Can a Parent Council Help Your Club?

By Sharon L. Galonski, Club Director, Next Level VBC
(This article is Part II. To read Part I click here.)

I did it!   
After tryouts were completed, teams were selected, uniforms were ordered, and practices began, each competitive team within Next Level VBC was required to provide me with the name of a parent who would function as a Parent Council representative.

We met through this past month through April when many of the younger teams completed their competition season.  While many of the high school age teams continue to compete, I felt it was better to stop sessions now rather than try to get parents to attend meetings when they were more focused on end-of-school and vacation planning. 

At our first meeting, everyone was given an agenda outlining topics I thought the parents might find educational and of interest.  I defined what I believed to be the primary purpose of the council – “To open better lines of communication and to find ways to educate our parents” plus a few other things.
Discussions included the club’s handbook, uniforms, SafeSport Training, online fee payments, hotel accommodations, differences between JVA, USAV and AAU events, tournament costs, a “Personal Insights Profile™,” fund raising, a new practice facility, and tryouts, along with many other topics, including those related to coaches – their training and club performance requirements.  

At the beginning, I found the parents to be hesitant and unsure of what their roles would be and what they were able to discuss.  I followed up each session with an e-mail indicating several of the agenda items for the next meeting. As the sessions continued throughout the season, the parents were prepared in advance and clearly became more comfortable in expressing ideas and concerns.  

They’ve provided me with some good ideas.  I’ll be looking to make better travel arrangements for our “larger” families in the club that need more than a single double room for out-of-state tournaments.  I’ll be making some changes to the Club Handbook to better define some of the club’s polices and will add a few sections to address issues brought to light this season.  I’ve already moved forward with a better online payment source with lower fees – one that I hope will be simpler for the parents to use at fee collection times.  I’ll also be discussing topics with my coaches at our end of season meeting that came to light during our council session that I believe will be beneficial for coaches moving forward.  

One of my two favorite sessions involved everyone taking the Personal Insights Profile™ DISC assessment.  The parents enjoyed taking the assessment and were amazed at the results.  Having the parents participate prior to our athletes at the 15s, 16s, 17s and 18s levels led to a better understanding of the purpose of the assessments and what I hoped to achieve by offering it to our athletes.  

My second favorite, our final session in April, was by far the most animated.  
I opened the door for parents to discuss tryouts – the dates, the procedure, what coaches evaluate, how we track players through the tryout, and how offers are extended.  I’m sure, as coaches and club directors, you’re thinking I was crazy.  Surprisingly, some of their ideas were good and most were in line with the procedure already in place.  BUT, I absolutely refused to have players wear different clothing items identifying them as previous members of our club!  I don’t feel any player should be given any type of preference at tryouts – they need to work hard to earn a spot on one of our teams and not have it given to them.   
Amazingly, this was the session where parents provided the most insight and supported my decisions at the highest level.  
I was impressed with those representatives who took the time to e-mail their entire team with monthly updates about the meetings.  They asked for input from team parents prior to each meeting based upon tentative agenda topics and provided parents with articles that I supplied – mostly to do with parent education (i.e., an article published by the JVA and written by Skye Eddy Bruce entitled: SIX Reasons Parents Should NOT Watch Practice, the USAV Spectator/Parent Code of Conduct, our Region’s 10 Rules For Parents of Athletes, SafeSport Training guidelines, John Kessel’s Grow The Game Together Blog article posted in March, and many others). 

Was everything perfect?  NO.  Did one or two representatives try to bring up complaints involving players or coaches?  YES.  I immediately shut down those attempts at discussion and invited the parent to stay after the meeting to discuss further, but made it clear to the group that the council was not to be used as a means for parents to bring up individual players or team complaints – these issues needed to follow the protocol outlined in our handbook.  Did all representatives contribute to the discussions?  Sometimes – mostly.  

My biggest complaint – the lack of attendance by certain team representatives.  It was typically the same parents.  In fact, some never showed up, one quit and had to be replaced, and some complained they weren’t given enough notice (hmmm… I would think a full month’s notice would have been sufficient).  While some excuses were certainly valid, some weren’t.  The parents who were truly active on the council even went so far as to have another parent attend on their team’s behalf if they weren’t able too.  

My final project under the council’s discussion and input is to finalize a survey to parents on various club topics.  In the past, e-mail surveys were responded to by less than 10% of the parent membership.  With the support of council members and their willingness to follow up with their teams, I hope to get some additional feedback from everyone!

So, the question is, should I continue the council?   I have to say that I fully intend to move forward with the Parent Council again next season.  It was definitely a positive experience for me as the director of the club.  I might screen parents a little better to determine if they will actually be active with the council and I’ll work a little harder at preparing agendas that keep the parents animated.  
After all, the council can only be as effective as the parents who involve themselves.  

While I think the council worked to my advantage more than the parents this season, I believe now that they have a sense of how it will be run, their input will be more on point, and the council will become much more valuable to the success of the club!  

Next Level Volleyball Club is a supporting member of the JVA. To learn more about the JVA click here.
This is Part II of Sharon's experience implementing a Parent Council. To read Part I click here.

Top Beach Volleyball Bag Must-Haves!

By Molly Menard – Pro Beach Volleyball Player and CFO of the National Volleyball League
Twitter: @menardbeachvb

1. Sunscreen
You want to be 100% focused on the court and I promise you’ll be thinking about your aching skin and not the next point if you’re sunburnt!  I always bring 4 kinds of sunscreen: lotion, spray, a stick, and chapstick.  You can never have too much! 
I apply the lotion before I even step outside (you should wait 15 min for it to sink in before you go out in the sun).  Use the spray sunscreen in between matches as a touchup – not a primary.  Remember only about 60% of the spray makes it on your skin, so lotion is much more economical and more protective.  

Then I like to use a stick on super high sweat areas – nose, forehead, tops of ears.  Chapstick with an SPF is also important. You won’t realize until the end of the day that your lips can get burned too.  My favorite sunscreen is Australian Gold.  It lasts a really long time, and well, smell it! You’ll be hooked too. 

2.  Ball... Always have a ball with you!  
Tournament directors often only provide balls for the court and not for warm-ups. It’s important that you start warming up for at least ten minutes before your court opens up.  Make sure you run, stretch, and pepper so you and your partner are ready to start using the net as soon as the match before you is over.

3.  Beach Towel
I always have a beach towel with me for stretching, getting sand off my face, or for a post-VB swim in the ocean.  My brother and his wife bought me a special one a few years ago that I bring to every tournament.  I draw a lot of strength from my family and I bring a few momentos with me when they can’t be there.  Little reminders of my family makes the good days that much better and the frustrating days a little less bad!  

Make sure you thank your parents and other family members who come out to watch you. You will miss them on the days they can’t be there.  No matter if you lose or have the worst match of your life, a classy player always walks off the court with their head high and thanks their fans who came out to see them.  

4.  Stretch Band / Rubber Band
I like to bring a yoga strap to stretch in between games.   It’s a really easy, low energy way to get in a good deep stretch while relaxing.  Try laying on your back with one leg in the air and the strap around your foot for a deep hamstring stretch.  Or stand up and hold the strap overhead with both hands.  While pulling out on the strap, squat down while keeping your upper body straight for an overhead squat.  I also like to use a band as it helps to activate certain muscles that I need to “wake-up” before a game to help stabilize my bigger power muscles.  A simple exercise is band pull-aparts, where you hold the band in front of you and use your arms to literally pull it apart.  You should feel your upper back engaged and ready to crush some balls!

5.  Snacks
Every elite athlete knows that proper nutrition is key in getting through long days and training sessions.  I try to carry snacks that can last through the day.  Almonds, protein bars (remember to keep them out of the sun so they don’t melt!), bananas, and dried fruit (no sugar added!) are great options.  I also like to use all natural recovery or electrolyte drinks (check out VegaSport Recovery powder) when I know I will be sweating a lot.  I make sure to bring plenty of everything because I don’t like to eat big meals during the day when I play, but I do eat a little something between each match.  Big meals make me sleepy!

6. Water
Make sure you have a couple of water bottles on tournament day. Many tournament directors offer water, but you definitely don’t want to be stuck without if there isn’t any.  I like to bring at least two water bottles so I can mix my electrolytes in one.  I also prefer stainless steel water bottles as I think they stay the cleanest.  Plastic bottles often have BPAs that can leak into your water when the bottle is in the sun, so if you do have a plastic water bottle, make sure its BPA free.  Klean Kanteen makes a really good stainless steel water bottle. 

7. Lightweight Hoody, Hat, and/or Visor
I like having a lightweight hoody on hand, especially when I’m outside all day. It’s a good idea to physically cover up as much as possible when you aren’t playing in order to protect your skin.   I can’t play in a hat, but I do wear one in between matches to protect my face.  A cool trucker hat is a must on the beach!  Check out the awesome merchandise line coming soon to to stay protected (and look cool!) throughout the day. 

8. Extra Bikini/Boardies
You never know when something might happen!  Something might rip, you might spill, or your bikini or boardies might just feel funny after playing 4 matches.  Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to bring a uniform change. 
It's really important that you try your bikini or boardies on before tournament day.  Make sure they fit well! Jump, squat, shake it out... make sure everything stays in place and is comfortable.  Just because it looks cool doesn't mean it's comfortable. You definitely don't want to be distracted when you are on the court.  
For the ladies, I really like adjustable bikini tops - Pepper Swimwear makes a great top that has four adjustable straps.  They are also reversible so it's like you can get two different looks in one.  Sports bra and cross back type tops are also great.  I highly recommend you avoid string bikini halter-tops or bottoms!  Nothing stays in place. (Yes...I have learned the hard way).  

9. Ear buds
I always need music to pump me up before a game so I never leave home without my ear buds!  It’s just as important to mentally warm up as much as physically warm up.  I like to visualize the first play of the game as well as get rid of any “noise”.  
Noise can be anything from being too excited to doubting yourself.  You need to find the right level of emotion and shake off anything that is making you too anxious.  If you are at practice, you need to prepare yourself to learn, and if you are at a tournament, it’s time to let all of your training and hard work kick in!  It’s GAME TIME!

For more junior beach volleyball education click here.

The On-Going Struggle to Introduce Volleyball at an Early Age

By: Meg Davis, Youth Academy Director at Southern Performance Volleyball

When I was first told I would be officially in charge of the “Youth Academy” at the club then known as Team Sting Volleyball Club, and now Southern Performance Volleyball, I was both excited and nervous. I love the sport of volleyball and coaching younger kids, but I wasn’t exactly sure how to grow a youth volleyball program, especially in a state like Alabama, where volleyball is not usually the first choice for a sport.

One major challenge was (and still is) introducing the sport of volleyball at an early age. Other sports (soccer, softball, football, basketball) have youth programs with a large following. These sports are introduced to children in many ways: YMCA's, community Parks and Rec programs, schools, etc. 

In Alabama minimal organized opportunities exist to play volleyball at a young age, and most have been through local recreational centers offering limited technical training. Our club recognized the gap in training opportunities and has been making an effort to fill that gap, while simultaneously growing our club from the ground up.

In its inaugural year in 2011, our Youth Academy trained approximately 46 participants from ages 5 to 13. During the 2014-15 season, the Southern Performance Volleyball Youth Academy (SPVB-YA) trained over 250 participants through various youth programs. So in only four seasons, SPVB-YA has expanded by over 440%!

SPVB-YA still faces challenges to expand our numbers, especially for children in pre-K through 2nd grade. However, our recent growth has helped the club as a whole grow its participation numbers, and will hopefully continue to improve  the skill level of our travel teams as the YA players age. The success of our SPVB-YA is essential for the growth of the club both in the immediate and long-term future.

The growth of the SPVB-YA can be attributed to the vision and creative input of our club director Julie Dailey to emphasize youth development. Additionally, resources from the Great Lakes Center Youth Academy (GLC-YA), which is affiliated with Sports Performance Volleyball, have heavily influenced the expansion of the SPVB-YA. Some of the concepts that have worked for SPVB-YA to help grow our youth program include:

  • Don’t Try to Re-Invent the Wheel 
Many other organizations across the country and the world run extremely successful youth volleyball programs. Borrow ideas from others & customize them to fit your program. Watch their online videos, contact program directors for advice, or even observe their practices or clinics.
  • Be Patient & Stay Flexible
It may take some time before you see the numbers you are hoping for. Offer clinics, leagues, etc. throughout the year on different days and at different times. Kids are busy these days!

  • Try New Things & Think Outside the Box                     

Kids love TOYS! Find fun ways to incorporate hula hoops, squishy or bouncy balls, footballs, mini-nets, glow-in-the-dark volleyballs, beach balls, balloons, birdies, etc. Use age-appropriate drills & equipment to allow for success without sacrificing technique. 
Offer other fun activities (crafts, healthy snacks, etc.) whether
they are related to volleyball or not. New ideas may fail or work out great, but you won’t know until you try them out.


3-contact play emphasis for ages 5 to 13 from balloon to volleyball

  • Spread the Word Literally, as well as with Pictures and Videos

Word-of-mouth among families and ideas like “bring-a-friend for free day” can expose new players to your program. Create a blog, newsletter, website, Instagram, Facebook page, etc. The more videos, pictures, flyers, etc. that you share, the more visible your product. And kids will be excited to see themselves in action!

The Blog is a great platform to share: upcoming events: practices, clinics, tournaments, team pictures & rosters, monthly practice calendars. tournament schedule, and an archive of newsletters.

SPVB-YA Newsletter
The newsletter is a great way to share information such as:

  • "Players of the Day" at recent practices
  • Upcoming events: practices, clinics, tournaments
  • Fundraising opportunities
  • Results from tournaments
  • Pictures - action shots from tournaments & play days
  • Links & summaries of volleyball-related articles (motivational, educational, etc.)

These ideas have helped the SPVB-YA grow and will hopefully help it to continue to grow. Volleyball is a great sport to keep kids active & teach life lessons. Youth development programs can help young players learn new things & have fun at the same time!

SPVB-YA still faces challenges to expand our numbers, especially for children in pre-K through 2nd grade. However, our recent growth has helped the club as a whole grow its participation numbers, and will hopefully continue to improve  the skill level of our travel teams as the YA players age. The success of our SPVB-YA is essential for the growth of the club both in the immediate and long-term future.

5 Ways to Stay Cool in the Sand this Summer

Few things scream “summer” more than the start of the beach volleyball season.  It is a time for soaking up some rays with the scent of salt water in the air and sand between your toes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans take about two billion trips to the beach each year.

A competitive beach volleyball weekend can turn sour with just one hot sand induced blister or one piece of ocean debris. While most bad beach volleyball days end with little more than a sunburn in need of a good soak in aloe vera gel, serious injuries are more common than we’d like to believe. Here are a few tips to help you keep your beach volleyball events as safe as can be.

Photo: Kirrus
Before hitting the beaches, there are a few things to keep in mind. Even if you're heading to a grass court event or lake event instead of ocean beach event, listen up — many of the tips below apply to hanging out on any outdoor volleyball court during the summer. No matter where you’re headed, we've rounded up 5 tips to help you keep safe at your summer tournament.

1. Save Your Skin!

Photo: Christopher Long
Just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles a person’s chance for developing melanoma later in life. Racking up more than five sunburns at any age also doubles the risk for melanoma. Keep the red at bay by slathering on a broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, we recommend Everstride’s Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30 w/Active 5 for all over body protection and Everstride's Sunscreen Stick SPF 50 for sensitive areas , including the forehead, nose and cheeks. Make sure you have a source of shade — think hats, umbrellas, tents — readily available (especially during the sun’s peak hours of 10am to 4pm). Remember — eyes can get sunburned, too, so don’t forget some shades.
2. Find Some Shade! (Prevent overexposure to the sun, sun sickness/stroke)

A few hours of baking under the sun can cause some seriously uncool symptoms and may even lead to severe sickness. Heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and sun poisoning can all result from dehydration and extended exposure to high temperatures, so make sure to drink plenty of water (and avoid dehydrating liquids like coffee or alcohol).

Symptoms of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and sun poisoning include confusion and dizziness, fatigue, headache, muscle cramps or weakness, nausea, excessive sweating or lack of sweating, pale skin, swelling (particularly of the hands or face), rapid heartbeat, and confusion. Sun poisoning can also be indicated by skin redness and blistering, pain and tingling, or fever and chills.

If you (or someone you’re with) display any of these symptoms, get out of the sun and heat (umbrellas are your friend), remove any unnecessary clothing, drink plenty of water, and take a cool bath or shower. If symptoms are on the severe side — swelling, confusion, painful and blistering sunburns — it’s best to seek medical attention.

3. Wear Shoes — the Sand Gets Hot too!

We know — feeling the sand between your toes is part of the quintessential beach volleyball experience. But when it’s upwards of 100 degrees outside, the squishy sand doesn’t feel so great (and can even cause burns!). Be sure to bring a pair of beach shoes or socks with you in case the sand gets unbearably hot (They’ll help with those oh-so-necessary trips to the beach hut bathrooms, too). 
The best we have found for sport performance are the Sockwa G Hi range. Their TPU (recycle plastic) sole not only protects you from hot (and cold) sand but also allows for better traction when moving around the court.  
Sockwa also offer a similarly designed beach sock which they call Playa Hi.  The Velcro fastening system is the best on the market for keeping sand out of your beach footwear and the high quality stitching makes them more durable than other similar products on the market. 
4. Avoid Too Much Rub

As a beach volleyballer, you have probably experienced skinnchafing, the annoying and often painful result of skin rubbing against skin or clothing. Add the element of sand and sweat and the results can be very painful. Chafing can occur anywhere on your body, but the thighs, groin, underarms, and nipples are particularly vulnerable.

There are a number of ways to prevent skin chafing, so don't let it slow you down.  In order to prevent skin chafing, you must decrease the amount of friction to your skin. Here are some ways to do this:
  • Stay dry. Wet skin can make chafing worse. Before you head out the door, apply talcum and alum powders to areas that get the most sweaty. Powders can help wick moisture away from the skin. Don't stay in wet or sweaty clothes
  • Lubricate. Apply either Fix Feet First’s Goo or Everstride’s Anti-Chafing Sport Stick to hot spots. These two specifically designed lubricants can help reduce friction to the skin. 
  • Dress right. When exercising, wear proper-fitting, moisture-wicking clothes, such as those made with synthetic fibers. Do not exercise in cotton. Compression shorts, such as those worn by cyclists, may help reduce thigh chafing. Also, less is more when it comes to dressing for exercise. If it is warm outside, consider running without a shirt if you are a man and in only a jogging bra if you are a woman. Lastly, choose exercise clothes and bras that have smooth seams to avoid rubbing.   

5. Water Bottles On Beach
Extended exposure to heat can easily lead to disorientation and reduced energy. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks down to the sand with you, and use them. Fuel your body so you can dominate your sand game all day long.

For more beach volleyball education visit

This article was shared by Sockwa, the Official Beach Sock of the JVA. To learn more about Sockwa and the variety of beachware click here.

Learning Toughness Abroad: SPVB Travels to Dominican Republic

By Rachael Fara, Player, Sports Performance 18 Elite

From March 27 to April 3, SportsPerformance Volleyball Club traveled to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. As a four year member of SPVB, and a two year member of 18 Elite, I have been provided with three unique opportunities of international competition. Unfortunately this most recent foreign visit is also my last with the volleyball club. Without a doubt I will miss these trips for the rest of my life. I remember jumping for joy after being asked to join the 2013 18 Elite team on their voyage to Japan. In the mountains of Nagano and bustling city of Tokyo, Japan’s “Fighting Spirit” was showcased. Each of these girls displayed more fight within their small bodies than I had ever seen before. Fast forward to 2014, I was invited to another international tour. The 2014 tour of the Dominican Republic was an eye opener. I discovered a new level of physicality on the beautiful island. The overall lessons of 2013 and 2014 years are easily identified as “Fighting Spirit” and physicality. However, what was the lesson from 2015’s trip to the Dominican Republic? The answer: Toughness.

This ‘toughness’ that Sports Performance 18 Elite witnessed in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic revolves entirely around the mental aspect of volleyball and not at all around physical roughness. Staying mentally tough throughout long matches allows room for a few, sometimes more, moments of great volleyball to appear within a team.  In addition, every great team must unleash their passion come game time, but also control their energy so that energy becomes intensity. This balance of calm energy, intensity, is tricky. Consistently remaining intense is even trickier. 
“Consistency trumps intensity; all the time. That intensity is born from consistency.”  
It is nice talk of intensity, consistency, good attitudes, positivity… yet the most basic principle is toughness. To become mentally tough everyone has to start somewhere. We started on Day 1.

Day 1: March 28
Arrive at Hotel Barceló, Santo Domingo, DR just after 12 am. Sleep. Wake up for late morning practice for about 2 hours. Lunch. Stretching in pool/free time. Play DR U20 team at 4 pm.

After a long Friday of airports and layovers, we finally made it to Santo Domingo. With two returning players, Molly Haggerty and myself, and eight newbies, this trip was bound to be full of many harsh lessons. After a few hours of sleep, Elite hit the practice gym for the first time. The climate left every shirt, sock and elbow pad drenched in sweat only half way through practice. By the 1 ½ hour mark, the sweat towels would eventually cease to soak up any more sweat.  Thankfully the gym was only partially enclosed, with the corners open to allow cool breezes to pass through. Towards the back of the gym several more courts and dorms are located behind a dividing wall. Many players live in these dorms and attend school in the mornings, then practice in the afternoons and evenings.

A few hours later our team returned to the same gym for our first match. Think of these games as formal scrimmages. No matter win/loss record, 5 sets were always played.  All games were played according to international rules. Locals spectated and cheered on for their home-town team. Personally I felt anxious for this match. I knew about this country’s style of play from 2014’s trip, but also knew how inexperienced the 2015 18 Elite squad was.  This first day of game play would set the tone of the trip. I understood our situation. We, the Americans, were the underdogs.  

On this trip only two roads diverged; one lead toward greatness, the other lead away from our goals. In order for the entire team to move towards greatness each individual had to recognize that there was no reason to not play harder than ever before against this U20 team. These girls were older, smarter, faster, and stronger; essentially 18 Elite had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Elite lost 1-4. ‘Not good at all, but not horrible, for the first day.’ I thought that night. ‘We’ll adjust, learn and try again tomorrow. The Dominican team is good, but not unbeatable.’

Day 2: March 29
Wake up about 8. Practice 9-11 am. Lunch/free time. Play DR U20 team at 3 pm. Pool stretching/dinner
Tiffany Clark, our libero, and Mark Jones, our assistant coach got food poisoning.  Somehow both managed to play through upset stomachs. Mark kept on pushing us harder and harder in drills that kept him sweating. If I didn’t see him eat much for meals, I wouldn’t have known he was sick.

That morning’s practice focused on primarily weak individual skills exposed in Day 1’s match.  This practice regimen remained the norm for the week.  Rick Butler, our head coach, Erik Vogt and Mark Jones, our assistants, were able to plan practices specifically for Elite’s needs rather than an entire club’s practice because we were isolated during this trip. No phones, friends, or parents were available to comfort ourselves. The team learned how to push on as one cohesive unit.  As part of this lesson practices looked something like this: Commonly both of our defensive specialists would dig one hundred or more balls in a row before moving onto the next drill. All passers worked in movement drills until hundreds of balls were passed.  Our setters received technical coaching, repeated footwork and corrected their hands over and over. Hitters and blockers were given the same treatment and mechanical skills were addressed.

Practice came and went. We ate lunch. Elite moved through the motions of ‘volleyball boot camp.’ If I have a single piece of advice in this whole article: never, ever, go through the motions.

That day Elite entered the gym for our second scrimmage against the U20 team. We left without the big win. At this point I began to wake up to the reality of our team. Our talent is more than ample, but something was not clicking. 

Rick offered this advice, “Focus on the process of getting better today and the rest will take care of itself.” This process can be summed in ‘making today better than yesterday.’  If any athlete focused on becoming better than they were at the beginning of the day, their level of play is exponential. 18 Elite set high goals for ourselves and in order to achieve them we needed to take on this philosophy. Our central goal became maximizing the next morning’s practice.

Day 3: March 30
Short Morning Practice. Lunch/Travel. Play Exhibition match in San Cristobal.

It is suffice to say that 18 Elite came ready to go for morning practice. Although practice was shortened to no more than an hour and one half, more productive repetitions were performed that morning than the previous two days combined. The past two days’ losses served as motivation. The Dominicans managed to find our weaknesses and zero in on them. Unfortunately our practice time was cut short before we were ready to end such a great atmosphere. Exhausted, or team returned to the hotel for lunch before hopping on a bus to San Cristobal.

Upon arrival we noticed that the San Cristobal facilities were very similar to those in the Olympic Training center in Santo Domingo. Again all four corners of an arena had openings to allow a breeze to circulate. The stands began to fill with a band, families, and young children as game time approached. All eyes gazed on to the court as if the Dominican Republic’s national team was warming up to play the United States’ national team. We were ready and itching for a fight.

At this point we played the best volleyball of our season. We barely knew where San Cristobal was located on a map, but I assure you that no 2015 18 Elite member will forget this gym for a long, long time. That afternoon we played a group of girls large enough to form two complete line ups. Their ages ranged from approximately nineteen to thirty years old and averaged around 25. Not only were we aiming to beat much older women, we had to defeat fresh and well rested line ups every set. No greater opportunity had been given to us thus far! Sports Performance stormed out and claimed the first set 25-19. This shining 18 Elite team was not to be taken lightly for the entire night. Every point would become a battle, and every set a war. Faulting on a string of our own errors, the DR claimed sets two and three 21-25, 22-25. Changing gears, many of our players began to display talents and skills previously unused.  The defense dug ‘impossible’ hits. Blockers made reads that forced the Dominicans to hit towards our red-hot defenders.  Our setter created 1 on 1 situations and hitters found the floor. It was close, but 18 Elite took the fourth set 25-23. This war was not over.

In the fifth set of the exhibition match, 18 Elite stayed strong until a side out to make the score 9, Sports Performance, to 10, Dominican Republic. The pressure to win was on to string together two or three points for the lead. As we had done the whole night, Sport Performance aimed to win and was not afraid of a little risk. Unfortunately some plays were too risky and resulted in  \errors. After a hard fight, the final score favored the Dominicans 10-15.

After a few minutes, 18 Elite was able to step away from the frustrations of being so close to winning, yet losing. We were cheered up by the fact that we had truly played our some of our best volleyball ever that night. A small reception was held where we were able to meet and talk to the several Dominican players for a while. I had the chance to meet Rosaline, number 12, who is a proud mother of a young boy named Noah.  Another player, number 14, almost attended Penn State University on scholarship. Quickly I realized how similar these girls are to us.  We all wished for more time to talk to the other players. Locals joined in conversation and asked for pictures. One man asked how much money the Sports Performance athletes are paid to play. I laughed and stated that we pay Mr. Butler, he does not pay the players.

Day 4 - 5: March 31 – April 1        
The remaining days passed in a blur. Overall practice and competition schedules remained the same throughout the week. 18 Elite was given a precious gift in these few days: an off morning. Utilizing our active rest time, we traveled only a few minutes’ drive to a street of tourist shops and vendors in the colonial area of Santo Domingo. In this strip a statue dedicated to Cristopher Columbus stands in a square located adjacent to Cathedral of Santa María la Menor, the oldest church in the Americas. Several of our teammates and coaches did their best to barter with vendors in Spanish. On both sides of the street artwork and beaded jewelry was lined up for display. My favorite shop sold a wonderful drink called chocolate tea. Not hot chocolate, mind you, but a lightly flavored cocoa tea.  Just a few hours later our little party ended, and we became volleyball players once again.

At the end of Day 5 our team had yet to win a match. We almost always played through to a fifth set, but never had the finishing touch against the Dominicans. The Dominicans were a tough team to beat. The overall intensity of the Dominicans consistently increased past point 20 of each of their games. No matter the situation, once their eyes saw ‘20’ on the score board they went all out. Error percentages in pressure moments were near zero for their program.  They were not the slightest bit like any American team we had seen, yet somehow we were able to hang with them until the very last points.

Day 6 of game play was upon us. This time we were to scrimmage in the morning so that the Dominican athletes, and Sports Performance, would receive an off day afterwards at the beach.

Day 6:  April 2
All through the previous night and into morning I recall nothing but talk of wanting to beat the Dominicans.  I must have lain in bed for almost thirty minutes visualizing myself solo blocking the opposing middles and imagining how great it would feel to win. Again we were slotted to play a mix of older and younger players, consisting mainly of their U23 roster. I knew that in this game I would need to take chances and make moves I never accomplished before in order for us to win. Walking up to the court, I was ready. It was go time. Just like the exhibition match on day 3, we battled and battled until the last whistle was blown. For the final time, Sports Performance 18 Elite was ousted by the Dominican Republic. For 6 days, our team managed to play consistently inconsistent in pressure moments.

Sports Performance never went to the beach that day. Instead the 18 Elite players, not coaches, had agreed the night before to skip the beach and utilize every moment we could for volleyball. ‘If we came to play volleyball, then my god we will play volleyball,’ was the overwhelming cry. The Dominicans did an excellent job pushing our team to the edge so that our weaknesses were exposed. Now that we had a running list of skills to improve upon, Elite aimed to “be better than yesterday.”  Every second of training mattered to us.
The week’s game play left us without a winning record, but during each scrimmage every player had countless opportunities to learn from our superior opponent. It looked like Sports Performance had finally taken a tiny baby step forward towards mental toughness. By taking the positives in a seemingly negative situation, we discovered just how much we actually did improve the past 6 days. Improvements made created little victories for the team to celebrate together. We left the practice gym for the final time taking into account all these little steps forward. Although small, this step might end up changing a single would-be passing error into a playable ball.
I could not have asked for a better way to spend my spring break.  I learned that consistency is a prerequisite to intensity. Before consistency comes toughness. I need to remember, however, that sometimes it is better for two teammates to supports each other rather than have two individuals try to ‘tough it out alone.’ This way, an entire team moves down a tough path towards greatness together.

It is with deep gratitude that we express our appreciation to Mr. Cristóbal Marte Hoffiz, NORCECA’s president, who served as our host through the entire trip. From meeting us at the hotel and immediately providing our team with food before bed, and until our departure, Mr. Hoffiz was more than generous and attended to every detail. Our trip is entirely thanks to him and his organization. On behalf of the entire Sports Performance Volleyball program, I thank him for his gracious hospitality and wish him the best of luck until our teams meets again.

Sports Performance Volleyball Club (Chicago, IL) is a member of the JVA, and shares the goal of improving junior volleyball for players, coaches, and the clubs. If you are interested in learning more about the JVA visit

Incorporating Learning Theory into Training

By Mark Britner, Coach, Team Indiana

A major objective of any practice is for players to learn how to become better volleyball players.  USA National Team coach Karch Kiraly emphasizes this learning aspect by asking his players “how good a learner are you?”  Parts of the USA women’s practices are even labeled as “schools,” e.g., passing school etc.  To get the most benefit of a practice, coaches and players must incorporate sound learning theory.  Although various authors express the major tenants of learning theory in different ways they all still boil down into a few basic common concepts.  
Judith Rink, in her book Teaching Physical Education for Learning, 6th ed., identifies 5 major requirements for someone to learn a motor skill:
to learn a player must . . .
  1. have the prerequisites to learn what is being taught; i.e., physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of performing the task
  2. have a clear idea of the task, i.e., they must understand what is to be learned
  3. have the proper motivational/attentional disposition to learn;  related to what is referred to as “deliberate” practice, i.e., practicing with a purpose
  4. practice;  all else being equal, the amount of time spent practicing, directly related to the # of contacts, is the most critical variable in the learning process  - i.e., Ericsson’s well known has 10,000 hrs. rule
  5. have feedback; includes both knowledge of results, e.g., was the ball served into the court, and knowledge of performance, e.g., was the ball served with proper technique 
Colvin1  refers to what he calls “deliberative practice” which involves a “highly structured activity with the intent to improve skill performance”.  Repeating a specific activity over and over is what people usually mean by practice, yet it often isn't especially effective. Two points distinguish deliberate practice from what most of us actually do. One is the choice of a properly demanding activity just beyond our current abilities. The other is the amount of repetition.

Although Colvin identifies eight elements in deliberative practice here are three key elements that are especially relevant in a practice setting.
  1. Setting specific goals.  (i.e., drills should have a specific purpose)
  2. Obtaining immediate feedback.
  3. Concentrating as much on technique as on outcome (i.e., process vs. outcome oriented)

Former national team coach Hugh McCutcheon referred to the importance of “cognitive engagement” and processing of feedback to improve.  This is essentially the same concept as Rink’s attentional disposition.  
Obviously, much could be written on this topic. The following chart is a simplified attempt to identify how Rink’s concepts apply to the coach and to the player in a practice setting.  Hopefully, one can also see how the elements of deliberative practice relate to Rink’s concepts.  It can well be worth the time to take a few minutes and go over this with your players. 

1Geoff Colvin,  Why talent is overrated, Fortune magazine, Oct. 19, 2006

What this means to you, the coach
What this means to you,  the player
Prerequisites to learn
The techniques, tactics etc. taught must be appropriate for the ability of the player(s); this includes not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.  Choose drills that are appropriate for the level of the players.  A guideline is the degree of success -  athletes  should have a fairly high degree of success but it should not be too easy.  (a figure of 75-80% success rate is often used)
A coach can not truly begin to coach you unless you are giving your best effort.  Only then will a coach be able to provide meaningful feedback and design drills that will enable you to maximize your learning.
To play your best you must be well rested, hydrated, and properly nourished – “Bring your best self to the gym” if you want to get the maximum out of the camp
Clear idea of the task
Give clear, concise explanations – make consistent use of the cues; 
Demonstrations must be accurate; allow for viewing from different angles.
Check for understanding by asking questions or having players repeat back to you
Listen! – Watch! – Ask  if you are confused or not clear on what or how something is to be done.
Motivational / attentional disposition to learn
Keep players attention by being organized and efficient; keep the pace of the practice moving; chose drills that are motivating;  do not continue a drill to the point of boredom or where players are losing interest; use “distributed” rather than “mass” drills;  incorporate “randomness” into drills; set goals for drills that are challenging but realistic; use competition to increase motivation and attention; maintain a positive atmosphere
You must want to learn!  You must practice with the intent of improving! Be engaged in what you are doing – concentrate!
Concentration: when what you are doing and thinking are the same!
Process feedback
Be receptive to coaching and new ideas or ways of doing things: 
have a “growth” mindset – not a “fixed” mindset:  view errors as learning opportunities

All else being equal, the player who practices the most will become the better player;  #’s of reps are important so be efficient and organized to maximize the number of contacts each player gets;  “let the ball do the talking” - reduce the amount of time you spend talking

Work to keep the pace of the training session high; do your job shagging so a drill doesn’t have to stop because there are no balls in the cart, hustle from station to station or when rotating in or out of a drill etc. so that you can achieve as many repetitions as possible. Engage in mental practice and visualization when possible.  Watch others perform skills.
Give plenty of it.  Reinforce the cues. 
Encourage players to self-process by asking them questions rather than just telling them what they did right or wrong.
Process your result – did the serve go into the net or where you wanted it to go?  Make adjustments until you get it right: think of Goldilocks – she didn’t just keep eating out of the bowl of porridge that was too cold, she kept trying until she got one that was “just right”

Team Indiana is a junior volleyball club member of the JVA. The JVA and its' members are focused on improving the junior volleyball experience for players, coaches, parents, and all involved. For more information on the JVA visit and contact us today to join!