There’s was a good article in an edition of the AVCA member magazine Coaching Volleyball (which you can still read thanks to Coaches Insider) by Leon Blazer. It’s titled The Great Divide: Lessons Learned from Coaching at the Club Level. The author is a guy who was a collegiate coach, but who found himself coaching 12s for his local club. I found a lot of what Leon wrote about to not only be very good for coaching his current age group, but for older players as well. There’s one particular aspect I address in another post because it also relates to an email I received.

Here’s my one issue with the article, though. He’s specializing these kid. At that age group they should learn to be all-around players, not setters, middles, etc.

Sure, specialization may lead them to more wins. Blazer is clearly proud of having achieved quite a bit of success with the team in that regard. This, though, is where I think coaching them like a college team is inappropriate.

Mostly, college coaches tend to think of their team as the last stop in any given player’s career. That means they aren’t thinking about an individual’s long-term development. Instead, they are focused on getting the most out of them in the present (which obviously isn’t to suggest they don’t develop them as well). This is one attitude which cannot be taken at the youth volleyball level. Kids are still physically developing. You simply cannot know with any real certainty where they will be in a few years.

Were I in Leon’s place I would want to do all the things he’s doing in terms of attitude, training, mentality, pushing them, etc. I would just have everyone set, everyone hit in all front row positions, and everyone play defense. In my view, this is a mandate that should be coming down from the leadership of the club – potentially even from the USA Volleyball and/or the region in which the club competes. I know Volleyball England talked about doing something along those lines.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    4 replies to "Coaching youngsters like college players"

    • Rich

      It is actually ‘settle science’ (from the FIVB down to the national organizations) with respect to current understanding that specialization, and playing 6vs6 up to a certain age level, is detrimental to long term development and does not necessarily lead to real success. USA Volleyball has a clear grasp on this fact if you look at many of John Kessel’s (Director of Sports Development) writings on the subject of youth development and the ADM (American Development Model) as adapted by USA Volleyball. There however, appears to be some overriding principle that is more important to USA Volleyball as an organization than developing youth volleyball players.

      Note an overriding fact that very few coaches that I have ever had a discussion with, wants to deal with and recognize that what they are doing is actually harming the long term abilities of their players: Brazil has won 21 international medals at the 18U and 20U levels. I consider these age levels to be at the back end of the club and high school experience (youth) and before specific national team experience The US has won 1. Brazil forbids their club teams from playing anything other than a 6-6 up to 13 years old, you can run any system at 14 other than a 5-1, and cannot have a libero until 15. I have been told that this is not real volleyball but if real volleyball is defined as not being able to win you international tournaments then I do want to be involved.

      A final quote from Jim Stone (2009 youth national head coach) extracted from the MiniVolley book by John Kessel: “The team stats found both the Junior and Youth teams in the bottom half of the tournament in all the skills. Specifically, the skills of serve and pass are not up to international standard. We do not serve with the velocity or accuracy of other teams. Since we do not face this type of aggressive serving within the club environment, our reception skills were also lacking. The USA Youth passed at a 2.41 level on a 4 point scale. Our competition was passing at a 2.90 level. This is partially due to good passing skills, partially due to our average level of serving. We served at a 1.50 on a 4 pt. scale. This translated to our opponent being in system about 80% of the time. Defense certainly becomes more challenging with this type of serving. Another glaring difference is the outside attacking. We must have better terminating outside attackers. At the same time, these outsides must be able to receive serve. So, there is some work to do.” If this is true at the national level then I am sure that those poor girls on the 12s are probably not any closer to developing to be great although they may have won a few more games than otherwise.

      • John Forman

        Thanks for this Rich. Not sure why it took me so long to reply.

        One thing I would add to the conversation about the serving and passing comparison is something that I think I talked with Jim Stone about in his Volleyball Coaching Wizards interview. That’s the fact that oversees youth players much more frequently play with and against adult players than is the case in the US.

      • John Forman

        Thanks Kenneth. I’ll plug it in.

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