A while back, Mark from At Home on the Court, wrote a post on the subject of youth and adult volleyball players competing on the same team together. He referenced a quote from Nikolai Karpol, the former Russian women’s coach. Karpol was strongly in favor of age integration as a way to help younger players develop.

In the US there tends to be very little crossover between youth and adult players. The kids play Juniors and school volleyball. The next stop tends to be college volleyball. It’s only after that that we see them competing on adult teams in adult competitions.

There’s an NCAA restriction on outside competition which keeps college players from playing in adult tournaments. There’s nothing stopping the Juniors kids from doing so, though. I actually had an 18s team once play in an adult tournament which took place before the Juniors season started. It was an eye-opening experience for them. They couldn’t believe a bunch of “old ladies” could beat them despite clearly being physically inferior. 🙂

Playing against adult teams is certainly a learning experience. It doesn’t go quite as far as what Mark and Karpol were talking about, though. They meant having youth and adult players together on the same team. I actually saw a mixture of that when I coached in England. Some teams playing in the National League and in the South West Regional league had squads totally comprised of Juniors aged players. At the same time, however, there were adult teams that included Juniors players.

Stepping up the levels of play, in Germany I saw a high school aged player in the SC Potsdam squad when I was on my 10-day visiting coach stint there. The team that won the Swedish Elitserie on the women’s side the season I coached there (Engelholm) featured a player who was only 15/16.

Certainly, we see teenagers in professional teams in other sports. Soccer is an obvious example. I am a supporter of the New England Revolution. Diego Fagundez started playing in their first team when he was 15. England’s Wayne Rooney famously got his start with Everton in the Premier League – one of the best leagues in the world – when he was only 15 or 16.

Granted, soccer is a sport where physical maturity is less an issue than in other sports. In more physical sports (think football), particularly on the men’s side when physical development is generally completed later, it’s tougher to encourage youth/adult integration. On the women’s side, though, physical maturation happens earlier – most often while a girl is still in the Juniors age group. From that perspective, there’s nothing to stop a kid from playing with adults.

Consider this. One of the best players in the history of volleyball, Karch Kiraly, is well known to have spent years playing with his father in beach doubles events in Southern California – adult events. Seemed to work out pretty well for him!

So the question is, why don’t we do more age mixing?

I asked one Volleyball Coaching Wizard with international coaching experience their thoughts. While they did definitely see the value, the concern expressed was whether from a child development perspective you want young players exposed to the more mature actions and conversations of older teammates – be they older youth or actual adults. I understand that view, but I’m not sure it’s that big an issue.

I’d like to hear what others think on the subject, though.

In places like the US where youth players rarely play with adults – and often not even with older youth – does it make sense for us to try to encourage more integration?

In places where there is a lot more age integration, should there be a move for less?

If so, why? If not, why not?

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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.

    6 replies to "Kids playing alongside adults in volleyball"

    • Damir

      Here in The Netherlands it’s very common for youth players to play with adults. Because the competition for the age 17/18 is very weak, the talented players already go to the seniors at the age of 15/16. Some exceptions also when they’re 13/14. That means that those girls have to specialize at the age of 13, so that they can make the step to the adults at 15/16. And I’m talking about the highest national leagues until regional teams.

      For me that’s too soon, I’ve seen a lot of girls stop at the age of 21 with (high level) volleyball because they’re tired of it. They’ve been playing at the highest for 5 years already, had injuries etc. They choose to focus on school and a social life. And there are some more disadvantages. But also advantages, because they learn to perform fairly quickly.

      • John Forman

        Damir – I saw something similar in England. The better youth players played in older teams in part because there just wasn’t enough quality at their own age level.

        In the US probably the majority of female players stop playing once they’ve finished college/university. I’m not sure it’s a burnout thing as much as viewing it time to transition to “real life”.

        • Barry Small

          I think that most players here in the States stop playing after college because there is no real competitive arena for them to continue in.
          More on topic, both my daughters grew up in the gym with me and began playing with the adults at about 14 yrs old. Both played well above their age group and played at the 18’s level for several years.
          One went on to play in college, the other didn’t because of injuries but was offered scholarship opportunities. I firmly believe that playing with older players at a higher competitive level contributed to their development and I encourage all my players to seek out opportunities to play against more experienced players. I also challenge my female players to play against mens teams whenever they can find an opportunity. It is a faster game and challenges them to perform at higher levels.

          • John Forman

            Barry – I think you’re right, though there are definitely pockets of adult volleyball around. For example, the Boston area has quite a lot – probably because of how many colleges and universities are in the area producing former players. I has one of my Juniors teams (18s) play in about a C level tournament in that area one year. Physically, my girls were far superior to the women they had to play, but I don’t think we won more than 1-2 sets the whole day. The girls were really frustrated at losing to the “old ladies”. 🙂

            • Barry Small

              Yes there are adult leagues around. We have a fairly good amount of adult ball in the Seattle area. I was referring more to professional leagues as they have in just about every part of the world but here. Europe has a robust professional volleyball community, South and Central America both have professional leagues. American players that want to continue playing competitively have to leave the country to do it. I believe that is a big reason why it is hard to maintain teams at the club U17/18 level. There is no end game here in the states after college. If you look at soccer the select clubs in Europe are farm teams for the Premiere League, Bundesligue etc. Only a very select few will make the Olympic team, anyone else that want to continue goes to Russia, Italy or someplace like that.

            • John Forman

              There definitely looks to be more adult play opportunities outside the US, though they definitely don’t have the college play structure. I suppose that balance things out a bit in terms of participation, though not in terms of age-group integration.

              I don’t think I agree with you on the lack of professional volleyball as the reason you see a drop off in club participation at the U17/18 level, though. I’d argue that’s much more likely to reflect kids not making high school varsity teams and shifting their attention elsewhere. Especially since even from among the high school varsity level players only a fraction go on the play in college, which is the step they all look at.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.