Archive for June, 2010

Eldo on Tournaments and Junior Volleyball

June 28, 2010

This is a response from Eldo to my post on tournaments. He goes into junior league and state teams too. As someone who runs one of our SIV programmes, I didn’t expect Eldo to be such an advocate of club volleyball. The Skins International tournament, which he championed was an event that was largely targeted at clubs.

As expensive as the National Juniors will be for SA players travelling to Perth this year, we should be grateful that our state association puts a lot of effort into it without making any money out of it. As i’m constantly reminded, they don’t make a their bread and butter off of State League or Junior League either.


This is a very important topic for volleyball.
There is far too much reliance on State junior volleyball in Australia. It is not the silver bullet. It is almost the thing we do because it is the easiest thing to do. We even made it bigger because it is the easiest thing to do and we could charge a premium for it. The fact that we have kids including 15’s 16’s and 17’s playing their first ever tournament at a national junior event makes our sport look ridiculous. You can always hear state volleyball parents in Albury saying “Cost Mary nearly $2,000 for this event and she is in the state team having only played the game for 3 months. The parents seem to think that their marginally talented kid is a wiz BUT what they need to understand that as a sport, we have got this all wrong and that these inexperience under arming serving marginally athletic State kids are a means to the financial survival of some state associations. Picking state teams at under 15′s level is more based on maintaining the financial viability of state associations than the development of players in my view. This event should be a club event.

It does not make sense that we do not have more club, team junior tournaments.

HOW MANY DO WE HAVE IN AUSTRALIA? Can we list them? I am not talking school tournaments here.

How many club based basketball tournaments are there? Thousands perhaps.

In Australia we present school volleyball well at a national level and in Qld and Vic, at a state level . This school success comes at a huge cost to club volleyball which is unfortunate because we lose lots of kids when school volleyball stops after year 12.

The reason being, as a kid who played state and school volleyball 20 years ago said to me.
“School volleyball is important and fun. It is rated – Club volleyball is not.”

As a volleyball coach and club administrator this view is most disappointing but unfortunately mostly true. It is not a position that as a sport we can move forward with.

At Heathfield we can find lots of junior coaches for school teams. We have people queuing up to coach and manage because they know there are quality experiences ahead.
We struggle (and I think all clubs are the same) to get club league coaches, league reserve coaches let alone junior league coaches to coach our teams. If the truth be known, 90% of the club teams are in junior league as training for the school comps.

That is why Norwood is ahead of the pack at the moment in junior volleyball due to the work of Dr Dan and the West boys.

Mt Lofty was indeed unable to maintain its “Reds” team for a number of reasons which was a huge blow to me and the club and is definitely a backwards step.

If we continue down the wrong path, the State School Cups and the National Schools Cup will only get stronger.

In the Lofty Skins events, if you take out the Lofty teams as the hosts we only had school teams training for the national schools cup. I suspect even with the attraction of unprecedented prizes and prize money, they were not there for the prizes but for trial matches for the nationals. (Pt Augusta being the exception). Are there kids who would have liked to play in the tournament? I bet there were. Did they have coaches, adults and managers willing to make this happen, I suggest not.
If I went to every League club in South Australia with a coach and manager for a team from the club to play in a tournament, I think I would get the players.

We need more club tournaments and we definitely need more club junior tournaments. It would be a great step forward is we made more money in our state associations through running tournaments than slugging the kids who represent their state in tournaments.


AJVC Trial Match

June 24, 2010

Tasmanians should not design playing strips like this

I’m the manager for the U21 state team this year. The Australian Junior Volleyball Championships will be held week after next in Perth. WIth our players paying $2,000+, it’s a sobering thought for what WA-ers have to shell out 5 out of 6 years to play tournaments like this (or just every year for AVSC).

Anyway, we had a trial game against the South Adelaide League Women’s team, where we unveiled one of the new playing strips we’ll be wearing. I quite like them. It’s a simple design and iconic. It also features Kangaroo Island.  They were designed by Lewis Dalby, who is one of the setters in the U21 men’s team who is also studying graphic design. South Adelaide won 3-1.

SASI Wirreanda

June 22, 2010

“Good artists borrow, great artists steal” – Pablo Picasso

Now that it’s winter, I’m practically doing something volleyball related every night of the week. Thursday is my “night off” which I preciously hold free to run errands, catch up with people, go to the Footy club for a nice meal or just stay home and do nothing. I also get asked by the Henley social team to fill in for them, but given that i have to squeeze the rest of my life into that one night I can only rarely oblige.

However, if I’m in the mood, I’ll go “stalk” a training. Some clubs hold their second training on thursday night and I like to go check out what the Norwood men’s team are doing. Otherwise, it’s good to check out what Simon Phillips is doing at the Southern (Wirreanda) SASI trainings. Watching other people’s trainings is a great way to get better as a coach. It’s a habit i got into a couple of years ago when i realised i sucked at certain aspects of teaching volleyball. I try to do a different “research project” every year where i can improve some part of coaching and enjoy someone else’s insight into the game. Because i sucked at teaching beginners, i started watching Simon. He’s quite good at teaching people who have never played before how to get the basics right so they can start having fun with the sport.

That’s not as easy as you would think it is. People who are good at teaching this can get kids to do things in a fraction of the time it would take anyone else. It can be a painful experience for the kids. The sooner they can pick up the basics the easier it is to keep them playing volleyball at a young age. People assume that you should give beginners the worst coach out there, but sometimes i think it should be the other way around. In any case, I think we can learn to teach beginners a lot better. I think that’s starting to happen now in the content of the level 1 coaching course, but it’s not quite the same as watching someone run a session with beginners and watch them do it well. There’s a science to it, and skill models and methodologies if you bother to look in all the right places. I’ve gotten a lot quicker at teaching certain skills now.

For about $50 a term, it’s pretty good value. You get to be trained by the state association’s technical officer for a start. the trainings are 2 hours. It’s better value than most other clubs would be offering (which isn’t much these days). There were 11 kids when i dropped by last thursday: 8 from willunga; 1 from brighton; 2 from victor harbor. there’s a couple more from Henley that come out there too. It’s been great for the Willunga kids who go and has been a huge factor to our recent success. I’m surprised more people don’t take it up.

What would be good is to get these kids playing games against other kids. Perhaps they could enter a team in junior league. It could be a good vehicle for kids who want to play  junior league but can’t get into the clubs because they don’t go to the right schools. A couple of the willunga kids filled in for the henley girls a couple of weeks ago and it’d be good to see more of that. they’re more than welcome to get pick up games with my norwood team if they’re keen.

Junior League

June 16, 2010

If you look around SA State League, there aren’t a lot of players that played junior volleyball at an SA club. Many played in school-based teams that competed in Junior League under a club banner. That’s not quite the same thing. Some came through SASI, and some come from interstate, overseas or from social volleyball comps.

By “junior volleyball at a club”, I mean turning up to a training at a time and place that is accessible to everyone, and get a game with a bunch of other kids from anywhere. Junior club sport is great. It’s an experience you get playing football, soccer, basketball, netball etc. But sadly not volleyball. Unless you’re physically endowed with potential, or go to the right school, you don’t really get a chance to play volleyball at all.

It’s sad that there are really only 2 junior clubs left in SA: Henley & Norwood. USC Lion’s juniors are all Brighton kids. they sporadically had non-brighton Lion teams. Mt Lofty’s juniors are all Heathfield kids. They used to have a Mt Lofty “Reds” teams for non-Heathfield kids, but it was more of an afterthought. South Adelaide now has Hallett Cove teams that train at Hallett Cove in school hours. They have 1 boys team for non-Hallet Cove teams. Austral I’m not sure of. They used to have all the Unley kids, but not anymore. Some of the Unley kids are entered as Austral/Unley teams. Apparently trainings are on after school but not exactly accessible. This doesn’t just happen in SA. On its website, the Yarra Ranges Volleyball Club (VIC) describes it’s juniors programme:

Our junior program is based at Monbulk College. A volleyball centre of excellence that has been in the top 3 schools in Victoria for over 20 years and is currently number 3 in Australia.

To accommodate other juniors in the area, when numbers allow, we have a second team in which they can play on Saturday mornings, however, there is no training for this second team.

So the only clubs left where kids can turn up to and get a training and a game are Henley and Norwood. If you don’t play for either of those clubs, one of the 4 schools affiliated with a club, or a “lucky” school that plays junior league, you can’t participate in junior league. It’s not a very accessible sport is it?

On one side, it’s hard to get kids to trainings unless it’s straight after school or during lunch times. So school based programmes make sense, but at the exclusion of having a programme that is accesible to kids from other schools.  On the other hand, a lot of people suited to coaching, who work 9-to-5 can’t make it to the training times in a school-based programme.

It’s just not really that accessible a sport is it?

Creating a programme like Henley’s or Norwood’s isn’t easy, but not impossible. You need to start at a primary school and have a minimum 2 or 3 people to drive it: a dedicated parent who is an excellent organiser with multiple children at the primary school who knows a lot of other parents; a coach who is good at coaching kids. If you had TWO coaches – one who is great at coaching boys, and another who is great at coaching girls, and another motivated parent at another primary school, you would have an exceptional programme.

Having been involved at both Henley and Norwood, these parent/organisers and coaches tend to fit very similar profiles. The parent usually has multiple kids at a primary school that span a number of years. they’re actively involved in helping out the school, have social networks with the parents from having kids that are there for a long time. They have excellent organisational skills. Somehow they also have flexible working hours. Their kids share their parents’ social skills and have a lot of friends who like to join them in sports. They’re good at sports and their parents find sport to be something that allows their kids to excel at something while making a lot of friends. The kids are good players and popular kids, and they get an aptitude for the sport early. Because they are part of something fun and successful, they’ll attract other kids, some of whom are great athletes, others who are slow learners and develop late into elite players.

The coaches are often uni students. They’re smart, motivated, and want to do something with their lives (whether they’ve worked out what that is or not). Their time is flexible too. They have an infectious energy that rubs off on kids and are good role models. They’re good players but not great players. they have all round skills that make them good second team players, but not a lot of natural athleticism to do anything particularly well enough to be a starter on a league team. They had to work hard to get on every team. Few things came naturally to them and they learned how to do everything in more ways than anyone else had to. They still remember how they were taught to play. they rank 7-9th on their league teams and often play off the bench. They have an appreciation for what it’s like to not be the best player on a team. They have an acute sense of fairness, having been told time and again to be patient with their playing opportunities, but at the same time see newer, younger players get their opportunities before them. In spite of this, they see their club as a place that gave them an opportunity, not the other way round like the better players on the team do. So they care about their clubs and volunteer to make them better.

We all have these people round our clubs and communities, and they’re easy to spot. You want to start with a primary school, because these kids will stay friends for years and will feed into different high schools (preferably high schools that are at least as good academically as the SIV schools). If half of these kids bring along a new friend they’ve made in high school, then your club will grow.

Is there a benefit to having juniors you’re actively developing in your club infrastructure? I’m not 100% sure either way. It’s nice to see that the Henley League Women are made up of girls that all played for the club since they were 12 who went to different schools and remained friends. They haven’t been as successful as the other clubs in recent years, but they’re starting win more. At my football club, many of our younger players used to play at another club 10km down the road. They left because they felt the “club didn’t take care of them”. The club had provided all the infrastructure to allow them to play so I asked them what they meant. In the end they equated “being taken care of” with having a rapport with the senior players who took interest in them. The retention of juniors is always higher when you have players from the senior group involved. After all, people seldom remember what you did for them and only how you made them feel.

But if you have hordes of kids playing for you from a school based programme, it doesn’t matter if most of them drop out because you will still have enough to fill a couple of vacant senior spots.

Perhaps it is a lot harder than simply having an affiliation with one or two schools. Where you can just let the school do its own thing with its existing infrastructure and resources and you just license your name to them and provide a couple of volunteers who turn up to coach the games. But there is something intrinsically “unsportsmanlike” (for lack of a better word) for turning away a kid from your club because they don’t go to the right school. It’s just not in the spirit of sports and what sports clubs should be about. And we all got involved to be part of something different from that.


June 15, 2010

For the first time in years, we didn’t have an SA Open on the Queen’s Birthday Weekend. However, we did get a nice event in the Mt Lofty “Courier” International Skins Tournament. I’m a huge fan of tournaments, and anyone who puts the hard work into organising them and getting teams there. They’re particularly good for junior development as players get to play a lot of games in a short time. They’re fun too if they get to travel for them. An It’s also a good way for kids to get more playing time who otherwise wouldn’t: those who live in the country (and don’t get to play against kids their own age in a junior league comp); aren’t part of SIV programmes; aren’t part of state teams and elite programmes.

One thing i liked about the skins tournament, was the exclusion of State Teams from the mix. Indeed, it’s certainly problematic from the state programme point of view that these teams don’t get some essential match practice, but i think it actually increased the number of teams and players participating from previous years of the SA Open.

A lot of the players in state teams played anyway – but for their clubs and schools, and it created a lot more even teams that dragged in more people to play.

Kids love playing against players their own age. But when all the best players of a certain age are playing in one team (a state team) against the rest, the lopsided affair is not as fun. For kids, the SA Open used to be a case of either playing in a state team, or playing in a team that had no chance of beating the state teams, and playing in the tournament for “experience”. Again, optimal motivation comes when you have a 50/50 chance of winning.

In the U17 girls comp, at least some of the state players were spread out among teams from Loxton, Heathfield and Brighton. Heathfield, who lost most  of their round games ended up beating Brighton in a semi and then Loxton in the final. The second Brighton team ended up beating the first in the 3rd place playoff. It was incredibly even with the U16 and U17 state reps scattered across the teams (there was also a fantastic involvement from Brighton that I’ve never seen at a Queens Birthday weekend tournament with all SIV teachers coming out to coach their teams). If there’s an U17 comp next year, i’ll definitely be pushing to get Norwood and Willunga teams in, and I think it can be something that really grows.

Throwing in state teams, club teams, school teams etc into the same tournament can work. It works every year at Albury Wodonga. I don’t agree that state teams should be picked that young, but the gap between the state teams and the club/school teams at that age can be close. In the Girls division this year, the top 4 teams were Gold: Vic Blue (State Team); Silver: Heathfield (School); Bronze: QLD Central (Really Gladstone High kids playing in state uniforms); 4th Norwood Bears (Club). There are still some big mismatches, but at the top there are some great games, and it’s a great opportunity for development that’s open to state associations, schools and clubs. As Volleyball NSW GM Bob Konakoff said at the tech meeting, about 90% of the kids that play in the tournament stay in the sport in their high school years. It’s a nice sized tournament too that can be managed at a 6 court venue.

It’s after that that development gets a bit harder. Kids who don’t play in state teams and in SIV programmes are left at a massive disadvantage to develop. At the age of 15, not a lot of players are ready to play seniors. Junior League is only 60 minutes a week, IF you can get to a club that doesn’t outsource it’s juniors to a specific high school (in Adelaide there are only 2). If you live in the country, forget about it (unless your school plays state school’s cup and AVSC). Increasing the number of state teams and having each state take 12 teams to AJVC is not workable and crates a massive strain. There’s never enough referees, and the venue options are limited because of the size.

Why can’t we have U16 and U17 versions of Albury Wodonga that is separate to AJVC? It could be open to club teams, school teams and developmental (2nd and 3rd) state teams.  AJVC would be a much smaller event with only the top teams competing. And we could have them at smaller venues and in less expensive places.