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.