Written by Rob Browning, Head Volleyball Coach, Saint Mary’s College
As the club volleyball season gets underway, I would like to share some thoughts on my experience coaching volleyball players from 8 to 14 years old. I will do this in parts over the next couple of months.
It’s great when kids are excited to play volleyball, and it’s even better when we can teach them in a way that will stoke the fires without burning them out, and still help them develop into great players.
Part 1 – don’t specialize too early
When young kids start playing volleyball we often make the mistake of limiting their development by labeling them. “We want you to be a middle!” Wait…what? We want him to be a middle because he’s tall? Or because she isn’t catching on to forearm passing as quickly as we’d like? She’s 10!
“You will be our libero!” Why? Because she’s the shortest on the team?
Stop labeling them. Teach them how to play volleyball. Teach all of them how to play volleyball. Not how to be a middle or a libero.
Assigning “positions” to young kids will simply limit their development. Here’s what we know for sure: We have no idea what position they will ultimately play in high school or college. Neither do we know which ones will continue to play through high school or college, and we don’t really know which ones will develop into the best players. At some point all of them will probably play beach volleyball for fun, if not in college or beyond, and they will be better equipped to thrive because you gave them the opportunity to master all the skills.
I personally would avoid limiting a player to be exclusively a middle, libero, or setter until high school. If you have a roster for your young team it should look something like this:
Jimmy Jive, S/OH Steven Wonder, OH/S Billy Jean, OH Marshall Law, OH/S etc…
Even if Sally comes to you and says that she wants to be a middle because her older sister was a middle and her great grandmother was a middle on the Pawtucket Pioneers team; Tell her, “you will get the chance to play in the middle, and you’re also going to get the chance to receive serve and play outside, and maybe even setter!”
It is extremely important for their future development that you teach them all the skills and give them opportunities to perform them all. They might not all play setter in a match but you can make sure that they learn to set and get opportunities to set in practice.
There is some risk to this, and that is that you could win more rallies, and therefore sets and matches, if you hide some players behind the “middle” label. There is some cost to allowing all of the kids to learn how to play the game as opposed to learning how to simply play a position, bit it’s worth it.
As mentioned above, this doesn’t mean that you put the kids in a position where they will certainly fail, like making the kid who can’t set yet run a 5-1. That’s not good for anyone. But our job as teachers is to expose them to all the skills and give them opportunities to develop them.
My next blog, which I am considering calling “Part 2”, will talk about offensive systems that are conducive to allowing the kids to perform multiple skills in a match.