more on touches and a little less on advanced play.   As I said, for most of the 95% of kids who play club ball, this is probably fine.

2. Are the coaches giving more individual instruction to the better players in each group?   I know this sounds wrong as the general thought is that all players should get the same instruction, consider that by giving more individual instruction to the better players in a group and more touches to the weaker players in a group is probably appropriate. 

3. Are the coaches having fun with the kids and are the kids having fun with the coaches?   Here is a general although not absolute rule:   for girls the age of the coach is inversely proportional to how the kids react to the coach.   That is, a young female coach who is easygoing and talented will get better results for girls than some old crusty guy will. 

4. If I was you I would stay away from camps run by select volleyball clubs.  I think there is just too much schmoozing going on between parents and players who want to kiss up to the club running the camp.   Camps should NOT be about recruiting for select clubs, not even 1%.   And by that I mean showing kids how good the coaches are in a club, how efficiently a camp is run, how fun the coaches are, etc.    Leave camps to professional coaches, like college coaches.    If you are thinking you will invest your camp dollars this summer to try to get your kid on a better club team next year, I think you are missing the point of what summer camps are about.   This includes grade school camps run by high schools.  At one high school I know of they have the varsity and JV coach running the camp and the varsity players running the groups at the camp.   I just think that the quality of the instruction is not even worth the time.   Ditto for people trying to run camps as a way to make a living.    While your child may have a good experience at one of these camps, more likely they (and you) will be disappointed, especially if you are in one of the lower groups.

Hope this helps.  Enjoy your summer and work to spend your volleyball dollars wisely!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Grade School Ball vs Club Ball - Should the same players be doing both?

While this is a blog about keeping volleyball affordable, I wanted to divert for a second to talk about grade school volleyball and how better to integrate it with select volleyball. 

The reality is that most grade school teams, public or private, don't allow their kids to play both club ball and school ball in the same sport at the same time.

In Missouri, tryouts and the start of club practice overlap with Catholic school-based grade school leagues.  There are many fewer public schools who have middle school teams but there is some overlap with club season with some of those teams, as well.  In Illinois, the public and religious school grade school leagues don't even start until December (with games starting in January) and end in the beginning of April meaning kids, if they play for the grade school team, don't even get to start club until April.  . 

Here are some realities from my experience with grade school ball:
  • Grade school ball is bottom heavy, talent-wise at least in the St. Louis area.   That is anyone who signs up can play and gets to play a fair amount. 
  • Grade school coaching is generally not as good as club coaching
The result is that the better players or those good athletes who could benefit from more advanced training don't often get that from grade school ball.  They are generally forced to play at a lower, slower level of play, with less playing time due to bloated rosters and, if the coaching is not there, they are not improving their individual game.

All this so that they can play for their school or play with their friends.  

My solution is to start club tryouts earlier for grade school kids.   Make those tryouts in August.   I think by doing that kids in Missouri would choose club ball over their grade school team and that would help both the kids who made a club team and those who didn't as the latter would get more playing time for their grade school team and the former would get more accelerated training.  For the Illinois kids, this would allow you to play a split season.  Going from August to December and then picking back up in time for regionals and late season play.   For the Illinois kids more of them might play club if they didn't have the conflict with school ball and, eventually, might see the futility of school ball compared to club ball and just focus on club ball.

These are radical ideas but I have always been an out-of-the-box kind of guy.  But it is not like I don't have experience.   In some of the larger parishes they simply shuttle the less talented players to "B", "C" and "D" teams.  But many schools don't do that.  Either they don't have enough kids sign up to do multiple teams in an age group or their school doesn't allow they to do the "A" team, "B" team thing.  In either case the better players are not getting their money's worth from grade school ball.  So, in a sense, this is about saving money.  But it is more about putting the better players or better athletes in a situation when they can advance faster. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Fundraising - Is it needed and, if so, how should it be handled?

Fundraising is a part of most amateur sports, especially when travel is involved.  The question is, is it worth it for the parents and kids doing the fundraising?

Philosophically, I think fundraising by kids is good.  It helps teach the kids responsibility and makes them take ownership of defraying some of the costs their parents are paying. 

Practically, finding a way to defray costs is really important for resource-challenged families who don't have the disposable income to pay for youth sports. 

Still, is it worth the time?   There is a TON on the internet about fundraising ideas but not much, if anything, about whether it is time effective. 

Without talking about the legalities of fundraising where kids or parents are making money at an activity yet not having it count as income that the IRS knows about, let's talk about the profit in fundraising.   Here are some questions to ask:

1. What is the TRUE profit?  Here are some things to think about:  

a. Time spent - Assuming a minimum wage of $10 an hour, in the end did your profit equal 14 times the hours you spent (assuming you have to work 4 hours to pay the income tax on every 10 hours of work if someone worked a minimum wage job instead of doing the fundraising)?

b. Hidden costs - People contribute a roll of tape, posterboard for signs, a bottle of ketchup and, in some cases, everyone is asked to bring a dessert or a 12 pack of water or soda.   Make sure you include these costs when considering your true profit and, in fact, the time it took you to do these tasks. 

c. Fundraiser chairperson - Assuming a parent is doing this, that person (or people) should include the cost of their time.  When they do that, was it still worth their time?

If you really look critically, is it worth your time to do fundraising?  Some clubs make it easy for you and only make you sell tickets to an event.   Still, there is a cost associated with that in terms of the kids' and parents' time.   Is it really worth it?

For big fundraising events (trivia nights, night at the races, etc.) you have to ask yourself where the bottom line profit is going.  Does it go to help the club?  Does it go to defray your specific costs for playing on that team?  My favorite answer is 'It helps defray the overhead for running the club and, in that way, makes it so we don't have to charge you as much money'.  Given what you have read below, isn't it the club administration's job to defray overhead and aren't there plenty of ways they should be thinking about doing that?   Look, there is a lot of money to be made off events like this.  Besides the cost of admission you have concessions, (e.g., beer, food) 50/50 raffles, etc.  If all that profit is not going directly to the people who set up and worked that event, you have to ask yourself why not. 

Two of the themes of the posts on this blog are transparency and accountability.   I am not saying this happens in any club in this region but it is so easy to hide where profits from fundraising that I think clubs need to be extra transparent on the balance sheet for fundraising.  And parents need to ask for that transparency.

I will leave you with this example.   My club used to run tournaments at local gyms.   I did all the work to get those tournaments sanctioned, recruit the teams, did all the scheduling myself, fill out all the paperwork necessary to get the facilities, came in and set up everything the day before.  All this was done for free by me to help defray costs and I got no money for that.  Parents were assigned jobs as far as concessions and set up and tear down/cleanup and had to participate by bringing food items. 
Everything considered we made roughly $1500 in net profit for two tournaments with ZERO money going to the club and all of it going to the players/families who worked the event.  That's about $150 a family for two tournaments.   Using the math above, that is equivalent to working about 21 hours at minimum wage over those two events.  The question that parents need to ask themselves is whether the time they spent was worth the money they made.  After dong this for two years the parents of my teams all voted not to do it again as they said that it was not worth their time, based on the money they made.  And that was with me spending probably 30 hours myself to make those tournaments happen and the coaches of the teams also pitching in for free for maybe 15 hours total to help out. 

So, I am not telling you to NOT fundraise with your club.  I am asking you to consider TRUE profit and to ask your club for an accounting of where the money is going and, if it is going to the nebulous 'overhead', ask them what, in detail, overhead means and if there aren't other ways to defray overhead.   If some or most of the fundraiser profit is going to pay salaries of club administrators, I think parents show know that.   In my opinion, fundraising profits should go 100% to defray the costs of individual families and should not be going to the club or its administrators or coaches. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

Club volleyball will get my child a college volleyball scholarship

So your son or daughter wants to play volleyball in college.   I am not going to use this post to give you the magic formula to make that happen.  There are plenty of recruiting services and internet resources (and even resources within the Gateway Region (see their website)) that can help you help your child get that scholarship. 

If your son or daughter plays high level club since 6th grade it is very possible that it could cost you $15,000 by the time they graduate from high school.   Is that the best way to spend that money?  I think national level clubs make kids better faster than smaller clubs, at least on average.  However, I think there may be better ways of getting your child a volleyball scholarship than playing expensive club ball for all those years. 

I just don't believe that playing at a high level in club necessarily improves your chance of getting a college volleyball scholarship.  People say that playing club gets their daughter "seen" by college coaches, especially if they travel.  I don't buy that for any but the top players on a team.  In a gym with 200 17s teams playing, how much time does a college coach have to spend looking at one team?  Not very much and they probably spend most of that time looking at the best (and most featured) 1-3 players on each team. 

Hopefully I have gotten you thinking.  Is high level club the best way (or even the most financially efficient way if you are resource limited) to get my child a volleyball scholarship

As an alternative, what would happen if you played on a less expensive club team (say under $1000) and took the rest of the $2000-$3500 a year you are spending in club when your daughter gets to high school and just spread it out over the summer with her going to camps of colleges she might like to attend?   If you send the coach a letter saying you are going to be attending a camp and fill out the on-line questionnaire indicating your interest in that school, you can get probably 5-6 schools to get a week-long look at your son or daughter for the same price you paid for a club season.   Plus, by expressing an interest in a volleyball scholarship at that school you know they are likely to be looking for your child in the dozens of kids in her grade level that are attending that camp.   Actually, when you think about the touches that a child gets at a bunch of weeklong camps over the summer and compare that to the touches they get in a club season, it might not turn out to be as different as you think.  If a camp goes 5 days and it is 6 hours a day and you attend 4 of them over the summer, it actually is identical to the 120 hours of touches your son or daughter gets from a whole club season plus it is more focused and is right before your high school season, making it very timely.  And that is not the only way to help your child get that scholarship

 Here is a homemade YouTube site for a kid with no club experience who wanted to play in college: ).  It's not slick but it is free and you can do it yourself.

Now, in addition to attending the camps, if you create a site like this and it gives college coaches another way to see your child in action, maybe that might be an alternate way (to expensive club volleyball) to get your child's name out there.   One piece of advice about a personal website.   Putting video on a website is a great idea  as college coaches can, at their leisure, watch your child play.  However, if you edit out all the bad plays and edit in all the spectacular plays, college coaches might not like that.  My suggestion is to put full games on that website so the coach can browse.  If you want to lead with a highlight reel, no harm in that.   Just give them some full games or matches to look at so that they know the highlight reel is not that far from the truth about how your child plays.

Lastly, I suggest that you and your child are the best advocates to get your child that college scholarship.  While clubs (through their contacts) and recruiting services (through the college coaches who subscribe) can help, it is you who could make the difference by being actively involved in the recruiting process, maybe without the help of anyone else.   I urge you to take full advantage of the free resources at your disposal in addition to any services (club or professional recruiting) you also want to use.

In summary, I think that having your child "seen" from playing on a club team is probably an inefficient way of helping your child get a volleyball scholarship.   If you are resource limited and don't want to invest in 6 years of high level club ball there are other ways of helping to get your child a scholarship and I think I have covered some of those above, although these are just my opinions of what might work, not that I am telling you they will work....but it is something maybe to consider. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

How much should our gym time be costing us?

I have been extremely lucky as a club director over the years.   As near as I remember I have never paid over $35 an hour for gym time and, except for a couple of seasons where we used a central facility, have never paid over $20 an hour for gym time.

This past season 75% of our gym time for our two teams was actually free and all we paid for our other gym time was $10-20 an hour and we practiced on wood courts about half the time!

How did I pull off this miracle:

a. Deciding that it was more important to practice for free than for all my teams to practice together in one facility.

b. Spend the time finding free gyms to practice in.

Some club directors LOVE to have all their teams practice in one facility and, in fact, work to make that happen.  There are advantages to practicing predominantly in one facility.  Among these, simplifying the practice schedule for the club administrators is not an insignificant one. 

However, the tradeoff to the good things you get from practicing in a large facility is that court time is usually pretty expensive.   I have heard that some facilities charge up to $50 an hour per court.   When you add that into your cost of playing club volleyball, it can really skyrocket the parents' cost during the season.   Some club teams put in more than 100 hours of practice during the season.  At $50 an hour this costs $5000 or $500 for each parent for practice time for a season.  Is having a centralized practice facility worth that much?  I thought that there had to be a better way.

So we looked for, and found, practice facilities all over the area we practiced in and found free ones all over that area.   I won't go into details of how we made that work but, trust me, there are free practice facilities all over the Gateway Region.   You just have to find them.

Now, I will tell you that this creates a lot of work for the club administrators (me, in my club) but it is worth it to me because it helps me keep my costs WAY down.   And you know what else, I can give our teams their entire practice and tournament schedule by December 1st so it's not like our players are waiting until Monday night to see if I can find a practice facility for Tuesday.    That has happened a couple of times when snow days came on us suddenly but, generally, all the parents know where all the practices are from the beginning of the season and, in cases where there might be a couple of holes in that schedule, it gives the parents a chance by helping out and coming up with free gyms for us. 

Now people have said to me 'well, our facilities are better'.  You know what, in many cases you are right.  However, since I managed to coach the first girls team in our region's history to medal at the open division of nationals and ran practices EXCLUSIVELY on tile floors in a free gymnasium, I am pretty sure that not having the best practice facility was not a hindrance to either player development, player safety or winning.  BTW, this year we practiced 50% on wood floors and 50% on tile floors in our club and practiced for free 75% of the time.

So the questions I suggest you ask your club director are:

a. How much did you look to find us free or cheap facilities to practice in?

b. If we, as parents of this team, can find acceptable and free or cheap places to practice, can we get money back at the end of the year?

As your practice facilities likely represent a significant chunk of the money you invest in your child's club volleyball team each year, I think club directors should be busting it to find teams cheap or free practice facilities.  If they are not, they are not thinking about protecting the money of the parents in their club.  Since that is the theme of this blog, I consider this a very important point for all club directors to consider.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

To travel or not to travel

For the larger clubs in our region, traveling is very important.  It allows teams to play good competition.  One of the referees last year joked with me about a great 18s girls team in our region who was so good his question was "Who do they play to get competition?"  Also, there is a school of thought that traveling allows kids to be seen by more college recruiters than playing in region.  I get all that as my club, Team St. Louis, was one of the pioneering clubs in our region that played mostly out-of-town tournaments to get better competition and get our kids seen by college coaches..

But that was some time ago and when there were only a handful of clubs in the region.  Now that the region has expanded from about 50 teams to 500 teams,  I am questioning how much traveling benefits most of the players who are now playing club ball.  The reason for my change of heart is the cost of that travel to parents vs the benefit to the kids.    

Traveling can really be broken down into three major types with some sub-types:

a. 1- or 2-day inter-regional events

b. Inter-regional 3 day events, including national qualifiers

c. 4 or more day national championship events (USA Volleyball, AAU and others).

Let me start by saying that I think a little travel is good for a lot of the teams in this region....IF that travel is done in a fiscally responsible way and by playing in a tournament appropriate to the talent of the team that is doing the traveling.  It gives the players a chance to see other competition, to bond and to have some fun on an out-of-town trip.  For the coaches and the parents, it gives them a great teaching opportunity for the kids to learn a little about the importance of taking seriously the responsibility of getting rest and playing as well as they possibly can to justify the cost of traveling out of town to play volleyball.

For some of the rural teams in our region, this traveling can be accomplished by coming to regionals as a number of those teams would have to stay in St. Louis as commuting back and forth to regionals would not be possible.  For St. Louis area teams they would have to (and do) travel to places like Memphis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Kansas City or Chicago, all within driving distance of St. Louis. 

This year our younger team wanted to travel so I tried an experiment.  We went to a one-day tournament in Indianapolis, an event of a size that it was promoted on the inter-regional tournament website Advanced Event Systems (AES).  A one day event meant the parents would have to stay one night in the hotel and the kids would, well, get to stay one night in a hotel.  The tournament was on Saturday so everyone drove up Friday night.  Parents had the option of staying over Saturday night or driving back after the tournament.   Well, the kids loved it and all the parents drove back on Saturday night to save money.  And we won the tournament.  Total cost per family was about $125, not counting gas.  I think the kids and parents were appreciative of me being able to find them an out-of-town event that was cost effective, didn't cost them a 3-day weekend AND allowed them to have a good out-of-town experience.

So, there you have it.  You can travel out of town and STILL keep it cheap.  The best of both worlds.

Which brings me to the topic of USA Volleyball national qualifiers.   I will be up front and say that I don't like them.  I never did.  It cost the parents so much money to go to them that I had to swallow hard, even when we had some of the best teams in the country in my club, to ask the parents to pay the kind of money you have to pay for those events.    Why do teams go to national qualifiers?

a. The main reason is to chase after bids to the upper divisions of USAV nationals

b. For 'the experience' of playing in a huge event. 

c. To help showcase their players to help them get a college scholarships in a location where there are so many teams that a whole bunch of college coaches are there. 

Let's examine these three reasons and alternatives:

a.  Chasing the bid - To be the best you have to play the best, or so the expression goes.  So teams go to qualifiers to try to qualify for the nationals (where, supposedly, the best teams play).  Well, a couple of years ago I had my eyes opened to how ridiculous this USA Volleyball national qualifier system is.  I don't know if all of you realize this but each of those clubs who are chasing bids to nationals and spending A LOT of parents' money could play some of the best teams in the US, probably at the same level as in USA Volleyball Nationals, simply by playing at the AAU National Championships in Orlando in June.  The cost for AAU nationals is almost identical to that for USA Volleyball Nationals because AAU has a lower entry fee which is offset by teams having to register as AAU members.   As I understand it, there is no qualifying process FOR ANY DIVISION AT AAU nationals.  You just register for the division you want to play in and send in your money.  So the cost to parents of 2 or 3 out-of-town national qualifiers can be eliminated from a team's budget just by making a pre-season decision to just register for AAU nationals, even for the highest and most competitive division, Open.  You could do the same thing for lower divisions of AAU that mimic the USA, National and American division of USA Volleyball Nationals.  Plus you can enter early, make your own reservations and travel plans early to get good deals as you know where your end-of-season tournament would be held.

b. The experience of playing in a big, out-of-town event - This can cost families between $500-1500, depending on whether they had to fly to get there.  For many, this would essentially double what they had to pay for their club season, for one 3-day event.   To give you an example of how traveling can go wrong and needlessly cost parents lots of money for a not-so-good experience, a certain team in our region has gone to the Kansas City qualifier two years in a row.  That team did this despite the fact that I don't think they were ranked in the top 50 teams IN OUR REgION in their age group either year!  Each year it must have cost the each family on that team $500-800 in hotel, tournament registration, admittance fees and travel fees to play in this event and EACH YEAR they went 0-6 on the first two days of the qualifier.   Last year they lost their first match on the last day to end up 0-7 and this year they won both of their last day matches....against other teams who had lost all their matches on the first two days.  To me, this was a ridiculous waste of parents' money and showed complete lack of knowledge of inter-regional events and fiscal irresponsibility by the coaches of this team, but that is just me.  Again, that is just my opinion and maybe the parents of the kids on this team feel differently.  However, from having done this for years, I know there were better ways for this group of parents to spend their money and STILL get their kids a good out-of-town experience at literally a fraction of the cost. 

c. College recruiting -  I will cover this one in more detail in a later post but I think you get CLOSELY and CONSTANTLY (over a short, intense period of time) seen by more colleges in other ways outside of the hit-or-miss national qualifiers.

 In summary, I think traveling can be a good experience for players and parents.  I also think there are potentially some myths about the benefits of playing out of town that need to be re-explored.  I think clubs need to be fiscally responsible by being careful about what events to send a team to.   I also think more clubs should consider playing in the AAU National Championships instead of trying to qualify for USA Volleyball Nationals. 

I suggest that all parents talk to their club if that club plans to have their child's team travel.   It can be good if it is done right or it can be a total waste of money and time if it is done wrong by people who have no clue how to do it.

Monday, April 25, 2016

I know you're not the IRS, but can you give me a refund anyway?

I have to wonder if people ask for itemized receipts any more.   I normally do but I am, as we have established, old school.    However, I, too, am getting numbed to this.  I don't ask for my daughter's school to provide me with an itemized list for what her tuition pays for.  Nor do I ask at the end of the year if they didn't spend any of my money and can I have the remaining part back.  You pay the tuition and the money goes into a black hole.  You assume they spent all your money and maybe more from generous donors, but you don't know. 

Club volleyball is sort of like that.  With a number of clubs you pay your money and that is it.  You don't see an itemized bill for how your money was spent or, with one club, the itemized bill was actually laughable because the amount the club said the parents spent was within a couple of pennies of the amount the parents paid.  Don't we all wish that we could keep our checkbooks that balanced!

Some clubs actually do an itemized receipt, some more itemized than others.  Those clubs generally give the parents some sort of refund.   For the last 4 years I have coached I gave my teams an itemized bill at the end of the season...along with a refund.   Last year our two teams paid in $350 and $300 which we collected in three and two installments, respectively.    One team got a $103 refund per player at the end of the year and the other team, for players who already had their uniforms, got an $83 refund and this was all detailed in a itemized spreadsheet e-mailed to each parent. 

I think clubs owe parents an itemized bill at the end of the season.  Sure, like the one club I talked about above, the math could be totally laughable, but at least the parents would have something to talk about.  In the case I mentioned, the parents laughed all the way to playing for another club  the next season once they saw the itemization.  Without an itemized bill how do you know how your money was spent?

Sometimes I think clubs just forget that every dollar is important to families.    Providing an itemized expense report to each parent is a good way to check to see how much money was spent to see if there is money that should be refunded to parents.  Yes, it is a pain in the rear end for the club.  However, at least one of the biggest (and best) clubs in our region does these spreadsheets and gives a refund to parents if one is owed.   When you are paying a lot of your hard-earned money for your child to play club volleyball, I think that this is much appreciated by parents.

So the question of the day is: If your club didn't give you an itemized bill (and likely a refund) why not?

Should I be getting paid for a volunteer job?

I have coached for almost 30 years and have only been paid to coach a team one year.  Most years I didn't even take expense money (hotels, travel).  And when I coach my own child, she pays as much as everyone else, no discounts.

That being said, I get it.   Club volleyball has exploded in our region.   There is a huge need for coaches.   So club directors have to be able to get very busy adults to want to coach.  Every prospective coach I talk to asks me if they will be getting paid.  It's not always the first question they ask but every single person I have talked to about coaching asks the question.  Young people who might not be as lucky as I was, job-wise, or older people who have a million other things pulling at their free time and who are trying to make ends meet.  These people probably need to make SOMETHING out of coaching just to cover expenses.   Still, how much should coaches be paid?

I had this long, drawn out explanation of what I thought coaches should get paid but I decided not to lengthen this post with that.   Suffice it to say that a coach whose team practices twice a week and plays in 8 tournaments a year puts in about 120 hours with their team.  It comes down to how much you, as a parent, think that time is worth in what might be a real job (W-2 issued at the end of the year) or a pseudo-job (no W-2 issued and any payments treated as reimbursements for time and expenses).  I don't have any gauge as to how much select coaches get "paid" in other sports.   Maybe club volleyball coaches are underpaid, I don't know.  Maybe some of you have experience and I will let you be the judge.  However, as a parent whose son or daughter plays club volleyball in this region, I think you should be asking yourself (and your club) the following questions:

a. Do I know how much the coach is making (including any discounts that coach is getting for his/her kid(s) playing in that club) to coach my child's team?

b. Do the coaches in this club make different amounts based on their experience and prior success or are they all paid the same?  My premise here is that not all coaches are equal so neither should their pay, if they accept pay to coach.  If coaches want to get paid more, they should work to improve their coaching skills.  If you just pay every coach the same amount there is no incentive for improvement.

c. Looking around the region at what other coaches are being paid, do I think this coach, based on their experience, is being paid appropriately?  I think this is important.   Club directors can pay coaches if that is what it takes to get coaches.  But, again, pay should be related to ability and experience, as it is in any job situationn. 

I don't think it is mean to ask these questions.  It is just good consumerism.  With 800 head + assistant coaches in our region, I think these are questions you need to ask and here are two real life
situations I have heard about over the past few years that represent reasons where you might want to ask those questions:

a. A coach in a club was paid and also their child played for free, a $1000 value.  Not sure if the parents on that team knew that or not.   Her only previous coaching experience was catholic grade school (CYC) volleyball.

 b. A club had two girls still in high school coaching a younger team in their club.   I don't know if those coaches were getting the same pay as other coaches in their club.  Probably shouldn't have as they were clearly had no select coaching experience.

So, in summary, I don't think coaches should be paid but I understand why they are paid.   If they are paid, however, I think that pay should be tied to their level of experience they have and how much contact they have with their team.  Also, I don't think all coaches in the same club should get the same pay and I think parents should know how much their coach is getting paid/reimbursed for expenses/getting discounts for their kid(s) playing in that club.  We can't really treat club volleyball like a volunteer activity if the coaches and club administrators are being paid.  It becomes, at some level, a business (albeit maybe a not-for-profit business).  I have heard that one club director said he wanted to turn this into a 6-figure salary for himself.  If that is true this is more than a business, it is BIG business. 

Which leads us into what will be my next topic: Do you know where your money went this season for your child's club team?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Twinkee effect

Today we will talk about uniforms and accessories.   What is needed and what is just a wasted expense.

OK, I am an old guy.  

I remember when the Soviet Olympic team used to march into a competition wearing their matching warmups with matching gym bags.   It was impressive.  Still, as we approach the Olympics in Brazil this summer, I have this vision of gymnastic teams walking into a competition looking identical.  Sort of the ultimate "Twinkees" or whatever the slang would be for 7 girls who look identical.

The question is: how much, if anything, is it worth to have your team come into an event looking the same?

To me, the answer is it isn't worth a single thing.  Your warmups don't play the match, you do.  Your gym bag doesn't block a ball, you do.   So why do clubs require all this extra, costly gear?  There are really two reasons I can think of:

a. Some clubs think that it makes their club look more professional if they dress all the same in sharp-looking attire.  We have beaten a lot of teams over the years that were sharply dressed

b. I think that some clubs get a discount if they buy a 'package' from a vendor.  Certainly, in large clubs, buying in bulk really can save you money.  Unfortunately, this is for stuff you don't really need.  Yeah, if I could get a $1500 set of golf clubs for $1000 I could save $500.  But do I really need to be spending $1000 on new clubs?

The question in the minds of parents should be: does any of this make my son or daughter a better player?   The answer I have heard that clubs tell people "This is our mandatory uniform package" or "This is the way our club does it" is simply not a good enough reason for people to spend hundreds of dollars on stuff they don't really need.

I can tell you from 30 years of coaching experience that it doesn't.  In our club this year our uniform package was just two jerseys and one pair of spandex shorts.    The cost, with lettering and numbering was not cheap, being about $80 a player.  Still, this pales in comparison to the cost of uniform packages for other clubs, a number of them who we finished ranked higher than this year.   My thought is that you get what you need.  You need two jerseys (so you can have a libero) and one pair of briefs/shorts.  Other than that, most kids have a gym bag and a sweat shirt and sweat pants (my kids won't even wear sweatpants!) they can use.  If their coach wants them to wear a t-shirt over their jersey before a match everyone has a t-shirt.   BTW, no team I have ever coached wore t-shirts before a match and we did just fine. 

I'll leave you with this thought.   When you are getting to a gym at 7:00 in the morning and players are trickling in one at a time and parents are fighting to down that first cup of coffee just to keep their eyes open, how much do you think it matters that your warmups and bags don't match?   This is not the Olympics, it is not primetime TV and no one is watching.  Now, once the whistle blows, THAT is when people ARE watching, when the warmups and gym bags are stacked neatly in the corner of the facility or in the hallway, far from where the match is played.
Next we will tackle coaching pay.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

$175 tournaments

OK, let's get into the first topic of how clubs can, and probably should, save parents money.

A few years back the Gateway region allowed tournament directors to charge $175 for a local, one-day tournament if first referees were provided.  There are two schools of thought among coaches I have talked to about this:

1. Some love the idea of a certified referee as the first official at all their matches as they feel it gives them better officiating and, truth be told, for some of them it keeps them from having to be first officials during tournaments.

2. Some don't think it is worth $75.  There are lots of reasons that coaches don't like the extra $75. Here are mine:

a. Our teams are just there to compete.  The presence of first referees doesn't change that.
b. It may not benefit our teams much.  If you are a #3 or #4 seed in your pool there is about a 50/50 chance that you will only have to officiate one time during the day. 
c. It costs us an additional $7.50 or more a player to play in this event which, given a. and b., is simply a waste of money as overall, that is almost another tournament entry fee.
d. As if c. isn't enough, it also appears, if you do the math, that not all of the $75 a team pays in goes to pay for officials.  If you don't believe me, let's do the math.

Assuming an 8-team tournament, two pools of 4 teams and gold and silver playoffs there are:

12 pool play matches + 6 playoff matches.  That's a total of 18 matches.   Let's assume the first referee is getting $25 a match (which is what the region pays).  That means that $450 of the entry fee money goes to pay for the first referee.  But 8 teams pay an extra $75 for referees (a total of $600).   Where does that extra $150 go?  Probably in the pockets of the tournament director. 

Some club directors don't have a choice of playing in these tournaments as their clubs support certain tournaments.  However, most club directors most DO have a choice. This would be a great way to save parents some money: don't play in any $175 tournaments. 

I will end as I normally do with a question:  For most teams in this region, is it worth it to play in 2-4 of these $175 tournaments and pay an additional $150-300 ($15-$30 per player) a year for local tournaments just to have certified first referees?  With the cost of club volleyball skyrocketing, this seems like a great place for clubs to save parents some money without really sacrificing anything.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why Does Club Volleyball Cost So Much?


My club had two teams this year.   One team finished the season ranked 25th out of 79 teams in their age group.  The other team finished 36th out of 80 teams in their age group.   Out cost per player was under $250 for returning players and $300 for new players who needed uniforms.  Most clubs in our area charge $800 to $3000 per player, not counting mandatory fundraisers and travel costs for out of town events.

Coaching in the St. Louis area for almost 30 years, I have asked myself this question a number of times. "Why are people paying thousands of dollars a year for club volleyball?" 

Here are some of the major costs associated with club volleyball:
  • Club overhead charges (including administrator salaries)
  • Coach salaries and per diems (food and hotel)
  • Uniform packages
  • Practice facility charges
  • Tournament entry fees
  • Player and coach registration fees and coach background checks
  • Equipment charges
  • Parent costs (hotels, airfare, gas, food, gift for coaches at end of season)
Certain costs (tournament entry fees, player/coach registration fees/background checks, uniform shirts (2) and shorts/spandex and a small amount for equipment/club overhead) are mandatory to have a team.  

But what about the other costs?  Most of the costs above are not needed if the goal is to make players better.  Since it is likely that only 5-10% of kids playing select volleyball will ever get volleyball scholarships, it would seem the goal is to make players better for three reasons:

a.  To teach them about playing in a competitive team environment in a sport they show proficiency at and love to play.
b. To optimize the team they are on and the role they have when they enter high school as freshmen
c. To maintain their ability to have a successful high school career (if they play club volleyball in high school).

You could add a 4th category, to have fun with their friends.  While that is important, it seems like that could be accomplished for much less than what people are paying for club volleyball.

Here are some of topics I plan to discuss on this blog:
  • Uniform packages: Does your son or daughter really need a team backpack?  Do they need a warmup?  Do they need a practice t-shirt? How many uniform shirts do they need?  How many pairs of shorts/briefs do they need?
  • Travel: Does your team need to be traveling out of town or even playing at an in-town national qualifier?  This is a huge money drain on a parent, with one trip, if the family flies, potentially doubling the cost of the season for that family.  We will discuss whether all teams should travel and ways to keep it less expensive.
  • Coaches getting paid: Do you need to be paying your coaches and, if so, how much?   In the St. Louis area and in our region there are over 500 select volleyball teams and probably closer to 800 coaches.  How many of those teams have coaches that are getting paid?  How many of those coaches do you think need to get paid?  That is, does your coach have the expertise and experience to coach kids at the level they are assigned to?  Do they actually have the ability to train players at a high level?   Is there evidence that your coach continues to do self-improvement in their volleyball coaching and coaching techniques, in general? 
  • Cost of practice: Is your club looking hard enough for cheap or free practice facilities or are they using centralized practice facilities which are costing your team $30, $40 or even $50 an hour?
  • Overhead: Is your club trying to keep administrative costs down to the bare minimum?  What are acceptable costs and what costs can be contained.
  • Simple cost-cutting: I will discuss ways to save money that is needless spent, like playing in local $175 tournaments just to get first referees for your matches.
  • Accountability, literally -Do you get a line item expense report at the end of the year which would allow you to answer a lot of the questions above?  If not, why not?
In the 2014/2015 and 2015/2016 seasons our parents paid under $250 a player for an entire season with an average of 7 local tournaments plus regionals.  One of our teams added the Gateway Festival and the Mideast Qualifier in St. Louis and it only raised their amount to $350 a person.  This season our two teams finished ranked 25th (out of 79) and 36th (out of 90) teams in the region.  It can be done and it can be done cheaply.

I hope to give some examples of how this can be done in this blog.