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.