Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Some unique thoughts about tryouts

So, in the Gateway region tryouts for grade school teams are coming up this weekend. 

Volleyball clubs should be very concerned about the development of their players.   But, as a parent or player you need to have an active role in that development.   Here are some unique ways you may be able to impact your son or daughter's development at tryouts.

(1) Instead of trying out just for their age group, consider trying out for one age group older.   Look, it's human nature.   Your daughter is in 7th grade and so should be trying out with girls her own age, right?   Well, not exactly.   As I mentioned before there are only a handful of top clubs in any region.   Aside from those, if your daughter is very good, she is likely to be the best or one of the best players if she plays for a lower level club.   However, for that same club if she played up one age group she might be one of the weaker players on that team and would be more challenged.   So, if you don't want to play for and pay for a bigger club, one way to duplicate that experience is by playing 'up' one age group in a second level club.  If a lower level club won't allow this, then I would avoid trying out for them as any club who wants a player to play for a team they won't be challenged on is not considering what is best for that player's development.

(2) Talk to someone who is really knowledgeable about volleyball and see where your daughter projects as a player.  Then check with the club(s) you want to try out for to see what their philosophy is on putting together a team.  If they just take the tallest players or those who can jump the highest and automatically make them middle blockers, they are considering what will be best to help them win instead of what will be best for the development of their players.   You are likely going to pay a lot of money for your child to play club volleyball.  It should be best for your child, not for the sake of the team's chances of winning.  I have run offenses with three middle blockers or three outside hitters or three setters in the past just to train kids at the position appropriate to them, not at the position appropriate to where the club wants them to play.   If you have 3 good setters and they are your best 3 players, why should one or two of them be used as outside hitters or defensive specialists/liberos?  If you have two good setters you should be running a two setter offense or some system where those two good setters play equal time at setter, at least, and get to play most of the rest of the time at a position appropriate to their skill set.

(3) At tryouts talk to other parents, especially the parents of the best players at the tryout.   Try to get a feel for whether those kids are just there as a backup plan or will they commit on the spot if selected to this team.   Usually players have numbers at tryouts.   Pick the best 15 players you see at those tryouts and write down their numbers.   When a team asks you if you will commit ask them which players, by number, have committed or will commit.  I would get that in writing by e-mail if I could.  Too many times novice parents see a great team at a tryout and commit to a team only to find out that the players they saw at the tryouts are not the ones on this team because they committed to other clubs.

(4) Better uniforms don't make a better team.  If you are choosing between similar teams pick the one that requires less cost for uniforms.   I have never, as a coach, been beaten by a great looking uniform.  But I have seen some really novice teams sporting $100+ in uniforms/bags/etc. for no reason.   Despite popular belief, you don't have to look good to play good, you just have to be well-trained.

(5) If you don't make a team of your choice don't just jump to be on another team.  Touches are great but you get touches in grade school ball and you are trying to get better coaching and be with better players in club ball, right?   So if you don't make a club you want to play for on tryout weekend be more selective.    Remember, if you don't make a club team you can just apply the money you saved by not playing club to camps or clinics the next summer or individual lessons during the year. 

(6) The younger the team the fewer players should be on that team.   Why?  Because larger rosters are for specialization.   If you have a 16-year-old who can't pass serve and you are trying to win the regional championship you take that player out in the back row for a defensive substitute.  However, in 6th grade you want that player to develop all skills, not just use their best skills to help the team win.   Again, it comes down to what is better for the player, not what is best to help that team win.  Winning is only important, in reality, for the top few teams in each age group.   For the rest, it should be what is best for the development of a player.  Yes, you don't want to embarrass a kid if they just can't pass serve but, again, there are ways to hide a player so they are not part of your serve receive if they struggle with passing serve. 

Hopefully this helps.   Here is hoping that clubs work to develop their players as they should.  However, don't accept that this will be true.   If you aren't actively involved in the tryout process, you may end up with less than you expected. 

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Summer is approaching - time to up your game

I have been coaching for almost 30 years and one story I have heard over and over again is how a kid learned to serve overhand by serving the ball over and over against the side of a garage or even a barn. 

The point?  While the more modern expression "Perfect practice makes perfect" is true, the formerly used expression "Practice makes perfect" also has some merits.  That is, many repetitions, even if all are not perfect, does create muscle group strength and muscle memory.  I am not advocating bad repetitions or technique.   Rather, the best technique that a parent untrained in volleyball teaching can muster from their child.  No goofing around, no bad 'I can't do it that way' attitudes.  Just good, consistent repetition with reasonable overall form.

So, how do we use outdoor time in the summer to get kids better at volleyball?  Here are some suggestions that might help.

1. Use a basketball court

Setting - Once a player gets the concept of how to contact a ball to make a clean set, all that is left is height and direction.  Both come from the muscle strength gained by repetition.   Here are three drills to help with that:

a. set for height - have a player stand about 5 feet from the basket in the foul lane.   Have the player toss the ball to themselves and set it straight up, attempting to make a basket.  Doing that about 20 times will help strengthen those arm, shoulder and hand muscles.

b. set for distance and accuracy - have the player stand at the foul line (or for older players, the top of the foul circle).   Stand about 8 feet from the basket and toss the ball to the player who has to set the ball over your head, trying to make a basket.  If a player wants to practice this themselves, they can toss the ball (relatively high) to themselves and set the ball into the basket.   For players trying to become setters, you can stand on the sideline of the court about 10 feet from the endline.   The player stands at the top of the foul circle.   You toss balls to them and they have to move their feet and get their shoulders square to the basket and set the ball in the basket.  Obviously, all your tosses should be high and somewhere between you and player.

Passing (bumping) -  The player starts at the top of the key and some stands on the end line and tosses them a ball which they try to bump into the basket WITHOUT hitting or going beyond the backboard.  The basket represents the perfect pass and the backboard represents passing the ball over the net, not a good thing.   The tosser standing on the end line simulates the ball coming from the other side of the net.  A passed ball can't go into the basket if it passed too low or straight up or off to the side.  Parents who are adept enough can increase the strength of drill by throwing the ball at the player, simulating a spike or a hard serve.   The goal is still the same: pass the ball high and get it to the net, but not over it. 

2. Go to the sand

Sand courts are everywhere.   Find a sand court and work out.   Any movement you do in the sand is worth 2-3 of the same movements in a gym or even on the grass in terms of muscle development.   Moving to the ball and jumping high, two things most young players need to work on, are just that much harder in the sand.   Plus, it is fun being outdoors.   The only caution I will give you is don't let the player's form disintegrate.   When young players make the transition to sand play they tend to want to not move their feet.   This leads to bad and lazy contacts.   The goal is to have fun in the sand while still improving your game.   This can only be done if you use the same form as you use indoors.   The player will have to move their feet more quickly, anticipate better and put in a maximum effort jump every time just to be at the same level they can do routinely in the gym.   But that's the point, really.   Sand quickens your game and teaches you the importance of maximum effort. 

3. If you build it, they will play

Buy a cheap volleyball set and put it up in your backyard or take it to a local park and set it up.   The only proviso here is that you should bring enough extra rope and spikes to brace both net poles so the net is straight across and at least 7'4" high.  No saggy nets!   This is not picnic volleyball, this is volleyball training.  If you want to teach a player to serve just bring a 50 ft tape measure and draw a line 30 feet from the net, having the player stand behind it and serve the ball over the net.  They can also practice spiking if you learn to toss the ball to them.   I advise starting over close to your player and tossing the ball close to straight up and have them approach and spike.   Be careful not to let them land on your feet!

For the more industrious people you can build your own cheap, easily storable volleyball system.   Here is how it is done:

1. Get two relatively large (at least 2") hollow PVC pipes, at least 12 ft long with a thick wall.  Inside that find how many smaller PVC pipes you can cram into the inside of that large pipe.   The goal is to add strength to the large PVC pipe by putting other, hollow, smaller PVC pipes inside.  Then get four collars designed for the large PVC pipe and hollow them out on the inside so they can slide over the larger pipe.   Get four heavy eye bolts.   Set one of the collars at 10'6" and the other at 7'6".  Drill through the collars and the pole and then slip the eyebolt through and tighten it down with washers and nuts.   You can buy a decent, LIGHT WEIGHT, quality outside nylon volleyball net (with the top cord running through the top of the net) for under $25 on the internet.   Get one that is at least 33' wide but not much wider.  In your backyard, after checking with the utility people, dig two holes 35 feet apart and 2 feet deep.   Get PVC that is just enough bigger so that the large PVC fits EASILY in side of it.  Cut 2' sections of the larger pole, cap them at one end and seal those ends well.   Bury those in the ground, capped end down, leaving only a small amount of the top end above ground, just enough to put another cap over the exposed end.   Then you can insert your volleyball pole in each hole and put up your net.  Provide tension by roping each pole with two stakes and the rope.  

You have just created an under $50 volleyball net system that will last for years (mine has lasted for 6 years and it is still going strong and it is generally up from April to November every year).   Even the pipe is the ground is not a problem if you cap it when you are not using it!   If you want lines for the court you can get four more plastic spikes and 200' of yellow pool line and create your own lined volleyball court, if you have the room.   The pool line lasts about 3 years if you don't repeatedly run over it with your lawnmover.

2. If you don't want to go to all that work get a clothes line and two strong poles.   Hang an old sheet over the clothes line as the net and have your player serve or spike over the top of the clothes line.

There it is.  Sorry for the long post but it is relatively easy and cheap to get your kiddos out there keeping their skills up over the summer.  Most of the work can be done by them, as well, as tossers are optional to most of the drills above. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Individual Instruction. Is it worth the money?

If you figure that your son or daughter's club team will practice 4 hours a week starting in December and go to the middle of April (ending with regionals) you will put in about 80 hours of practice.  If their team plays 10 local tournaments your child will likely play close to 80 games, given that they might sit out a game here or there and occasionally they might play 10 games in a tournament.  At 30 minutes a game that totals another 40 hours.

So, your child will get approximately 120 hours of instruction and play.   Given that most volleyball clubs in the St. Louis area cost between $700 and $2500, this means that you are paying between $5 and $20 an hour.  That is incredibly cheap considering what it costs to get individual instruction.

Most individual instruction runs between $20 and $50 an hour. 

Then why would anyone want to pay for individual instruction rather than being in a team environment?  Here are some reasons:

1. Individual attention.   With a 10 person team how much of those 120 hours is your son or daughter getting individual attention?   Figure 1/10, roughly.   So now you are REALLY paying $50 to $200 an hour for the amount of individual instruction you are getting.   Now does it seem a little more cost effective to get individual instruction.

2. Quality of coaching.  Hey, I commend all youth coaches for putting in the effort to teach the sport I love.  But do the math.  There are close to 700 club teams in the Gateway Region.   How many of those coaches are really quality coaches?  Clubs are struggling for coaches all the time.   Contrast that to someone whose sole job is to train individuals in volleyball.    It is their livelihood to do a good job one-on-one.   They are likely, also, to be good technique coaches.  

3. Touches on the ball.   Mirroring the 120 hour argument above, individual instruction gives many more touches on the ball, and more focused touches, than your average club least per dollar.

4. Flexibility in schedule.   You are constrained in a club environment to whenever the practices and tournaments are.   While you might not have much more flexibility in picking a coach who trains just your daughter, it has to be more flexibility than playing on a club team.

It is pretty obvious that getting individual lessons doesn't train your child in everything they need to be a successful volleyball player.   Besides match play and learning offensive and defensive systems, there is the interpersonal relationship and teamwork components of a team sport that can't be learned in individual instruction.  Plus, individual instruction is more like work than play and we do have be aware we don't want to burn kids out in a sport.

However, getting individual lessons does likely improve your child, individually, more than being on a club team, if they go to enough lessons.    For some parents, that may be the most important thing: getting their child the instruction they need.  An example of this is something I have touched on before: getting your child work at the skills for the position that will maximize their skill set.   You can't always do that in club as some kids will have to be put in positions to help the team rather than being trained in positions that maximize that child's potential in the sport. 

My suggestion is to try individual instruction with a good instructor from a big club.   I might wait until after the club season, go a couple of times and see what you think.   One parent last year told me that their daughter learned more in one individual session than they learned in the whole season from a coach in a low level club. 

Next time we  will tackle the idea of going to summer camps. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year

Hope 2017 turns out to be great for all of you and you find what you need to improve and grow in your love for volleyball