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How Can We Make Club Volleyball Better For All Young Athletes?


I’m going to assume that club volleyball teams want to live up to their published mission statements.  Generally speaking, they’re pretty lofty in terms of expressed goals, which tend to be focused on the development of young girls' characters through sportsmanship and team building and, along the way, the girl picks up enhanced volleyball skills from knowledgeable and respected coaches who have years of experience to share.

Here’s an example:  Club xxxxxxx cares about volleyball and cares about our members.  Our goal is to achieve excellence in volleyball and in life.  We value every player within our club and make a commitment to provide the best opportunities for her growth personally, athletically and as a volleyball player.  We realize you have a choice when it comes to Junior Olympic volleyball clubs.

Do you notice that there’s not a mention of “winning at all costs” in this mission statement? Yet, for every family and girl who’s gone out for, and then is selected to be on, a USA junior volleyball club team, you know you quickly get the “message” the club is basically ALL about winning.  Now this message doesn’t make it into the lofty mission statements . . . who knows, maybe it’s considered too “crass” to mention it there.  But the message on winning IS sprinkled into the clubs web page or other advertising.  They know how that message will resonate with us parents.  Our daughters have shown us that they have an aptitude and maybe even budding love for this exciting sport, so, wanting to help them, we look for avenues to help them be the best players they can be. And, what better than getting them into a club that has told you, “We’ve sent 10 teams over the last five years to the USA Volleyball Junior Olympic Championships”.  Reading that, you say to yourself, “Jeez, I’d like to get my daughter involved with a club like that!  There’s GOT to be great coaching and my daughter will definitely benefit from that!”

I believe this is every parent’s hope when they approach a club on try-out day.  And this hope is a really GOOD thing.  What many parents don’t realize is their attraction to an organization that has essentially told you that “Hey, we’re WINNERS!” can really back-fire on your child in a very horrific way.  YOUR decency as a human being and your desire to pass along your decent traits to your child leaves you TOTALLY unprepared for what some club owners and their coaches are capable of doing to young children on their way to winning.  Truly, these types of clubs are USING young children to keep the money train pulling into their stations and to keep building accolades for themselves. Some children with these clubs get a happy by-product as they’re being used of getting play-time, building skills and probably being able to translate their experience into success at the collegiate level.  However, many, many (and the number grows each year) young players do NOT get that happy by-product.  In fact, they get the opposite.  They’re chewed up and spit out by these clubs, where the club takes what it needs from these kids and their families . . . . mostly their money, but also they take the kid’s self esteem, confidence, and trust in adults who hold themselves out as people interested in helping children, as the coach marginalizes these girls, doesn’t play them in meaningful  games – at meaningful parts of the game, or uses them at practice to be the girl who serves it into the “starters”.  Actions like that.

Yes, these coaches WILL string you and your daughter along with false promises of how, with just a little more effort at practice, your daughter will earn more play time, but, probably, a coach like this is just happy to keep winning with his/her chosen six. From my perspective it just seems like a coach like this, working for a club that allows it, just figures it’s easier to play the same girls over and over again rather than to work out some rotation where every girl that was selected on try-out day, who IS paying the same amount as everyone else – gets to play in a meaningful game.  Who knows . . .maybe it’s too hard to do, especially when viewed against the back-drop that you (the coach) are winning with just these six!  A coach like this obviously isn’t giving a thought to the extreme damage being done to the “bench-warmers” heart and soul.  I’ve never been in a situation like this, so, best I can tell, the thoughts that you are just a great coach . . .because you WIN, just somehow glosses over the feelings that just about every other human being would have, which would be, “yes, I’m winning, but at what cost?  At the cost of destroying a young child’s self esteem and her love of a sport?  Well, that’s really not “winning” and I’ll have no part of it!”

I have some thoughts on how we, as parents of children interested in playing volleyball, could help clubs do a better job of living up to their mission statements.  I have NO doubt that if they did they’d actually enjoy greater success vs. run the risk of what’s happening now to club volleyball as more and more players and their families catch on to the scam that many clubs are running.  Simply put, these clubs can’t run teams if all they have is six girl/six families that are willing to write the checks to allow their girls to be used by the clubs (and the girls and their families get their acceptable by-product of being “show-cased” by these organizations).

I’ll share those thoughts in a future blog but I’d sure be interested in hearing from any club parent on this issue . . . .especially ones that have had success in helping their clubs care first about being decent to children and care about winning in a more secondary role.

Paying Lip Service to Mission Statements

Thank you for your thoughtful blog, Greg. Youth sports organizations often pay lip service to skill development and having fun as goals when they are really all about winning. While we at MomsTeam are not so naive as to think that the youth sports culture is going to fundamentally change anytime soon, we have consistently advocated that it be balanced with having fun and building a child's self-esteem and skill set, especially below the elite, Olympic-development level of a sport like volleyball. The challenge is that unless parents vote with their pocketbooks by supporting programs that actually follow a more balanced approach in practice and deny their financial support to those that take a win-at-all-costs approach, no ands, ifs or buts, things are only going to get worse. We are on a very slippery slope. I would like to think that those of us who believe children are not miniature adults, that playing on multiple teams at the same time, that specializing in a single sport at age 7 or 8, that pushing kids to play through pain and come back too soon from ACL injuries, are bad for kids, can, at the very least, put the brakes on the madness. No matter what, we are not going to give up trying. Lindsay Barton Editor MomsTeam

Thinking "Scholarship" - You're Right- It's Not Going Change!

Lindsay - Thanks for your thoughts!  I have to agree with you.  Unless parents vote with our checkbooks . . .it's not going to change. I didn't like the parents who stood by and watched the abuse of my daughter at the hands of coaches on this particular club.  Especially when they'd tell me just as I got ready to drive my sobbing daughter home from a day of matches where she essentially played ZERO minutes, that no one girl on her team deserved to be on the court basically 99% of the time to another girl's 1% ! But I didn't expect them to approach the coach on my daughter's behalf.  eck . . .they feared reprisals from the coach if they rocked the boat! Now the starters generally kept silent for two reasons  1) they liked the situation that their child played ALL the time and 2) they realized that the situation their child was in was really due to "back- room" deals made with the coach or club ownership.  I did get proof of these back-room deals but was amazed at how simply the club dismissed me when I brought the proof to their attention.  The parents of these girls (and the coach) KNEW that their daughters weren't "head-and-shoulders" above the the girls who only played 1% of the time, but they liked the situation that their deal-making had brought about. The onky parent that truly angered me was the parent the coach utilized to "keep stats".  In volleyball, and I guess other sports, a coach will use stats to defend their playing choices, essentially saying "Well, you see, this girl is playing SO much better than your daugher . . . see, look at these stats . . . that I have to play her . . .reward her . . for how she's doing at practice. "  Well, I went to every oractice and I saw how the girls performed and as a few of us parents quickly realized, this mom who kept stats was told to essentially pad the stats so the "status quo" could stay in place.  In other words, her "stats" weren't backed up in the reality of what was shown in practice!

So, however they do it . . .the parents who get the club (the coach) to "show-case" their child are very happy with these clubs because they're getting what they want because their eyes are on scholarships and - best that I can figure - they're generally of the opinion that their kid NEEDS to be on the court every minute of every game in order to have a shot at the ultr-competitive game of getting a college scholarship.  I truly think they think that if their girl rotates out for a few points in order to let another girl rotate in, who, in 99% of the situations, is just as good as their child, that their scholarship chances diminish.  So these parents are happy with the situation. In our case, if the coach finds she can win with just playing these six . . .she's fine with th situation as well, because, I guess, it just makes her life just that much easier to not have to worry about "messy" substitutions . . . even knowing how those substitutions could mean THE WORLD to the benched girl in terms of her self-esteem and confidence. I know an adult coach KNOWS this and that's why I call her actions to NOT sub in . . . abusive.  An adult working with youth should simply know better and view that, not winning at all costs, as their higher calling!

So, as you said, the ONLY thing that will bring all these offenders in line, including the parents of the kids who NEVER come out, is if the 7th, 8th, 9th maybe 10th or 11th "player" , who be on the bench on these types of clubs just refuse to go out for these teams.  If all these teams want to do is play six . . . .well, let them have just six on a team !  But you see, they CAN'T operate with just six on a team! For many reasons, but a big one is these families who's  kids join the team hoping to play and be truly developed, apy into the pool of dollars that lowers the average cost for the show-cased player's families! If we could somehow do that, we'd bring these people to the negotiating table to where maybe they'd try and treat all the players with decency and respect. 

Can we stop those 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th player's families from showing up on tryout day?  Nope . . .these clubs are EXPERTS at preying upon that deepest emotion of hope that these girls and their families have . . .which really is summed up with the statement . . ."please just treat my child fairly!" For many many volleyball clubs, for about 40% of their teams . . . .that's asking too much!

This is a very good post.

This is a very good post. It really points out some of the low points of club, and any "travel" type teams. However, to answer the question "How Can We Make Club Volleyball Better For All Young Athletes?" I don't think it's possible.

You see, the long range look is that club ball is somewhere where kids can go to get away from the school politics and possbily advance their career, possbily attain college scholarships, etc. The short story is the old adage, "everyone loves a winner". Scores are kept in sports because people are competitive, period. If coaches don't win, they don't coach long. In leagues where supposedly they don't keep scores or standings, the kids know the score and they know where they rank in the league.

I think a good coach has a responsiblity to coach each player up as much as possbile, but at cruch time, they are going to go with their best. Some programs spell out playing time better than others.

So what's the answer? As a parent, interview clubs just like you shop for a car or look for a new home. Check out the league, talk to the coach, talk to other volleyball people in the community and see what people say about the club. The nice thing about clubs, is you are only committed for one year. You have a bad experience, you can always find another one.

Good discussion

John and Greg: good follow-up comments. I continue to be amazed that some coaches don't give the players at the end of the bench any playing time at all. What happens if one of the "stars" gets injured? They will have to put in players that haven't had to play in crunch time. Parents need to push for rules that each player gets at least "significant" playing time. You are paying for the program just as much as the other parents (back room bribes aside). The stars don't need to play all the time. If they have the talent, they will ultimately rise to the top.

"Coach -speak" makes it difficult to know what's "real"

John - Lindsay : the unfortunate aspect to club volleyball (and I'm sure other club sports teams holding themselves out as being super-competitive and striving for the highest level of performance possible) is that many coaches are simply masterful in knowing what lines to say to a parent looking to get their child involved in volleyball at a high level. Knowing that they want the money in the parent's account, they prey upon that deep seated emotion of hope in the parent and say things like: "I'm totally objective each and every practice . .so a kid can earning more play time, maybe even a starting spot, if she just out practices, out "hussles" the other player during our practices." This excites the parent and the player because you think, your kid thinks, that they actually can DO this and earn more play time. When, in fact, in club volleyball, the coach usually knows well before tryout day who's starting for them in games, and if they're so pre-disposed, who's going to play every minute of every game. But because they need those practice players, and those dollars . . .they'll lie to right while looking you in the eye and smiling! The coach of my daughter's 14 year old team had either promised herself, or was abiding by the promises made by other club representatives, to other parents that their children would be placed on the team, would start, and would rarely, if ever, come out!! In other words, there simply was NO hope of my daughter earning significant play time NO MATTER what she showed on the court at practices because promises were made and had to be honored!! Kinda odd, huh . . .that folks like this actually had a sense of honor in THIS regard! Many remarked at try-outs how little she actually looked on the court to see what every girl could actually do as she let other coaches run the try-out. Why? How is it possible to NOT watcha try-out and still pick a team? It's VERY possible whenyou walk out to a try-out and you already have your starters on your clip-board! Everyone who observed practice knew my daughter was deserving of probably starting over the girl the coach chose . . .but, in any event, she certainly was NOT deserving of receiving NO meaningful play time. At try-outs this coach alluded to the fact that she had to live up to promises made by either her, the club (or both) to these other families, though she couldn't come right out and say it. (It's one thing to be sleazy . . quite another to 'fess up to it) So I simply asked her if she'd play the girls displaying the most aptitude for the sport, for the position, in practices come game day. She said she would . . . . .well, she didn't. So how could I ever know what was "real" and what was "fake" with this club and this set of coaches? Even though physical exhaustation doesn't usually force a VOLLEYBALL coach's hand in having to substitute, as in sports like basketball and soccer ,(a very important factor when you run into a coach intent on playing just six all the time) playing every point of every game, especially in multiple day tournaments can wear down a girl. So you're right Lindsay, it does make sense that the wise coach would want to develop ALL her players. And the wear did become apparent on my daughter's team among the "chosen six" a as they began to lose much more frequently. My daughter could barely keep from screaming when the coach received this answer from one of the chosen when she asked why they had played so poorly during one weekend . . . the girl said: "Coach, we're just exhausted. We need some rest!" She said this in front of about 3 to 4 girls who were dying, were aching to play in games!! Absolutely, utterly amazing!!

Winning at all costs sounds

Winning at all costs sounds a little too lofty and as correctly mentioned a little too crass. But this is the mission of all sports and for all practical purposes we are churning out a generation of bad losers. The things these kinds ultimately do to win is scary and pathetic. But at some level aren’t we also responsible for this kind of an attitude in our kids? We are equally to blame because we don’t give them the message that the most important thing is to play the game well.

I've admitted, we parent's DO share some responsibilty!

There’s no doubt, and I’ve said it on this site before, that there’s A LOT of blame to go around in trying to figure how many club organizations have come to their sad states – namely, where some kids are horrifically emotionally abused by adults who are simply out for personal glory and dollars. And we parents absolutely shoulder a great amount of this blame for shoveling our children and money to these questionable people. As I’ve also written though, these people are just MASTERFUL at preying upon parent’s deepest emotion when it come to our children and that emotion is hope. They’ll just string us along, telling us that, “boy, just one more season of practicing with the team and if you get her enrolled in some of our lesson . . .gee, you’ll see playing time totally change for her soon!” And we believe them and we come back with our checkbooks. In some cases they flat out lie to you on the ability of your child because they just need your money to lower the average cost for the athletes they truly want. More heinously, they’ll lie to you about your child’s chances to get meaningful playing time by saying they’ll allot playing time based upon what’s shown on practice, when all the while the coach has already been “bought and paid for” by other parent’s who have to ensure that THEIR child receives ALL the playing no matter what is shown as far as ability goes during practice. The coach WILL NOT change playing time no matter HOW many impartial observers point out just how unfair the playing time allotment is distributed based upon what is shown on the court/field. These bad coaches have already made promises to some parents, which, in turn, means some children WILL be harmed! I found out recently that some parents on my daughter’s team some years ago paid for some lavish vacations for the coach. At the time, not knowing how “dirty” some coaches and clubs could be, I marveled at how playing time in real games seemed to be doled out to girls without ANY consideration given to ability . . at least abilities that were displayed on the court. Obviously, I had my suspicions . . but now, years later, I know.

While I might be tempted to be comforted to know that what I saw on the courts was REAL . . .that my daughter WAS really good and deserved SO much more playing time, but since she wasn’t getting that something WRONG had to be going on . .. but seeing how emotionally harmed she was by these immoral coaches and club officials . . .I can’t take ANY comfort.

They SELL us winning and we and our kids want to be part of that. That IS, as you say, the payoff in competitive sports. . . . winning. But it’s not till you’re deeply involved that you learn the horrible price some families , once filled with hope, have to pay so that some can win. My posts/blogs have been dedicated to wondering out loud why there can’t be an emphasis on trying to win while taking care to fully develop and treat with simple human decency . . .ALL the kids that were selected to be on the team. And that means only one thing . . . .ALL children get to play in meaningful parts of games, for meaningful minutes . . . .at least some. At high competitive levels like travelling club teams and Varsity high school this NEVER means equal time, but it also NEVER means that any member selected to the team sits on the bench for every game, for every minute of the game. If there are adults out there involved in youth sports who cannot see that benching like this is the emotional equivalent to physical abuse of a child then you need to get psychiatric help soon . . . .you’re delusional, and you shouldn’t be allowed near children, let alone working with them in sports.

Those have always been my points on this nasty business. They always have been and I’ll shout about this stuff till th day I die!

Appreciate this perspective

My family is new to club volleyball, our daughter has always played volleyball and did very well winning the MVP award in middle school. It's a sport that she loves. We moved from the midwest to the west and decided that it was time for her to get involved. Moving my daughter during her teenage years to a community and going through the nightmare that we've experienced with club volleyball has been one of the worse experiences of my life. Being able to read the comments posted shed so much light onto our situation and helped me to realize that I need to help my daughter walk away from this situation. The kids want to prove to the coach that they are good and deserve to play when there's no chance of them playing and in may ways as previously stated the coaches are compromised either by bribes or their own personal bias towards players and their lack of confidence players as well as their lack of ability to coach the players to improve. I cannot sit on the sideline and watch this level of child abuse and do nothing.
Again, thanks for providing an opportunity to learn more and share thoughts on this blog.

You're welcome . . .it's too bad this is true about this sport .

For such a wonderful sport, it's too filled with flaws to avoid real harm being done to very good players, who, through NO fault of their own are going to be abused emotionally and mentally by bad people who somehow made their way into coaching (usually to promote their own kid!) Fatal flaws:

1) No girl ever gets truly exhausted in playing the game. For the poor coach, not interested in player development, he/she can keep the same six in, basically . . .forever!

2) In HS ball, I want to feel sorry for the HS coach who'll play the principal's kid, or the school board's president's kid with obvious lesser talent because they're fearful of these adults. But ultimately I cannot, if you're an adult, be an adult and do the right thing by these children!

3) In club, coaches are much more open to brides (though I've seen it more often in freebies). One dad, skilled in HVAC did heating and coolling for a club facility in return for playing time for his daughter. As I wrote earlier, a well placed corporate father paid for his daughter's club coach to take his college team dowm to the Caribbean for a tournament that bigger colleges - with deeper pocketbooks - usually practicpated in. You're in the tournament plus you get a tropical vacation . . . and all for just promising this father that his daughter will NEVER come out?!? How can you lose? Oh, you're screwing over other girls? Well . . . .just keep thinking of those turquoise waters and soon that won't bother you.

Its so sad that its such a great sport that girls easily fall in love with, but it's too filled with flaws and bad adults who exploit those flaws to trust your daughter's emotional well being too. In my city of about 400,000 there's really only room for two clubs that are playing GREAT volleyball and at each age, only six play and the other 4-5-6 "benchers" keep hoping and are continually lied to to keep you coming back. If you consider club is played from 12 to 18 (6 years) and each year just plays six - that's 36 girls who get to play for a club. The rest ride the bench, and their hopes are just met with public humiliation. In my town, with two clubs . . .thats 72 girls who get to play. Again, in a city of 400,000 . . .that's not good odds.

Read my post about individual sports like track and see if that's something you can steer your child to. As in the case of my daughter, going to those sports vs keeping your child exposed to abuse, can truly be "soul salvation" for a kid.

Let's fix it!

There is long standing tension within this game that few recognize and when they do and begin to speak they are silenced. The various associations, clubs and often "parent liaisons" all go from the same book and its often camouflaged in "How to be a good Volleyball parent" as if genuinely looking out for your child's best interests is wrong. There is another side to the story, its hard to find but check out "What's Wrong With Club Volleyball" on Facebook. Some stuff has been pulled together.
Each year kids walk away from what is one of the best games going. It is long over due that this was addressed. Coaches , some parents and organization's work very hard to maintain the current situation. If no one is willing to talk about it, that's unfortunate. The game however can be significantly improved with the adoption of the following simple changes. We don't need to recognize nor talk about it. Just do it!
Simple changes your governing volleyball body needs to adopt:
- start each game with a different line up
- begin each player in a starting role during the match
- allow substitutions only after one team has reached 18 points.
The stronger complete teams will rise to the top!
That's it that's all.
(From "What's Wrong With Club Volleyball)

Perhaps even easier: A basic

Perhaps even easier:

A basic rule that every player who is present and on the roster as physical available (i.e. not injured or subject to some sort of disciplinary action) must play not less than 6 points in each game. Failure to play each player the required number of points would result in a forfeit.

It is not that difficult to work players in -- even weaker players. A coach knows that everyone picked for a team is going to have to play for at least 4 points in every game, then there is more incentive to really work with every player to ensure that the team is able to win.

I should add that it is

I should add that it is possible for parents to change or add a rule.

The key is to line up some folks who are recognized as authorities to assist in the task if you are looking for a major change on a national level. I am in the process of helping to change a national high school soccer rule interpretation which really should have been changed 15 years ago. I have found most folks within the various organizations to be very reasonable and even helpful.

A required play rule would be a big change, but not at all unique to youth sports. The youth baseball organizations have had required play rules for decades. It's not difficult to keep track of participation for a game like volleyball when some many stats are already being kept.


Well.... another Club Volleyball season is underway.
I have tried to stay oblivious but the circles I travel in are ripe with season start up. I heard through the grape vine that some excellent young coaches were faced with adhering to their clubs doctrine of favouring the better players or staying true to their own coaching philosophy of developing all team members. Three young men with college and university playing experience, 3 plus years of club coaching complete with championship wins made a character based decision and will not be coaching this season. I tip my hat to them and I will draw energy from their courageous action. To stand on principle, to do what you know to be right, to live by the values you teach. There is hope.

Proud of these coaches . . . .but . . .

. .look what happened, Concerned Parent. These coaches of character were dropped by the clubs. Someone within the club organization . . . .a relatively powerful powerful person . . reminded everyone "We make money by attracting families by telling everyone we develop great volleyball players. We prove we make great volleyball players by winning in our region or getting to go to USA Jr. Olympics. We only do that by playing the best. Sure, we can make room for a lesser player, here and there, who's parents are willing to make a SIGNIFICANT investment to our facilty fee or training budget, but for the most part, identify the best six (even if the difference between a starter and a bencher can be measured in millimeters!) and play those girls ALL THE TIME! Remember, this is a sport where no girl is ever going to get exhausted and have to be subb'ed for . . . so you can play the same six over and over and over again. Yes . . .we'll promise the other 3-4-5 girls on the bench and their parents that we REALLY want to work them in but there's just something (NEVER admit that there's really nothing!) where we can't do that just yet!. Keep these girls and their parents and their money coming month after month and season after season by telling them . ."oh, Susie is RIGHT there. . .just a little more practice, with us . . .and I can see her playing ALOT more." Remember, these benched girl's money keep the average cost lower for the girls we really want to play! Everyone understand that? Good! Let's have a GREAT season!"

I guess, some coaches in the organization you're writing about, Concerned Parent, had a problem with this philosophy . . . .and look where they are! I pray change can come as mentioned by you and newsocdad above . . . .but sadly, I believe this can only happen when these clubs are hurt with significant financial loss, and again, sadly, I find there will always be enough parents (of the lucky girls who play) who are just supper happy with the way things are. These are the parents who actually fear that their daughter's playing literally one point less will seriously jeopardize that full ride scholarship to UCLA or Nebraska or Penn State!