USA Volleyball recently touched base with Rob Long, the Director and Head Coach of Ohio Valley Beach Volleyball Academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. Long's club, Next Level Beach Volleyball, trains out of an indoor/outdoor sand facility in Loveland, Ohio, and he shared with USAV the mission of his program and how they are reaching continued successes.
USAV: Give us a little background about your club.
Long: In 2011 when we heard the NCAA was going to start to make [beach volleyball] an emerging sport, at that point we knew it was going to take some doing on our part of the country, since we're Midwestern, to start to build the juniors in order move that opportunity on the college level.
Once we got started in 2012, with 20 kids, we were practicing a couple times a week. Trying to peak interest in the sport in general.
The Ohio Valley Region is the second largest region in USA Volleyball for total full-memberships, at 20,000 members.
There is a lot of volleyball that comes along in the Ohio Valley Region, just not a lot of beach volleyball. We started to market it a little bit more and we continued to grow. We've benefited a lot from having an indoor sand facility. We have a five-court indoor sand facility so we can train year-round. The second year, we had 80-plus kids, now throughout the full year we're up over 300 kids participating.
USAV: What do you think has led to your success in the last couple years?
Long: Changing to a year-round opportunity. When we put up the indoor sand facility four years ago, that led the kids to realize, 'wow we can do this year-round.' In indoor volleyball, you play high school, which goes until October, then club starts pretty much in December. Then high school begins August 1st, then USAV nationals. That's very little time if you're trying to grow beach volleyball, two summer months June and July in this part of the country, it's almost impossible to do. For us, putting up the indoor facility and being able to train year-round the last three years, it has paid off major dividends. The girls have bought into it.
In the last year we've gone from being just an Ohio Valley Region club to Next Level Beach Volleyball Club, which is all kids in Midwestern United States that want to travel out nationally. We've actually got kids that participate with us from nine different states. They'll come down over holiday weekends, for a couple camps and meet us at different sites for national level tournaments. We'll go to Florida, Gulf Shores (Alabama), North Carolina and South Carolina. If there is no beach club near you, it's really hard. Reach out to places you do know that at least you can go train some basics then self-coach when you go back home. That's what we've suggested to a lot of those who don't have the opportunity that we have here in our area.
We do what we do as a community
USAV: You do travel a lot, you've mentioned Florida and California. Where do you get your funding to be able to do that?
Long: We do fundraisers and run a lot of tournaments and activities where the kids are able to raise some of their own money. What we do to make it very inexpensive is we travel together in team vans and stay together in team accommodations, usually it's a house. Around the beaches there are a lot of opportunities to get houses that can fit 28-40 kids. We cook all of our meals at the house and we make it cheap. For us to go to Florida for three days, it's $240 per kid. The parents that come are our chaperones, they know they're getting that cheap price because they're helping cook meals and clean up. We do what we do as a community. It enables the kids to travel. Indoor has gotten expensive, and there's no way getting around that. We've found that in order to give the kids a possibility to play at a higher level, we had make our trainings pretty cheap also. We make it financially feasible.
USAV: Do you think it's important to travel to be successful?
Long: Yes, for sure. If you live in California, no it's not. Those kids have a lot of opportunities to get some high-level competition. For us here, we don't have any competition unless we go to Texas, California and some places in Florida. It is really important if you want play against the top level competition that gets you looked at for the collegiate level. In order to play the game for fun, to enjoy it and get better, no that's a different story.
USAV: How are you getting your kids to college caliber?
Long: We train intensely. We practice three days a week for 2.5 hours a day. We've had close to 15 girls in the last three years go to college, they come back often when they're not in school and they set the pace. When you have your best girls playing 110-percent, you look funny if you're not.
We have another program that we run that's a level below that. It's more enjoying the game, having fun and playing locally. Our elite level program is more people who aspire to play in college. I'll sit down with each and every kid at least three times during a season and we'll talk out their goals and how they're reaching them.
USAV: Do you have boys and girls programming?
Long: In the summer time we do boys programs also. The problem with boys is there is no end-game for them, there is no college. Because there is no collegiate level for boys, they kind of stay the indoor path until they get through college. It's not as popular for us.
Plus we do run out of court space at our place now. We are looking to build two more courts onto this facility, which would give us 14 total courts and seven indoor before the end of this upcoming summer. I'm looking at a facility in Indianapolis, Louisville and Columbus. We're looking to build facilities and doing what we're doing here in those spots.
So rad!!!!! https://t.co/cGUpSeBUgx— Kerri Walsh Jennings (@kerrileewalsh) February 25, 2017
USAV: Tell us more about your facility.
Long: We're capped out, we're running out of court space. We take that time from 3-6:30 p.m., it is really the only time we have. From 6:30 on are the adult leagues where the facility makes their money. We can practice every day, but we have to do it in that small hour time.
The club team currently trains at the Grand Sands facility in Loveland, Ohio, 20 miles north of Cincinnati.
In the winter time, we have 100 kids training, in our year-round elite program. I've also got a group of 24 that are training in Columbus right now. We have a seven court facility that just broke ground in Columbus. We're in talks with Louisville and Indianapolis as well.
USAV: Do you own the new facilities or are you renting out of them?
Long: The one we're working out of now we don’t own. The new deals are partnerships. We'll partner with a group, we bring the consulting, ability to start the programs and operations and they bring the financing and build the facility.
We're doing it all to get our Midwestern region stronger
We're doing it all to get our Midwestern region stronger. Some of the volleyball around our other facilities are really good but they haven't gone after beach volleyball. It's not easy to promote. These folks are pretty good indoor players and indoor clubs are making good money doing what they do. To branch out into something that they're not positive they can do well, it’s a big step for them.
We've found if we partner with them, they know of our program, they see it's been successful. If they have somebody come alongside them and help them get there, they're willing to take that bet. But a lot of them aren't willing to take that on their own. It's a step into the unknown for them. It helps them feel secure that there's a program out there that can help them get there, a program that's done it. That's what's working for us.