The youth club volleyball model

A while back, Oliver from www.volleyblog.net asked me a question about club volleyball. I gave him a response of my own. I told him I would also post it here to the blog to see if I could get the thoughts, experience, and opinions of others. Here’s Oliver’s question:

Here in Germany [club volleyball] is financed by a monthly fee by the members which is normally between 10 and 20 Euro/month. Which means that a normal club can not pay it’s coaches adequately. Do you know how English and American clubs finance themselves and if they do by monthly fees asked from the kids/their parents how much it is?

England

In England the situation seems quite similar to the one described for Germany. Volleyball is largely a participation sport rather than something with an aspirational aspect to it. By that I mean people play it to play it. It’s not to try to earn a university scholarship or with the thought of one day playing professionally. That’s not to suggest no players have those higher level motivations. There are certainly those in the national system and at the various academies who definitely have higher aspirations. It’s just that volleyball is very much a developmental sport in England. There is no real professional league and the availability of university scholarships is limited, though on the rise (see Volleyball England influencing university volleyball).

The point is that there isn’t a great deal of incentive to “invest” in juniors volleyball from the perspective of families looking at there being some kind of financial pay-off down the road (scholarship, professional contract). That tends to limit how much they are willing to pay in club fees and related expenses (travel, etc.). At the same time, the lack of professional clubs means little in the way of money coming down from the top to work on developing players. Clubs can and do get grant funding. Volleyball England has its own programs aimed both at participation and youth national team development. It’s not like there’s a ton of money flowing through the system, though.

I honestly don’t know the fee structure for clubs in England. Many of them operate as combined youth/adult operations (meaning mixed teams). I only operated in that system at the adult level, and only relatively briefly. I think they were paying about £250 for a season – meaning September to April. That basically covered facilities and admin expenses (travel was extra). As you can imagine, that doesn’t provide much in the way of funds to pay coaches (I was a volunteer). Hopefully someone better informed will contribute to the conversation.

U.S. structure and fees

In the States the situation is a bit different. While there isn’t the professional aspect, there is a strong university system. That level features lots of scholarship money, improved financial aid packages, and admissions considerations (for more information about US collegiate volleyball see Inside College Volleyball). This gives players and families something to aspire to and a reason to spend money on junior volleyball. At the top level of club volleyball where teams are competing for championships and players are being scouted by Division I university teams the annual fees are in the $1000s.

Granted, many kids who play high school volleyball won’t go beyond that. For them the “investment” incentives are low. As a result, there are plenty of clubs operating at a low level of cost and commitment. When I was involved in junior volleyball in the Northeast there were teams for which the kids paid as low as $250 for the season (January to early May). They trained once a week and played in five day-long tournaments. There were also teams where the cost was around $1000. They incorporated 2-day inter-regional tournaments into their schedule and might get a second day of training each week (December to late May or maybe early July). Generally, that fee was inclusive of hotel costs, and potentially travel as well, depending on the method used. These days there are club teams with costs $5000+.

U.S. club coaching pay

The result of this is that funds available to pay coaches can vary considerably. When I coached in the Northeast, the pay structure seemed to be that the coach got roughly the equivalent of one player’s annual fee. In running my own club I actually introduced an hourly pay structure. We did that to ensure a minimum level of compensation. Coaches got a higher hourly rate based on experience and accreditation level.

After emailing with Oliver I reached out to a friend of mine who used to coach in Northern California. The status of volleyball there is much higher than it is in the Northeast. That is reflected in how much club coaches can make. He told me a base rate was $800/mo when he coached, and coaches on the top level teams could make $2000/mo. This obviously implies higher player fees. There may be other sources of funding to clubs, such as sponsorships or camps/clinic earnings. My understanding is that the lion’s share of revenue for most clubs is player tuition, though.

Incentivizing “investment”

After I shared my observations with him, Oliver responded with the following:

In other words: Club volleyball can only succeed on the financial side if it has some extra funding/sponsoring or can serve some special needs beyond the pure sport itself. A university scholarship is one example. I will sit down and collect other possible reasons (applicable at least in Germany) why club volleyball could be worth an extra investment.

I’m not sure what he meant by “succeed on the financial side.” I don’t know if that means bringing in enough to cover expenses or whether profit is the objective. In the US a lot of clubs operate as not-for-profits. No doubt, there are a number which actually are intended to make money for their owners. I think the not-for-profit model is one that can be fairly easy sustainable. That’s even where the “investment” incentive among players/families is low. Developing something that produces a meaningful income in that context is a significantly larger challenge.

What will they pay for?

Let me put aside the idea of sponsorship revenue or some other kind of external income for now. It’s better left to a separate discussion. Instead, I will focus on what would motivate players and their families to pay higher club tuition. What it comes down to is the potential pay-off. Both professional contracts and university scholarships fall into that category. The former is likely the higher prospect for those outside the US. The professional game has developed and university athletics are not particularly strong. The reverse is the case in the US where there’s no indoor professional volleyball of consequence, but the university system is very strong. That said, there are a number of foreign players on scholarship at US universities. So for the right type of individual it’s something that a club could put forth as an aspirational objective for it’s players.

Of course there are always those players and families who aren’t necessarily thinking in terms of investment in the future. They simply want the best experience. That could mean training under the best coaches, playing with the best players, competing in high profile events, winning championships, etc. These things need to be considered as well when pondering the marketing for a club.

Even if you have the perfect sales pitch, though, two major factors will likely determine a club’s success and sustainability. One is population density. It’s much easier to attract a good collection of players if you’re trying to do so where there are lots of people. It’s a lot harder having to try to bring them together across a large geographic region. If nothing else, the added cost of travel for the families is a factor. The other is the income level of the community. It’s a lot easier to get higher tuition from a wealthy community.

John Forman
About the Author: John Forman
John currently coaches for an NCAA Division II women's team. This follows a stint as head coach for a women's professional team in Sweden. Prior to that he was the head coach for the University of Exeter Volleyball Club BUCS teams (roughly the UK version of the NCAA) while working toward a PhD. He previously coached in Division I of NCAA Women's Volleyball in the US, with additional experience at the Juniors club level, both coaching and managing, among numerous other volleyball adventures. Learn more on his bio page.

10 comments

  1. Since you asked me :-): What I meant by success on the financial side was an income that allows the club to pay its coaches adequately. Before you tell me: I know that adequately has to be discussed, but I am sure, that most coaches on that level would agree that it definitely has to be some more…

    What I observe here in Germany ist that working for a club is indeed not-for-profit – at least for the coach –, while everybody stresses the importance of bringing your best coaches into the youth development. “Everybody” in this case are the governing bodies above the clubs. The regional and national volleyball associations. The goal behind this is clear and also understandable: Bringing up as many good players as possible for their regional, state and national teams. Right now in Germany they recognize that there are not nearly enough good players brought up and asking why?

    I just think that the fact that the best coaches (if they are ready to work with youth teams) are paid just terribly has to be openly connected to the general poor outcome. Because the number of coaches willing to work with the youngest drops (just a personal observation). When I started playing volleyball each club had a “Madman” who spent every given evening from 15:00 to 22:00 in the gym working with countless teams and didn’t even think about getting paid. I have to admit that I want to not only get paid but paid adequately.

    Because developing just one youth team is requiring so much work on and off the court. Yes, it is lots of fun for the coach too, but I need to be paid for so much time, because otherwise I can not pay my bills. But if I am not getting paid adequately, I can not be in the gym at 15:00 because I have to do another job at this time. I can be there at probably 19:00 – and I promise that it’s not a good idea to invite a bunch of U12s, or even U16s to attend practice from 19:00 to 21:00 😉 Which means I can not coach them and will work with some adults instead.

    So, what I am trying to find out at the moment is, if there is coming up a brilliant idea which enables a club to ask for much more money from the parents and pay its (youth)coaches adequately. Any idea from the readers?

  2. David Samuels says:

    The only way for Clubs to be able to sustain Juniors and build for the future is through reduction or elimination of court hire fees. The 2012 Olympic legacy gave an opportunity to do this but alas another opportunity missed. This could then allow reduced fees allowing, coaches to be paid and attracting players who are interested in playing but are put off by the costs. The Sport of volleyball here [editor: England] misses out on so many athletes this way. It is also a very similar story in Basketball even though there is a professional league here in the UK and the draw of Scholarships in other countries to become student athletes.

    • David, that’s interesting. In Germany the clubs don’t have to pay for any court. All courts (well most of them) are public and co-ordinated by the city government. Which means on the other side that court times are precious and hard to get. But coaches are still not payed attractive.

      Can you help me out with two numbers? 1. How much is a general court hire fee? 2. How much is a general monthly club fee for a junior?

      • David Samuels says:

        1 Court Hire per Hour is around £25-30 GBP
        2 . Juniors tend pay as they go around £20.00 per month with match fees at around v£5.00 per match.

        I coach at a school and coach a lunchtime session and an after school club. court hire is free.(school Hall). I am paid around £25.00 per hour. the club charges £1.50 per session which goes towards competition entry equipment etc.

        We are in the process of looking at grant applications to be able to put on competitions, camps and training of volunteers.

  3. John Forman John Forman says:

    I’ve had conversations with a number of people here in England about the issues with the pay-as-you-go model. It’s fine if you are just running training/playing sessions and have a large enough base of players that you can rely on a certain number turning up each session. Things become more problematic in a team setting where both the health of the budget and the ability of the coach to effectively develop the squad are tied very closely in with attendance. The pay-go model provides something of an incentive not to turn up or quit (don’t have to pay).

    There’s also the competition/participation conflict I’ve written about before. The most notable example of this I’ve seen here in England is nominally competitive teams allowing several players who generally aren’t expected to be in the team to come to trainings on a regular basis. Yes, it can increase revenue and sometimes benefit in terms of having needed bodies, but it can also create real issues in terms of actually training the team that’s going to play in matches because there are conflicting priorities.

  4. After the first feedback I can say, that the situation in England and Germany are very much the same. The calculation is easy: David’s club collects 240 GBP/month for a team of twelve. Each two hour practice costs at least 50 GBP for the court and 40 GBP for David. Which means that they can offer 2,5 practices a month.

    In Germany, where there is no such thing like a court hire, kids pay 8 – 10 Euro/month. That’s 120 Euro for a team of twelve. I am paid very good with 16 Euro/hour. That is 3,5 pratices per month. But I am running at least two practices of two hours per week. The club has to get the deficit from other teams or even departments. I assume that the situation is similar to David’s in England.

    So: The clubs are not to blame, the coaches are not to blame (for asking to get paid adequately). Sponsors and grants will not make a big difference from my experience.

    On the other hand there is a need for well trained juniors. Who will pay their coaches if the clubs can not do this? Or how will the clubs be able to pay their coaches better? From my point of view this is an essential for every sport that is not per se equipped with lots of money like football. If there are national teams and they are in need of good players: Who is bringing them up? And who is paying for this?

    If there is no need, then it’s easy. Playing well is no goal and there will be no need for any structured support.

    And if the situation is the same for many countries, are there best practices to share? I would be highly interested in those and other ideas.

    • John Forman John Forman says:

      My immediate question – and this no doubt reflects my background – is how much elasticity there is in those monthly club fees. By that I mean what would be the reduction in player interest (demand) if you pushed monthly fees up to say €20/mo, which would get you up to close to covering the number of trainings you actually run? No doubt the answer is linked to the affluence of the families in the region, the age group, the level of play, the perceived quality of the coaching, etc.

      • The problem I see is, that if the club would like to take in mind, that it needs a professional coach for covering the junior practice (see my comments above), then even 20 Euro/month would not be enough. From what I see the fee has to be somewhere between 50 and 100 Euro.

        What hit me was one of your first information about the added value in the U.S. because paying for a good club team rises the chances for a scholar ship later. I’m still thinking that you have to find an added value for your (or better my) situation. What added value might trigger higher monthly fees in Germany, England or other parts in Europe? ANY IDEAS? ANYBODY?

  5. Judyth Heise says:

    There are also some clubs in which, the cost are even much lower, less than $100. They practice twice a week, us coaches volunteer to teach the team. Our assistant coach- if we get a coach, or any at all, or could end up being a high school volleyball player that you get to train to teach to be a coach -like I did-. So now, I was not only given the opportunity of only being a coach, but teaching an 11th grader to be one. I in turn loved what I did this year. I had a blast and we took the trophy during the tournaments while everyone else thought we wouldn’t. The tournament schedule for one, was built wrong and yet my girls succeeded, and am so proud of them for that. I guess someone thought I wasn’t going to be able to handle it, but to the contrary…

Please share your own ideas and opinions.