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I Just Need a Line

Feb. 22, 2011, 3:37 p.m. (ET)

The dawn drive to the Santo Domingo airport to begin my all day journey home to Colorado, goes mostly along the coast of ragged lava rocks - no beaches on this stretch, but lots of palm trees. Every few hundred yards I see one or two fisherman, patiently waiting to see if their offering on single strand of monofilament will bring them some luck. In our meetings, NORCECA President Cristobal Marte referenced the biblical principal of teaching someone to fish rather than giving them fish, so we can grow our sport. I was more thinking about my roommate Carl McGown’s observations that soccer and basketball are so popular as they are so simple to play, and that we need take advantage of the ideas in the Minivolleyball book to do the same in our sport. 

So while a fisherman can use a rod, there were several on the volcanic shoreline simply using a handline, including the one I watched landing a fish. They just need a line, and a hook.  Same for volleyball, only our “hook” is the joy of keeping a ball off the floor. Of rebounding it off varying body parts, spiking it, blocking it, digging it as it goes so slow on a tip or so fast on a hit, playing near the floor or way up in the air, on the most crowded sports surface around, point after wonderful point.  At the 7th annual NORCECA Physical Educators clinic, we had two nice Sport courts and net systems. However, I strung some of my 2 inch wide white ribbon down the court’s middle, from a chain link wall section, to an empty flag pole at the other end.  The players find the “top of the net” like width to be easier to see than my customary yellow and black braided rope, and the cost is about the same, at well under $10. In our sport’s case, we just need a line…

….and a ball. That is our end of the line “hook,” to catch players. With just a line, you can’t catch anything or play.  Give me a ball in addition to the line, and people around the world are set to play volleyball.  The Leave a Ball Behind program, now in its 10th year, was just covered in our Volleyball USA magazine, and we are getting many of you reaching out to get involved in the program at season’s end. Thank you for your generosity, on behalf of all those less fortunate programs who will receive a ball, no matter what the volleyball’s condition.  You see, our sport’s world wide growth is really limited by the availability of volleyballs. At the airport “duty free” shop in Santo Domingo they were selling a low quality, hand stitched volleyball, for $45. I am glad I brought each member of our Technical, Coaches and Development Commission a Molten “Soft Touch” kids volleyball, for none of them had seen it and they were very glad to hear of the far less expensive cost of the ball, as low as $11 online from what I have found.  Please consider giving one or more of the old volleyballs which are just not good enough for training, that are stored in a gym closet to the LABB program.  The other option is simply to wait until season’s end and “leave a ball behind” (or more than one!) at your Regionals or other season ending event.  Just email leaveaballbehind@usav.org with your contact information and our partners at PSA will get in touch with you to arrange for the transfer. One more thing, make sure to use a sharpie pen and have your athletes sign good luck wishes on the ball.

At the end of the clinic, a Questions & Answers session is held with all the teachers. One stated that in many of their schools, they only have one, or if lucky two balls, and wondered how to run training sessions with such a situation. Stations and fun games, as found in the minivolley book, is one of the answers, and Eugenio George, 3x Olympic gold medal coach for the Cuba women’s program, spoke at length of the value and ideas found in the book, saying he had learned many good ideas for kids and top level teams.  I then went up and offered him some cash, much to the delight of the crowd. Then when Marina Contreras, former Dominican Republic National team star and now an ESPN Spanish and international level commentator told them that it was FREE, they were stunned. I told them I had the book in Spanish on my laptop and would be happy to give it to them at the course’s end, and many took advantage of an usb stick they carried, to download a copy. It was a good ending.

This is the same site, the FIVB Development Center where part one of our USA Volleyball State Department Grant will take place starting in early April. During our meetings a huge school championship was being held, and I spent some of my non-meeting time outside watching the kids and coaches interact. My favorite shot is included, as the nuns went to play during a break in the competition.  You can see they are having fun, and, like so many around the world, playing on a wonderful flat but hard surface....

NORCECA Sisters

Photo copyright John Kessel/USA Volleyball

Concrete, as in tennis courts are the fortunate ones.  The next level down is playing on asphalt, either training courts or in the street. Then there is grass, sand, or just dirt. I would guesstimate, after coaching and teaching in over 40 nations, that over 70% of the players in the world compete mostly on dirt, and some sand or grass, and 20% play on concrete or asphalt.  For us lucky Americans who have primarily wood or Sport Court flooring, the fact that the vast majority of the world plays on such hard surfaces might come as a surprise.

Over 25 years ago I taught in Belize, where they had a used wood court brought in at considerable expense from the USA. Sadly in just one rainy season, as so many of the gyms are covered but open walled, the floor was warped beyond use or repair. They replaced it with Sport Court and have had no problems since.  At these meetings Cristobal announced NORCECA has been in the process of buying and gifting Sport Court flooring in zonal nations, including Guatemala and soon Haiti.  An example of a sponsor working hard, as Molten and Sport Court do, to grow the game together. 

If you made it this far, I will share a “best practices” that came first from my trip to Bolivia and was hinted at during the start of this blog. There, instead of a rope, they were stringing up 2in wide elastic webbing. Far easier to see, far more “net like” as it is just like the top of a regular net band. Recently I was in Costco and found 2 inch wide white ribbon, 50 yards long and wire reinforced both top and bottom. It can be tightened up straight and flat even the 70 feet that happens when putting up two “nets” down the middle of a regular court, endline to endline, using  a “trucker’s knot.”  It is also lots less expensive, and sags much less, than the elastic option. Some coaches say they are using plastic tape, like yellow “caution” tape, as an inexpensive solution as well. 

Then again, the kids in Chile waiting for their fathers to be freed from the mine, played many games over the street sign barriers that are similar to sawhorses. You see in the Minivolleyball book how the boys at Karch Kiraly’s high school alma mater, East HS, play on asphalt over a chain link fence. One of the most intense games ever played was between Karch and Steve Timmons, using a balloon, over a living room table.

You see, all we need is a barrier to play over, a line or whatever, and a ball.   Email me at john.kessel@usav.org with other ideas to share, or put them up on the USAV Facebook site. Thanks for helping grow the game and for making sport be an important part of every kids’ life. 

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