July 20, 2009, 4:39 p.m. (ET)

This is one of my favorite "words" ever, and given the economic situation impacting us all, leads us into the reason for this grow the game set of options - for I see things as now here, never nowhere...There has never been a better time to grow volleyball, as not only are we a sport for a lifetime, but we are a sport which can be played year round, on a variety of surfaces , using a variety of court and team sizes by either a single gender or coed players of a wide variety of ages. 

Facility Modification

In New York - the GEVA region pays one court fees at levels up to $150 per hour. Thus, the vast majority of their Jr. Olympic Volleyball Club fees are used up in rental costs, not really helping develop the sport. By dividing a regular court down the middle into two, you can put two teams on one court, and HALVE your rental costs for training. Sure the courts sometimes thus end up about 8 meters long, not the regulation 9 meters, but you can put a mark on the wall to show where in would still be, and use rope wall standards to vary the height from above adult to low minivolleyball height. If you need a divider net, just put up deer netting, which costs just $15 for a seven foot high run of 100 feet. Simply cut it halfway and zip tie the 50 feet sections together, then weave a rope thru the top mesh holes and you have a 14 foot high divider net.

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Then there simply is using different surfaces and places for training. One of my favorite stories from hosting Lang Ping for several years right after she beat us for the 1984 Olympic Gold medal, was her relating about her first national championship. She was sooooo excited the night before, she could not sleep. Not because it was nationals, but because she was going to play on a wood floor for the first time.  I am just back from Vanuatu, where the good courts are smooth concrete, and the village courts are simply on grass, sand or even just dirt. Run your minivolleyball program for kids your players teach on a tennis court, in the fall, spring or summer.  If you are in the south, you can opt to run it even in the winter. Then train on those same courts for that practice. Courts can be simply set up for all ages with a rope and two pieces of wood making an "X" for a standard. See below. Sign up for a racquetball court if a facility in your area has one, and set up WallyBall net and play without having to ever chase a ball. You become a better player by playing, so create ways to get your kids playing beyond just your JOV practice time.

Affiliated Organization Connections

Joining the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs and other USAV Affiliated Organizations who have facilities and creating a class of junior volleyball for the teams can save thousands in rental costs. Take it one step further and offer your players and staff as coaches for a minivolleyball class, and you create another level of win-win and cost reduction. Since we become a better player if you coach, having your junior players coach the minivolleyball or volleyball classes that happen just before their practices, or even as part of them, makes your players better.

Let me elaborate on this "Coaching then Practicing" concept, as it is important for growing our game.  Simply put it is my hope that everyone with a club, regardless of the age levels/groups - has their players spend some part of their week coaching younger/less skilled players. You have them come weekly, and for 1 hour of your two hour practice, put up smaller courts by dividing the net down the middle and play. You can go under your regular practice net for young players,  or over/thru the net for older taller kids. Just make sure the net is low enough to all get the joy of spiking. Then create 4-6 kids courts, or 2-4 larger courts for adults and play/train 2v2, 2v3, 3v3...even 4 v 4.  Each player on your team should have a team to "coach" and help.  After the hour, the kids training is done and your team practices the second hour. Cost? No charge for coaches. No charge for court rental, no charge for coach membership (kids are already USAV members). So you give them a Molten First Touch 140 gram ball, a T shirt and USAV membership (11 and under just $15 remember) and all is great for under $50 per kid per season.  They become full members in that they need not pay for USAV membership the rest of the year, and since they have a ball already, they can be much more profitable the second time through the program.  All it takes is two teams in your club, and you can alternate the teams coaching the hour, so they get to learn by teaching, but only do it twice a month - plus fun play day festivals every 3-4 weeks for a morning before training - as the teams alternate the training nite the kids come to weekly.

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I am going to let a recent email from Eric Hodgson, the Chair of our USAV Grassroots Commission, share with you yet another example of how to develop leadership and low cost volleyball...so straight from Fargo North Dakota, here is what he shared....

Sitting here in Grand Forks, ND at 6:45a waiting for my fellow coaches to wake so we can head to day 2 of our camp at Red River H.S. Been with these athletes for 7 hours and after a tough first day at camp where they worked very hard, they invited me to come watch them play 90 minutes after our camp ended to something called the East Grand Forks High School Rec 
The Coaches and I ate quick and drove across the Red River into Minn. (I think) and walked into a 3 court gym teaming with energy. Each court put up and taken down, BY KIDS. Each court being officiated and line judged, BY KIDS. Each court being coached and administered BY KIDS. Each match recorded and started up again, BY KIDS. Nine total teams, 3 per court. Every Monday for 5 weeks, you ref 1 and play 2 with a tournament the sixth week. The cost??? $25 per girl. One woman oversees the facility and not one coach and very few Parents in attendance. They were having a blast.
Seems girl's volleyball is the number one participation sport in Grand Fork's High Schools. Red River HS has 5 high school teams, 2 frosh, 1 soph, 1 JV and 1 Varsity. And yet the Coach says the middle school programs that feed into her need a lot of help. They practice less in a season than in the camp I'm running here this week which is about 24 hours. So they come to HS, get a crack on a Frosh team, and just play....bold concept!
The level of these kids is very high, much higher than I expected. But they also get their drivers licenses at 14 1/2 and many have jobs or help with the family farm or business. Great community. We drove back to our hotel last night and ran across 6 sand courts in a park a few blocks from the ol' Travelodge. Not one court was empty at 8:45 p. Keep in mind that the sun doesn't go down here till about 10:30.
Good stuff, thought I would share.
Peace Ouuuuuuuut.

The example photos following show what we did for the beach teams to set up and train kids on grass and beach in advance of their training daily in Vanuatu. This set up could be "deadmanned" - burying the anchor point in the ground to anchor to easily and not re-dig the holes - or anchored in other ways, like this concrete block seen on the photo. The deadman anchors are very strong and can be trucker knotted to a super tight net - including a long run of 200 feet. The "X" can be easily raised and lowered by spreading the bottom part. Same thing seen in Alaska in the final photo, so from Alaska to the South Pacific, and all over the USA we can create affordable programs with kids coaching kids. 

Additionally, get your kids playing in adult leagues, mixing in with veterans of the game. Play coed 4 vs. 4 or sixes, getting mom and dad out there to play with their sons and daughters. If your club is larger, you can even form a family league night for two families to play four or six person teams - or even smaller sizes.

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Save Travel Monies

Rather than travel for higher level competition, have your teams play up an age group or even two. US Figure Skating is seeing significant growth in it more local learn to skate programs, and volleyball provides, with local USAV planning, the chance for more local competition like Date Night Leagues, and Intra and Inter Club Competitions.

More Player Involvement

Leadership comes from being able to DO, not watch, the training. In addition to having your kids coach younger players or even new older players noted above, come up with other leadership development situations. Have your kids become higher level referees and scorekeepers, and get them working in the adult leagues. Adopt a small FIVB Volleyball Federation, there are over a hundred needing volleyballs and other materials, and create international good will between fellow athletes from halfway around the world. Gather up volleyballs, outgrown good shoes, nets, sponsor change/no longer needed uniforms, printing error t-shirts, whistles, and more. Then ship them to your adopted national volleyball federation. Contact USAV for a list of countries needing such help, and find a USA contact, church group or traveling business person, who can take the gear down for you, rather than shipping it all the way there. The federations know who comes into their nation from the USA on a regular basis.

Like it or not, fundraising projects are great leadership development experiences. Provides for more team building when done properly, and simply develops life skills on how to sell things, be confident, and so many more benefits, especially when done in a buddy system, or all team format - like a car wash. Offer a free car wash, and then as you wash the car, let them know what you are fundraising for, and ask for any level of donation. More often than not, you get a bigger donation than if you just charge a flat rate.

More Parent Involvement

Develop your program to be exemplar by educating your parents more. Check out Dave Epperson's Promise of Good Sports training, Jim Thompson's Positive Coach Alliance training for parents, or use the USAV IMPACT manual parent training section to maximize quality parent involvement.  

You can also give your parents a date night, by forming a date night league. This is simply an affordable way to get a lot of play for the players in a short amount of time, by having pools of THREE on a Friday night. If you go from 6-9pm, each team gets a minimum of two matches in, and the teams playing in the crossover matches of first playing the other pool's first and second the other second place team (while3rd referees), get three matches, as many as a normal four team pool for an all day tourney. You need to keep things running fast, and perhaps play to 21 pts, not 25, to make sure it all fits in the three hours window, but your parents will appreciate the chance to date again, and your kids get to in town play and referee at a very low cost.

Collegiate Outreach

While each university has 12-15 varsity players who are volleyball knowledgeable, there are likely 10 times more former high school varsity players in college who are only playing intramurals. Over 100,000 high school volleyball players finish their careers annually as seniors, but less than 5,000 varsity openings are available at the college level for incoming freshmen.  Post flyers in the rec centers, connect to the intramural volleyball programs, contact the athletic, psychology, education, sociology and other department heads, and get these non-varsity volleyball experts to give back to their sport thru management, coaching and officiating.  It could even be connected to a college class as an internship or other outreach program opportunity.  They can be involved in the AOs above - the YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs, and Park and Rec programs of the area.

In a related way, over spring break or even the summer, run an alumni tournament, pitting your club against the other former JOV club alumni. You can also have an alumni exhibition match over the weeks of their spring break, and have these alumni come in one night during the week training to speak and PLAY with the kids in their former JOV club. These connections are not kept well enough in my experience, and need to be developed.

If you have any other ideas for creating value in your program by using the wonderful, affordable lifetime sport of volleyball, please share them in the comment section below, or email me at john.kessel@usav.org  Thanks for helping grow the game together!