Archive for October, 2010

Happysnap: WASP-Ball and Catholic-Ball

October 30, 2010

WASP-Ball at Seymour College

Catholic Girls School comp at St Dom’s

More volleyball from off the beaten track. Summer time is when the schools run their competitions: There’s traditionally a private school boys comp run by the Independent School Sports Association (Rostrevor ran it for years); a (protestant) private school girls comp run by the Independent Girls School Sports Association; and another comp for the catholic girls schools.

I’ve coached 3 schools in the boys comp, 2 girls schools in the “WASP” comp, and this summer I’m coaching a team in the catholic girls comp (filling in for a friend who usually takes them but is overseas). For the amateur coach, these are among the few paying gigs. It is laid back. you have to referee your own games; the courts are sometimes oudoors or not full-size; they don’t always have antennas; no one really seems to care if you win or lose; there doesn’t really seem to be a trophy (i have no idea if we are playing for anything); uniforms don’t need numbers; rules can be weird (the comp i’m in has sets that go to 21 points); exams, exeats, forfeits and hot weather policy cancellations means that sometimes the season is shortened to less than 5 games etc etc.

Because it’s paying, the standard of coaches is surprisingly high. sprinkled among the old scholars that aren’t really volleyball folk, you can see a lot of current and ex national team players earning some extra pocket money. As well as some ex-national team coaches around too (I used to see Harley Simpson and John Olesk coach D-grade girls matches on the grass courts across he road from annesley college). Not that the kids really notice. I sometimes think the collective CVs of the coaches in these comps are better than those in State League.

Sport at these schools is compulsory. Sometimes kids pick volleyball because it’s a bludge. They come to trainings and games without much motivation and it’s a soul destroying experience to coach it (even the thought of getting paid doesn’t make it bearable). other times, the school has gotten the sort of coaches that get kids really enjoying playing and the number of teams has grown with really keen kids. I’m lucky it’s a case of the latter for me this year. I stopped coaching private schools for a number of years but i’m starting to enjoy it again.

These schools are unlikely to play AVSC. It falls in that week where their valedictory activities are firmly locked in. So you can’t quite get the best of both worlds. There are more private schools from the other states playing now. These schools will have the money to attract some of the best coaches, and you have to wonder what will happen to the public schools that traditionally had strong programmes. A friend of mine is in a dilemma of having to choose between a private school that wants to pay him to coach a team in div 2 and a public school team that wants him to coach honours but can’t pay him.

A wise coach told me that it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. what it does is provide an incentive for people who would have otherwise dropped out to stay involved with the sport.

* * *

My St Ignatius girls won today, against the only non-private school team, Marryatville (if Marryatville fielded a team made up of all their players who played juniors for norwood we would surely have lost). We played at St Dominic’s in the city. The court was 9m wide, but only 7.5 metres long. We lost last week, and the girls reckon it was because they were used to playing the ball deeper. They readjusted this week but are still complaining about the length. I don’t really care. its the same length for our opponents too, and if anything the smaller space means more contacts per hour and more rallies.


Happysnap: Pt Augusta Open

October 30, 2010

I went up to Pt Augusta for the day on Saturday 16 October to watch a bit of the volleyball tournament.I don’t know why, but i just like to see how our sport is enjoyed by people outside my own microcosm.

It used to be quote a big event and is now rebooting. There were teams from the Tea Tree Gully volleyball association, Roxby Downs, Port Lincoln, Pt Augusta and Norwood. I hope it keeps growing.

The teams were composite teams from town associations – basically a bunch of folks who play in social teams putting together a team for a weekend trip. The Roxby guys were from a couple of mixed teams that formed a mens and women’s team for the tournament.

I got to know a couple of families (the Curnows and Nisticos) from Pt Augusta through coaching at Norwood, where their daughters played some games (and grand finals!) for us. The Curnows kindly offered the club their beach house for accommodation and the junior girls decided quite last minute to make a trip. They had a lot of fun.

I went home in the afternoon, hoping to get up early enough to see the VTAW camp in the morning before driving off to coach Willunga then Concordia. I got to the camp just as the session finished. it was one of those days where i just got there late to everything. fail.

Familiar Story?

October 13, 2010

I should really stop this habit of watching how other sports do things that make them better than volleyball cos it just makes me depressed. But I thought this story was worth sharing.

Netball SA has decided to revamp their top tier netball competition and rename it the Premier League. like it’s namesake football competition in England, this also involved turfing out some clubs that didn’t cut the mustard (they have the chance to get back in).

4  of the 10 clubs from the previous top tier comp were culled down to the second “reserves” division: Oakland, Tango, Harlequin & Cheerio (seems like they tossed out the clubs with the better sounding names). Tango and Harlequin were the two northern based clubs, and their exclusion means that there is no longer a northern club representing the top tier competition.

Sound familiar?

Club, Schools & Events

October 13, 2010

It was an interesting discussion on OzVolley – it started as a discussion on the poor timing of the U15 state team trials; then whether or not we should have state teams that early; then how great it could be if kids started playing tournaments (and a lot more of them)  earlier like in the US; then despite the US club-based system for junior volleyball being great, like us, retention after high school is still low; then about how the peer group relates to retention; then finally about the implications of retention on having a sport that is either school-driven or club driven. It was a truly great Devo moment. If Allan was still running it he would have said it was a great discussion, closed it, and then reframed the tangent into a new post.

As someone that has been passionate about both school and club programmes, and having had a recent term on the committee of a country football club closely affiliated with a netball club, I have a lot of thoughts on this. i’ve written too much here and it’s all pretty disorganised.

Club or School?

I must admit, i used to prefer coaching school teams rather than club teams. Maybe it’s a vanity thing, but you get a lot of control. I also tended to train a lot of schools alone – that is, we were the only team in the gym and got to own the space. AT club it was often a chaos of having another 3-4 teams training at the same time and having to negotiate with other coaches for full-courts, balls, trolleys etc. Also, school teams were usually more tournament oriented and it was like a project; club teams were week in and week out.

I must admit, when i coached a club team to prepare them for tournaments like Albury Wodonga, it was always fun. We would train up a specific group like they were a development squad (this was at both Henley and Norwood) and work on specific things. But we wouldn’t do the same thing with the same group the following year. At Henley we took junior aged teams to  Warnambool when they were older, but we didn’t go about it like Albury-Wodonga. Maybe we need a club/school based U16s and U17s.

Is school more important/better than club? sometimes, definitely. And I think it depends how special you make each one:

  • Being in an SIV programme is like being part of something special
  • Being part of a non-SIV school programme with an inspired, talented coach is also good
  • Being part of a school team that plays in the private school leagues is less special (although $$$ attracts some of the best coaches!)

In some part, school volleyball is able to be elevated because of AVSC. The value of a tournament with an assigned value cannot be underestimated.

A couple of years ago when I was observing Eldo coach the U16s, he took me on a tour of the Heathfield SIV facilities. The Mt Lofty Community Centre had just been built and was impressive; he showed me the offices where they kept stock of match videos and files of statistics (you didn’t feel like 20 other sports, sports day and swimming carnival were all being run out of here); dartfish video analysis etc. What dawned on me, was this school programme was delivering to its athletes a better experience than the one I was delivering to my own athletes at the club level.

This particular school programme was better than a club one, but not always. You can’t expect kids from Heathfield or Brighton to find a club experience better than their school one, but that’s not necessarily true with every other school programme.

Would having more club driven development make retention better? From the discussion, USA had an excellent club based development system that feeds into the college then National Team programmes, but retention is still poor. Maybe that’s because people tend to move away from where they grow up in the US?

I used to think Junior League was shit, but it’s really what you make it

This isn’t completely baseless, and to be fair I was committed to coaching Junior League for far longer than most of my coaching and social peers did. It was something i tried to do as well as i could, but to be honest i was usually more excited about the school teams i coached an the prospect of how they would go at AVSC. I wasnt convinced that I could be part of a junior league experience that was comparable to AVSC.

While I was still at Henley, I used to argue about this with Tom West for ages at the venues after games. He would have all these ideas about how junior league could be made better and i would generally dismiss them. But I think i’ve come around this year when I moved to Norwood, and I think for the first time possibly ever, I enjoyed coaching Junior Volleyball as much as AVSC – maybe even more.

Tom’s point was that it was always what you made of it. For his players, who didn’t go to schools that played AVSC, Junior League was about the best experience they could get, and he was committed to make it as good as he could. Between Tom and Dr Dan, they created a programme that kids absolutely loved out of pure passion and commitment. You never got the feeling that these guys were doing this as a reluctant chore, and it rubbed off. The culture at with the Norwood Juniors is great; they all come from different schools but end up close; they take each other to each other’s school formals; take holidays together and have sleep-overs; turn up to finals to watch when they’re not playing; they get their friends out too and put on facepaint etc.

I think i coached better at Junior League and made my programme better when i lost the attitude that it was second rate and tried to create the ultimate junior league experience.

Get people to enjoy beating you

The other point Tom made, is you can make a competition by being really dominant (the ACCC would disagree here). I had a Div 1 girls team this year that was made up of players that were fringe League/reserves players and div women standard, but by virtue of Tom having created something fun for so many years, still wanted to play junior league till they were ineligible. This team dominated in most games. But i don’t think it always ruin the competition. Teams start getting in ring-ins to try and beat the other team. The best players make a point of turning up to play against us. And in true Aussie tall-poppy syndrome style, people start to dislike the team that dominates and want to knock them off.

I hated the idea of dominating a weak competition. I always liked being in an underdog situation and taking a scalp. Tom made the point that perhaps I had to start “being the scalp” for a change. With my div 1 girls team losing 6 players next year, i have no doubt that people will enjoy beating us and I hope that makes Junior League better again.

I might be one of the only fools out there that likes Junior League and wants to be good at it. Eventually someone has to find it worthwhile to beat my teams right?

I’m curious to see if I can make this work when i coach the Catholic Schools comp.

Kids like to play against kids their own age

They just do. It goes back to that thing with their peers. that’s why kids love tournaments, and there’s an untapped potential there and in Junior League. I used to think that the “older” junior age group comps were redundant, as kids on a pathway should be playing seniors, but there’s retention value in keeping these comps.

Looking at Football and Netball

sport works when you can watch it while drinking and eating

These are pictures of my football club, The Myponga-Sellicks Mudlark, and their affliliated netball club. Admittedly, there’s more people in the photos because they’re grandfinals, but the atmosphere is generally this festive. All the pictures are from the McLaren Vale venue, which always pulls a good crowd. Every round at McLaren Vale feels like country fair (most of the league is well attended, but i think McLaren Vale seems to pull even better crowds). You can see that it’s just a lot of fun. This is out in the country, and each week the netball and football clubs just move to the next town and all play at the same venue. every week is an event and it’s 18 weeks of the year that you clear your calendar for.

What makes retention here really good is that it’s an event that accommodates everyone. For younger kids, it’s just fun to play with against your peers; for teenagers and adults, there’s the opposite sex and the social scene; for parents, they can keep an eye on (and get to know) who their kids are hanging out with in an unobtrusive way (Mum and Dad can both help out and drink beer and wine with friends at the same time).

The “Event” thing is an important aspect of making people turn up. I’m currently researching film distribution and exhibition, and one thing that can help release a film, is instead of making it a screening, making it an event.

What makes something and event rather than more-of-the same (in both film and sport) seems to be drinking. If there’s a party after, or you can watch sport while consuming alcohol and bad food (and not have to disturb people in their seats while doing it), you can get people to stay around. Even better, at football and netball clubs you can get people who hang around who don’t make the team or don’t want to play! (and you can charge them admission).

How can we make club volleyball a better event? How do we get dads engaged in watching or talking to other spectators instead of plugging in the headphones tuned to the footy?

The fact that 1) volleyball is a mixed gender environment and 2) parents want to keep an eye on their kids while not looking like they’re trying to has got to have untapped potential.


Strangely enough playing with guys of different ages doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. WIth the requirement for big teams, a lot of junior football teams are made up of kids of different ages and year levels. This definitely makes the transition easier. Not all these guys will keep playing in the A’s and reserves, because there’s not enough spots, but plenty stay involved in helping out or just turning up to watch and hang out. It’s an “event” that allows that.

It actually takes a rare beast to get into playing SANFL football. A lot of talented kids choose not to go through the development squads, because compared to their local club experience it’s pretty lame. There are less games and you don’t get to play all of them. No one turns up to games – the rest of your club is playing somewhere else on a different day. They wouldn’t even know who you were. that pathway is for the kids that are more interested in high performance. for everyone else, there’s another level of competition where you can play. And it’s still special. To win a senior colts premiership in the Great Southern Football League must be special – They partied for a whole week and some of them got tattoos! We just don’t really have that in volleyball on a club level.

The pull of peers are still important in football. Kids don’t play in the SANFL development squad because they don’t want to let down their peers at their local clubs. Kids that could play up in Senior grades get pressured to play with their peers instead (you can’t really play to full matches of football well on the same day).

I can say from being at the football club, that having people in the senior teams being familiar with the juniors on a personal level helps the transition from playing juniors to seniors. In junior footy you stay around and watch the seniors play after. that’s a good start. In volleyball, juniors aren’t even playing on the same day! In better football clubs, the seniors are familiar with the juniors on a personal level and retention is good. in clubs where this doesn’t happen, the kids tend to leave for other clubs or drop out.


What i notice is that there are a lot of teams in some of these associations. The Great Southern Netball Association must have about 6-8 divisions in the senior level. There’s A1, A2, B1…. right through to D-grade. women play well into their 40s. some maybe even into their 50s. they were thinking of making a “masters” division. with the exception of a “masters” division, the teams aren’t built around peer groups. Women keep playing netball not just because their peers do, but because their partners, family and (eventually) kids are around too. The quality of the athletes in even the A2 and B1 divisions are good. PEople ho go to Uni and have part-time jobs all make the effort to play. It’s an event that has created an enormous social pressure to stay a part of.

Women’s volleyball could be more like that. have lots of teams, and then create an environment that gets rid of all the excuses to not turn up.

* * *

The truth though, is people don’t all stay involved at the football/netball clubs their whole lives. for many of the committed ones, there’s always a few years where they’re not involved because they have young kids. But as soon as the kids hit about the age they can play, they’re back and they stay. We’re looking at redeveloping the football grounds/community centre and one of the things they want to put in is a creche area where young kids can play.When you can keep everyone at the same place at the same time it really works well. There are problems in other associations where they don’t enjoy this benefit because they’re not paired up with a football/netball club or there’s too many teams and some teams have to play at different venues on different days to the rest of the clubs.

Incidentally, you’re exposed to a lot of entrepreneurship hanging around footy clubs. A lot of these clubs spend well over 50,000 a year in coaches and players. Working out how to make enough money to make that sustainable teaches you a few things.

When School Sport is Shit

If club volleyball is made unappealing because School volleyball seems more important, the opposite can be true too. School volleyball can be really crappy making club volleyball really appealing. Besides the AVSC and SSC, school volleyball is generally pretty crappy. Some of my experiences:

  • Knockout – where the X amount of games have to be fit within the school day. games are rushed and truncated. by the end of the final KO round this year at Brighton, my teams were more relieved about finally getting to eat than about whether they had won anything
  • (Protestant) Private Schools Girls Comp. I shouldn’t really be disrespectful here, since they’re among the few people who pay for coaching. But it is a bit crappy. it’s barely competitive – I have no idea if we’re actually playing for anything worthwhile. would we get presented with anything in front of people if we won more matches than everyone else did? i think we’re just turning up because a match has to be played as a tokenistic extracurricular activity. After exeats, hot weather policy cancellations, i remember one team i coached one term only played TWO matches for the “Season”

The Private School Boys (+ classy public schools) comp when Rostrevor ran it was a bit better. Having a Rostrevor team that played its best players making it worthwhile to turn up. Then AVSC schools like Unley High and Adelaide  High would put in teams too and make it a good comp. You definitely wanted to turn up to beat someone good.

The Silly Season

October 11, 2010

I’m reading a book at the moment about the 1992 US Presidential Elections. Coaching tournaments is a lot like a political campaign. You spend weeks or months preparing for a massive decider that will determine if you’re “candidate” finishes on top. At the same time, the other campaign(s) are trying to do the same, and you don’t really know who will triumph until the very end.

Elections have debates and polls. Tournament preparations have practice matches and statistics. Elections have primaries and pre-selections. Tournaments have smaller qualifying tournaments. Both have plenty of anxiety, stress, long anticipation, energy and excitement.

Preparing for AVSC, I feel a lot like a Campaign Strategist. Maybe I’m like James Carville, but always working for the independent candidates. The last school term before AVSC is always my busiest and most stressful time of year. I’m glad I had bit of a break after the winter season.

With State Schools Cup finished and Willunga High qualifying for 2 honours events and possibly a 3rd pending a wildcard, I’ve been asked to come back and help out. I had previously taken an indefinite break due to dwindling numbers at training. I wasn’t enjoying driving an hour each way to trainings where no one would turn up when I could coach people who did that were a lot closer. This is also the 15th anniversary of Willunga’s involvement at AVSC, and founder John Griffen’s last as a staff member before he retires. I could never say no to Griffo when he put it like that. I’ll be training 4-5 teams: The U17 and Open girls together for 2 hrs on Tuesday night; the U16 girls and some of the U15 girls for 2 hrs on Sunday, and the open boys for 2 hrs straight after (IF they turn up).

Meanwhile, the Concordia guys have qualified for OHB and I’m keen to keep helping them at training. Most are in yr 12 so it will be interesting to see how they fit it all in with the exams. They’ve been terrific to work with. They study, get good grades, have jobs, other sports, and about 14-15 of them consistently turn up to training each week. It’s also just good fun to work with and learn off my old coach Tony. It’s always exciting to see a new team play an open honours event. The trainings will be 2 hrs on Sunday night after my Willunga sessions.

Then there’s Summer League with the Norwood Bears. There’s my normal Wednesday night training. With the success of our Thursday night trainings with Paringa Park Primary, we’re continuing our satellite presence there with more teams. So I’ll be there to help build it up. After doing really well at State Schools Cup, The Paringa kids are really keen to go to AVSC, but haven’t definitely decided yet. It’s a tricky one with graduations in the same week. I don’t know if I’ll go to many of the summer league games. Usually the kids just play without coaches or we get new younger coaches to do the games. I’ll go to a few games, but I think I’ll take a few Fridays off.

Lastly I’m coaching St Ignatius for the term in the Catholic School Girls League. I’m filling ion for their regular coach, Tom, who is going on a long overseas holiday. I’ve never done this competition before so I’m curious to see what it’s like. It’s effectively only 6 weeks, and sometimes because of exeats, exams and hot weather policy there may only be a 2 or 3 games.

So to tally it up, until the end of AVSC, that’s about: 14hrs a week. And about 10 teams.

But like any other election, the day after the polls will be quiet nothingness.