Club, Schools & Events

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.


3 Responses to “Club, Schools & Events”

  1. Alexis Says:

    I’m going to comment and disgree (and agree) with one small point in an epic post:

    “Kids like to play against kids their own age. They just do.”

    I agree with this completely. Kids do like to play against kids their own age. They also like to play against older kids. They also like to play against adults. Actually, they just like to play.

    There used to be a thing called ‘State Junior Championships’ which was a weekend tournament where each club and country town entered an U/15 team and they played a touranment. There was also a tournament for U/17 and also for U/20. These events were on different weekends and whenever you played in one you always felt like you were the on the ‘main court’ rather than just the afterthought when most people cared about the older kids. I used to love playing in these. I did ring-arounds with friends who could barely play just so my club (Trojons) could field a team in U/15s. I clearly remember an ultra-competitive final of U/20s where a very young Mt Lofty team (with the Frisby-Smith brothers and Robbie Dayton) beat the older Vasco da Gama (my team). I remember playing in an U/15s Warnambool tournament every year, held at the beginning of December. It was fantastic to play in these tournaments.

    I also remember playing in Reserves when I was 15 and League when I was 16. I absolutely loved it. And I got much better very quickly.

  2. Angela Says:

    As a “paid” coach (our school does not employ outside coaches but uses experienced teachers or Old Scholars ) in the IGSSA Schools Co-curriucular comp I’ll say this…yes the standard of the competition is “crappy” and as a P.E teacher who is trying to build a new attitude and culture of Volleyball in my current school (Westminster) I find this competition sometimes painful. Top reffing when you want to coach, basic score sheets and early Sat am starts can all make it unappealing, but what I have found it useful for is as a launching pad for interested kids to get a taste of the game. In 2 years at Westminster I have been able to form a squad of players (boys and girls) that train throughout the year, compete in Junior League and SA Indoors and travel to Melbourne in December for the AVSC. As a Brighton alumni and former coach, do I miss the days of Honours…yes. As a trained teacher do I enjoy watching young kids fall in love with the game, even if they are playing U17 Boys Div 2…even more. On the flight home from the 2010 AVSC I had many of my students asking me questions about how to trial for State teams, join a club, train more and play more. In my eyes, this is what it is all about.

    Oh, and the IGSSSA competition plays for a shield. This year it was won by Seymour, and the B grade cup was awarded to Immanuel. The girls seem to take this seriously, since they all have a good natured but fierce rivalry between the schools!

    • Hugh Nguyen Says:

      haha! i coached at 3 different schools in the private school girls league over the years and had no idea there was a prize!

      It’s great that you’ve managed to take a school programme into junior league and AVSC, since it’s a difficult ask for a lot of private schools who have a lot f important events on that week. I helped train a Concordia College team this year to go to AVSC and it was great to see them enjoy the event. they played Open Honours boys and only 1 game but a they were keen to come back and coach future teams.

      A lot of the these school teams have been great for getting kids into the club i’m at, and i think the diversity of where volleyball players come from will increase in years to come.

      I must say one of the most satisfying things to do is coach a small school programme at AVSC and build it up to competing at higher levels. When i started at Willunga High we had a mostly div 2 teams and a couple of div 1 teams. This year we had 3 honours teams. Even though they struggled it was great to see the kids enjoy playing that level of competition. a lot of them are keen to get back into it next year.

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