Junior League

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.


9 Responses to “Junior League”

  1. El Diablo Says:

    I have been a regular reader of Devo since it first started and I found myself looking around for an alternative since it has finished. Oz Volley has somewhat filled the void and now I have found this site I will be reading more about the sport I love.

    I take issue with this post as I don’t think you really know what goes on behind the scenes at certain clubs. Many SA clubs have spent plenty of hours trying to set up club based junior teams but are constantly having to play second fiddle to mainstream sports like Netball, Footy and Basketball! Just because a Club has school teams that are affiliated that does not mean that the Club is not putting time and effort into that Schools program..

    I don’t think that there is a simple solution to attracting and retaining junior athletes. If there was a simple solution I’m sure all 6 clubs would jump on board. I think we should also make sure that those talented athletes who are coming through SASI but don’t yet have a club are being encouraged to check out a club that is local to them and have all the correct information to make an informed choice as to where they play… I am sure that many years ago clubs got a chance to show what they had to offer? Does that still happen? Hopefully with the appointment of a new SASI coach we will see the talent ID athletes play in the State League competition instead of leave Volleyball for good!

  2. Hugh Nguyen Says:

    Hello El Diablo,

    Thanks for reading my blog. I was a huge fan of Allan’s blog and what it did to create discussion, debate and cooperation, and how it has energised a community that didn’t know about each other before that. Murph’s doing a good job in carrying that mantle.

    Having been a coach at 3 clubs, i know what happens behinds the scenes of at least half of them. And i hear and see enough to see what happens at the other. Maybe I don’t know what goes on. but i know what doesn’t go on – an opportunity for kids to play volleyball. And every wed night when i coach juniors at Norwood i can SEE a group of Paringa Park primary kids training on the far court because Lion wouldn’t take them but they’ll end up there anyway in a couple of years. I also meet a lot of the kids who get told they can’t play for a club because they “don’t have a team for them” even though kids their same age play for teams under that club’s name every week. I meet them, because they have no choice but to come to Henley and Norwood.

    Don’t want to play second fiddle to other sports? that’s why we need to have our junior programmes targeting kids at the age when they choose their sports – that is in primary schools. Would we be better off in 5 years in EVERY club ran it’s own spikezone competition?

    Good on anyone who coaches whether it is a school based programme or a club based programme. I’m sure people people involved in there give heaps of their own time. I saw a bunch of hallett cove kids being trained by south players when i was at ther training for the U21W trial match the other night.

    I’ve coached 9 different schools in the last 10 years. sometimes 2 or 3 of them at the same time and have consistently found the time to coach for community based junior club programmes. I’m always going to be biased about this. I didn’t go to a school with a volleyball programme. I played for a junior club that treated those of us that didn’t go to its affiliated school like second class citizens (looking back, we were lucky that they let us play and train at all, given how non-existent some junior programmes are now). And it insults me everyday when i see kids get the same deal because i know how it feels.

    The solution is simple in that it requires the right 2 people to put the time into it. I’m not the only one who has identified who these 2 people are. It’s not so simple because people don’t give a shit. It’s easy enough to get 16-year old kids to play for you in your senior programme when someone else has done all the hard work leading up to that.

    Those SASI athletes weren’t always encouraged to play club. I remember recently, some SASI trainings were scheduled on Saturday morning. There were a lot of issues between clubs and SASI over the last few years. And they do need to work together. Club coaches should be able to sit down with SASI coaches and say “how can i get this athlete to play for us and what would you like them to achieve while playing for us?”. Anyway, we have plenty of SASI athletes playing Leaguy/Reserves/Div 1 etc. But is that making this sport more accessible? which is generally what i’m more interested in finding out.

  3. Shake and Bake Says:


    This is a ridiculous post. You have singled out Lion as being a club that does not promote juniors through their ranks. In regards to junior league that is true. there are a number of reasons for this some I know, some I do not. They are associated with Brighton, the best secondary volleyball in the country over the last 10 years (look at schools cup for proof). With this association they look at promoting their juniors other places that result in more player development. Juniors are played on a lower net and is refed by kids who need the money, not real refs. Playing in a superior social comp like vsa’s premier league is far more beneficial than juniors. lofty is much the same but replace best school with 2nd best. ok thats lion and lofty.

    now south. i know south has tried to recruit juniors back a lack of interest from a certain age group has meant that they could not eneter their own teams. that having said they provide training and coaching for the hallet cove teams outside of school as well as the training they get at school. this is correct i know people playing in those teams. the other people that might be able to play juniors are being promoted to a div 1 team.

    austral. it is my understanding that austral are of the opinion that players should first be given opportunity to play divisional ball first rather than the ur under 19 go play juniors mentality. this is better surely. it will improve their skills much more than juniors.

    now norwood and henley. ur correct they have the most jnuior teams. this next part i will have to base on mens ball alone as i do not have the details on the women. they do not keep the juniors. the norwood mens league and ressie teams have not changed in years with the exception of players like hamish moore coming thru (from sasi and ais, not JL). so they are not retaining their players at all. Their div 1 team is also not drawing from their juniors talent. henley cant even side a league mens team and if it was not for adelaide uni would have folded altogether. they are not retaining the juniors either.

    Have a look around the clubs at the moment Huy, look where the young talent is coming from. It is not norwood or henley. It is mainly lion with austral, south and lofty coming up after that.

    what is better for volleyball; a club with 10 JL teams that play 2 years and then drop out or a club with 4 JL teams coached and managed well that keep players and push them into divisional, reserve and league volleyball?

    The fact that a club has associated with a school or pushed players up first does not show that they do not care about junior volleyball, perhaps they just understand how to hold players better.

    • Facts please Says:

      Dear Shake and Bake

      Your quote/comment above is a fraction incorrect and cannot go unchallenged.

      You said “They are associated with Brighton, the best secondary volleyball in the country over the last 10 years (look at schools cup for proof).”

      I did look at the schools cup for proof and your enthusiasm is somewhat incorrect.

      Since the Australian Schools Cup competition started Heathfield has won 59 (FIFTY NINE) National titles which is more than the next best 10 schools (including Brighton) combined.

      Over the last 10 years Brighton has won a credible 15 National titles.

      Heathfield won 31 (more than double)

      Brighton won the Champion Schools Cup trophy 4 times

      Heathfield won the Champion Schools Cup 6 times.

      Whilst the kids at Heathfield certainly acknowledge Brighton’s great and well deserved success of late we do not think your distortion of the facts is warranted.

      Also – In 2009 Brighton and Heathfield won one National title each. Rossmoyne won three.

      • Shake and Bake Says:

        Facts please:

        I do appologise im not sure what i looked at but i have checked and you are correct. Heathfield no. 1 and brighton no 2. either way my point still stands the 2 best school in Oz.

        Thanks for the correction

  4. Hugh Nguyen Says:

    Thanks for your comment Nathan.

    I’m not sure we’re arguing over the same things. Brighton is a great programme and they play for Lion. I don’t have an issue with that. What i have an issue with is the fact they don’t have any teams for kids that aren’t at Brighton.

    I mentioned in the comment above that I know South offers training to the Hallett Cove kids after hours. That’s good. it means it can build on to letting other kids join those teams and go back to having the junior programme it used to have with kids coming from everywhere. Maybe you do already let other kids play and train in the same teams as those Hallett Cove teams that train after hours? IF you do, then I’ll start recommending more kids to go to South.

    Henley are struggling. They couldn’t retain their juniors and have suffered. I’m not sure how they will go. i was at the club when it tried to rebuild itself again and again. Their women’s teams are made up of kids from juniors that have pushed through. Norwood’s League men’s team has changed a lot – they lost 3 league starters from last year. It Must be different. There’s a growing contingent of kids from their juniors pushing through to their reserve and league teams.

    This isn’t just about clubs not caring about junior league, or if it’s of a decent quality etc. I’m the first to admit that it’s not a great standard. It shoudn’t be the only pathway for players to get into the sport, but it’s a fun experience that i think a lot more people should have.

    I’m not denying that other clubs have better young talent coming through. that’s not what the post is about. It’s about our development pathway being incredibly narrow. It’s about the fact that kids just simply don’t have the opportunity to play volleyball as a junior sport like they would with a lot of other sports.

    is a club better off having 10 junior teams that don’t keep any of its juniors, or better off having 4 well managed juniors teams that push through. A couple of years ago, I would have gone with the latter. But we’re at a point where the chances for kids to just play for a club team in juniors is just so limited. It wouldn’t be so bad if those “4 teams” at each of the six clubs were open to everyone to try out and play for.

    Not every kid playing junior sport (any sport) will be talented enough to make it to the elite level. Does that mean we just don’t let them play at all? the purpose of sport isn’t just to get kids to push through to senior and elite teams.

  5. Shake and Bake Says:

    Huy i think u have missed my point. the pathways are there and they are broad. austral has enourmous amount of juniors coming out to them each season. lion and lofty do not focus on any people outside brighton playing and i think this is fine; they have the largest talent pool and if they recruited others as well then they would have almost the entire junior market to themselves. they do not exclude others from playing though either. if people approach them about playing they are often included in junior league teams. i know people that have played juniors for them and not attended brighton or heathfield.

    as for norwoods league men team having new younger faces i dont see it. butsy has been there for years, as have the rest of the team. The only new one is hamish and i think any club would be promoting a world junior beach player to league!

    south i know recruited heavily for juniors outside of hallet cove this year and sent information to every single southern school, placed adds in their newsletters and notices. from this south had just over a dozen people turn up, and almost half bail after a week or 2.

    so i think that there are pathways that are out there, wether u know about them or not. maybe next time do some proper research before commenting about how junior developement is happening at other clubs that u are not associated with Huy.

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      Yes, people have played juniors for Lofty & Lion, but my post was about NOW (as in only 2 clubs LEFT).

      And I have done my research. Firstly, i recall a weeks ago at Junior League asking you if you had any girls teams for someone i knew looking for a club. you mentioned you had an older boy’s team and the rest were hallett cove teams. It’s disappointing that south didn’t get a better result advertising with the local schools this year. South traditionally has a great junior programme; open to everyone; plenty of players that would go on to play league (i remember coaching against gosling, jono, nimmo and collings in Jr League); and most commendably they always manage to get more of their senior players to coach juniors than any other club does. The club would always get behind the teams that made finals and bring out big crowds.

      If you read Eldo’s comment in the post “tournaments” he said they don’t have the reds teams this year at Mt Lofty. I coach at Austral, and they’ve told me their junior programme needs a lot of fixing now that they’re not officially affiliated with Unley anymore (they do have a couple of teams under the name Austral/Unley). As for Lion, I speak to their junior coordinator every week and I know the problems they are having with their programme.

      Hopefully, Austral will more into its junior programme next year; Mt Lofty will run its “Reds” teams again next season. I wouldn’t be surprised if South advertised to the local schools again (this time with better success).

      You have to admit this year is bad. I hope it’s a lot better next year.

  6. CaptainAverage Says:


    This blog has lived up to expectations. . . mostly. I expected more statistics, sure there are some but for someone like you who is such a student of the game, i expected more.

    Despite this lack of statistical evidence, I find this post in particular to be one generating a fantastic discussion that needs to be had. I go to a “non-volleyball” school. We have our first team ever going to the national schools cup, this would not have been possible without the support of the Norwood Bears who at some stage or another have fostered a number of our players through the Junior program. Through what I have seen of the other nearby clubs I do not see how my friends and I could have made an entrance into club volleyball without Norwood. Sure, one or two of us maybe, but I doubt the other clubs would have accomodated for the 15 from my school who have played or are still playing for Norwood. (one of which went on from juniors to train with SASI and is now playing for Norwood League and representing Australia at the Swatch FIVB 2010 U19 Youth World Championships)

    Just saying.

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