Blog: From 21,000 Teams to 816

By John Kessel | May 17, 2012, 10:49 p.m. (ET)

Last week, as part of the Olympic qualification process, our USA Men keep our historic streak alive, by qualifying for their eighth straight Olympic competition. There, as I wrote in the blog "From 220 to 12" the members nations of the FIVB, our international federation that USA Volleyball was one of 12 founding members back in 1947, train and develop on a four year cycle to simply be part of the most important championship of our sport. By my calculations, 220 teams fighting for 12 spots is a 5.4 percent chance to get in.

As of today, there are over 213,000 junior girls playing in USA Volleyball sanctioned competitions from all 50 states in 40 Regional Volleyball Associations. When we first hosted the US Junior Olympic Volleyball Championships, in 1980, there were 2,288 Junior girls competing (and 446 boys), and the event, needing no qualification but open to all wanting to play, started with under 100 teams. Since then, to help grow the game around the nation, these USAV Junior Championships have been held in 26 different cities. As our numbers of junior members has grown over the decades, the event has had to change from an all comers event to one teams must qualify for, through their RVA Regional events of one of the National Qualifying tournaments spaced all around the USA.

This year’s USAV National Junior Girls championship is limited to a total of 816 teams. If you average 10 players on a roster of those 213,000 junior girls who are USAV members, that means there are over 21,300 teams are eligible to compete in the National Championships. By those same calculations seen above for Olympic qualification chances, your junior team has a 3.8 percent chance to get in, about 50 percent harder to qualify than our Olympic teams!

My daughter’s high school won state again this year, and the vast majority of USAV junior players also play with their school teams. Here in Colorado. There are 337 high schools competing in five classifications. The schools compete in leagues, tournaments and districts and regionals and in the end, over two great days of competition, eight teams who qualify battle to be state champs in those five groups. So 40 teams make the Championships, out of 337, an 11.9 percent chance for teams in Colorado to “Make State…” Congrats to all teams who did, but also to all those school teams who push those who do qualify to play in State.

Fortunately there are USAV clubs and programs for teams that just want to play locally, or just regionally, but every USAV team no matter how young, is part of the overall pipeline to our decades of Olympic success. It is also a good thing that for the over 20,000 teams who do not make the USAV Jr. National Championships, there are still “all-comer’ multi day, season ending events. Right now, if you wanted to, you can form a team and “qualify” for the USAV sanctioned Volleyball Festival, a wonderful event in about it's 30th year in Phoenix, AZ. You can do the same and head to Orlando and play in the AAU event there. There are other great USAV sanctioned season ending events, such as the “Third Coast” in Austin Texas, the "Summer Soiree" in Anaheim, CA and the Asics Championships in Chicago, IL, and maybe more? (post the info in the comments section if I missed you!) Then there is the Starlings Nationals, in San Diego, CA, a USAV sanctioned and supported program for economically disadvantaged kids – featuring great teams from the Navajo Nation and all over America. These events are certainly easier to plan for, as you know you are in, once you pay the entry fee – and the chance of getting in? Well I don’t need my calculator for that, it is 100 percent!

Qualifying for the best tournament in the world takes years of training, and millions of dollars over the four years of National Team Program training – and a substantial part of your USAV membership fees which come to the national office (in total about $20 per member each year), are used to support our USA National Men’s and Women’s National teams – in not just indoor, but beach, and sitting volleyball, and most recently for the Deaflympics. Each one of these programs medaled in 2008, and we could be penny wise, but pound foolish in not doing our best to support them, but that is not what USA Volleyball has been doing. We just hosted the NORCECA Olympic Qualifier at a substantial cost – to give our men’s team home court advantage to qualify. The other nations we played get huge government support to compete, but not our USA teams – it comes from the USAV members, fans, USOC, and sponsor support. To not have a USA team in the Olympics with the national impact the event has on those who do not know how great our sport it, would negatively impact all of those in the volleyball family. So THANK YOU to those who join USA Volleyball, know that you are part of the pipeline, in helping ensure the best players are supported to compete against the world.

Qualifying for the US Junior Nationals is also not without cost, but it is the journey, not the destination that is what is so worth the cost. The team travel builds memories that last a lifetime, as do the practices and off court experiences – not just the competitions. Our game is the ultimate TEAM sport and when you add in playing doubles in the summer, to work on your weakness -- See my classic article “Play Better Indoors by Playing Outdoors” addressing that concept -- it is clear how valuable the USAV junior program is to developing safe (thanks IMPACT training, mandatory background checks and our work helping develop the USOC website) and marvelous experiences – win or lose.

Right now there are some 12 & under aged members of USA Volleyball who will become part of our 2020 and 2024 National teams, and with the financial support given, once again qualify to be in the Olympics , Paralympics, and Deaflympics in the decade to come. There are also kids who do not know about the special nature and values in our sport – and USAV has joined with the Partnership for a Healthy America to work with our regions and clubs to get many more new kids to experience our game. Take a look at the other Olympic Sports we are partners with in the “Let’s Move “ – a total of 1.7 million youth are expected to give ten variations sport, including those found in volleyball, a go. We look forward to growing the game together and watching our future National Team members and their teammates who help them get there, thrive.

More ideas will be coming this summer as we develop programs to help bring new members in, and enhance the experience of current members, starting with making sure you watch and cheer on our Olympians and Paralympians in London. I will be there working the Paralympics as part of my duties as Director of Development for the World Organization for Volleyball Disabled (WOVD). In fact, I just finished a special Development CD for helping teams in Africa grow the disabled options of volleyball which will be used in a continent wide clinic by other WOVD staff later this month. If you send a stamped self addressed padded envelope to me at USA Volleyball (4065 Sinton Rd, Colorado Springs CO 80907), I would be happy to share it with you. That way you can learn more about what we do to help others both in our nation and around the world in volleyball as, thanks to your support and membership, we can do the right thing for others less fortunate than we are…

Thoughts? Share a comment below, browse the other Growing the Game Together blogs for lots more info or email me at

Post Script: A trip down memory lane of the cities USAV has held our USA Volleyball Junior National Championships in for girls:

1980 Davis, CA --- 1981 Omaha, NE --- 1982 Santa Barbara, CA --- 1983 Los Angeles, CA --- 1984 Kingston, RI --- 1985 St. Joseph, MO --- 1986 St. Paul, MN --- 1987 Albuquerque, NM --- 1988 Ft. Collins, CO ---- 1989 Toledo, OH --- 1990 Albuquerque, NM --- 1991 Tampa, FL --- 1992 Albuquerque, NM --- 1993 Kansas City, MO --- 1994 Austin, TX --- 1995 Orlando, FL --- 1996 San Jose, CA --- 1997 Denver, CO --- 1998 Dallas, TX --- 1999 New Orleans, LA --- 2000 Louisville, KY --- 2001 Salt Lake City, UT --- 2002 Salt Lake City, UT --- 2003 Atlanta, GA --- 2004 Houston, TX --- 2005 Salt Lake City, UT --- 2006 Atlanta, GA --- 2007 Minneapolis, MN --- 2008 Dallas, TX ---- 2009 Miami, FL --- 2010 Reno, NV ---- 2011 Atlanta, GA --- 2012 Columbus, OH


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On May 18, 2012 Tim McCune wrote

As the only fundraiser for the USA Volleyball Foundation I have to say THANK YOU for including why it is important to support USA Volleyball. The membership fees, which go to cover not only the National Teams but is spread out to support each of the 40 Regional organizations, grassroots, CAP and many other programs, not the least of which include insurance and safety for all of of our members. If we are to truly grow the game and provide the opportunity for anyone who loves the game to be able to compete, we must grow out endowment in the USA Volleyball Foundation. The Foundation was formed to provide support for the programs of USAV and the 40 Regions, through scholarships, program enhancements and many other ways. It takes the entire community who has the passion for this sport to help grow our ability to make a difference. To those who choose to support the USAV Foundation we sincerely Thank You!! And know that as a donor you are one of the most significant members of our "Team Behind the Team".

On May 28, 2012 Marc holmquist wrote

A simple question. How many of these 213,000+ junior players know that there is "life" after the juniors program or college (if lucky enough)? I have a feeling that, most of the juniors players do not know usav adult volleyball exists, and it could eventually mean the end of the adult program.

On June 01, 2012 John Kessel wrote

Not enough know for sure Marc.... and fact is, 5% of varsity HS playes still play their sport when they are 30... I give them this article to help... and a motivational poster

We very much welcome additional new comments, to be contributed below: