Boys' Volleyball Growth Creating Synergy at All Levels

By Bill Kauffman (bill.kauffman@usav.org) | July 04, 2018, 3:46 p.m. (ET)

USA Volleyball Boys' Junior National Championships
The USA Volleyball Boys' Junior National Championships is at all-time high in teams, and that corresponds with record numbers of boys' youth playing the sport across the country

PHOENIX, Ariz. (July 4, 2018) – The USA Volleyball Boys’ Junior National Championships (BJNC) is creating positive synergies for many organizations and individuals with record growth over the last few years.

At the 39th annual BJNC being held July 2-9 at the Phoenix Convention Center, a record 578 teams are competing in age groups ranging from 12 to 18. This year marks the second consecutive BJNC setting a record for club participation, but this year blew away the old record set in 2017 in Columbus. Phoenix has drawn 13.3 percent more teams – or 68 teams – than one year ago.

Boys’ volleyball has not been limited to just the number of teams competing in BJNC. USA Volleyball has experienced a steady climb in boys’ volleyball memberships over the last decade. Just 10 years, male junior membership was stagnant at the 11,000 level. Today, more than 19,000 junior boys’ hold membership in USA Volleyball – an increase of 68 percent. Just in the last year, USAV junior boys’ membership has increased over 6.5 percent.

David Hunt, the head men’s volleyball coach at Pepperdine University, says the boys’ volleyball growth has built a broader pipeline of athletes, all the way from club to college to the National Team.

“It is making our jobs easier at the highest level,” Hunt said. “When I walk around watching the courts (at BJNC), I think the level of volleyball being played is high. I think the club volleyball coaches are doing a good job getting kids in their region to be involved in the sport and at an earlier age. And they are training them really well. By the time they get into our gym and other college gyms, the guys are ready to compete for playing time and be on the court.”

Right now, the top players are excelling in college to the point they are being invited to train with the U.S. Men’s National Team with collegiate eligibility remaining. Hunt feels that is a reflection on the club coaches preparing them for the next level.

“We are seeing the ability of the best athletes in college to go and help the National Team right away, with some of the players still in college,” Hunt said. “I think it starts with our club coaches and all the hard work in getting these guys involved.”

While not as many college scholarships and playing opportunities exist in the men’s volleyball game versus the women, men’s volleyball is gaining inroads on that front with new programs being added each year. Just this summer St. Francis College in New York was the first NCAA Division I program to added men’s volleyball. NCAA Division III added a men’s volleyball national championship tier in 2012 once 50 schools were playing, and the number of programs has skyrocketed to over 100 in six years.

“Any time there are more opportunities at the next level, you will see growth at the grassroots levels,” Hunt said. “There are places for these guys to go play, whether it is NCAA Division I, II or III, or NAIA or two-year college. There is a spot for a lot more guys. Obviously, the scholarship opportunities help.”

Karl France, the assistant men’s volleyball coach at NCAA Division III’s New York University, feels that the growth of boys’ volleyball is creating a leveling out process at the college level – not in terms of numbers, but rather in quality of play across the spectrum.

“At the college level, with more young men to choose from, I think eventually everything will level out – it won’t be as much as the haves and have nots as much as it used to be in Division III,” France said. “And for some of those young men who were going to play college club volleyball, might say ‘Division III is a good alternative for me. I can still get my education I want, play volleyball and have a great experience at the college I want to attend.’”

But Hunt is quick to point out that scholarships have been pulled by the growth in the sport.

“Opportunities at higher levels encourage growth,” Hunt said.

As more colleges begin to sponsor men’s volleyball, the conference structure is building out and accelerating potential growth at the collegiate level.

“With over 100 schools having Division III volleyball, conferences are starting to take shape,” France said. “They are starting to look at sponsoring men’s volleyball.”

France remembers back to when the BJNC was held in Phoenix 15 years ago, and now admires what has taken place since its return to Phoenix in 2018.

“It is amazing we are having this conversation today on boys’ volleyball growth, where we were here in Phoenix 15 years ago, and we are back in Phoenix with the biggest amount of teams ever,” France said. “And I think it is all because of those who have championed the sport. There is a lot more emphasis on the boys game, which hasn’t been there in the past. Our Men’s National Team has been ranked among the top five in the world for over a decade, and that has helped.”

The success of the U.S. Men’s National Team on the international scene and more access to watching the elite levels has aided in the growth. USA Volleyball has also put more emphasis of its High Performance Championship and overall HP pipeline into the boys’ side.

“The High Performance vehicle has been huge because you have all these players representing regions, and they are getting exposed to high-level volleyball,” France said of playing opportunities within the HP pipeline versus just the club system itself.

Boys’ volleyball growth is starting to hit pockets of the country that have not had success in attracting young players to the sport, especially at the earliest ages. France feels these pockets will trigger even more growth.

“The more people playing the sport, it becomes a little less cost prohibitive,” France said. “With Lloy Ball’s academy being put up in Indiana on that side of the state, it could mean more boys playing there. A5, which is a huge girls’ club, has picked up boys’ volleyball. I think it is going to be helpful for both boys’ and men’s to grow. It will need big clubs on the women’s side that already have the facilities, and conversely, you will need more under-represented young men playing the sport and see they can excel at the sport and receive scholarships. It has to start at the younger age groups, it has got to be at the 12s, 13s or 14s so they can go through. They can go in for the love of the sport, rather than playing basketball up until 16, then playing volleyball for only a couple years.”

Growth within the game has so many avenues to take, including reaching out to under-represented demographics within the sport. France takes that part very personally.

“Many years ago as one of first or few Division I-II black men’s volleyball coaches, it was one those things where you want to see more representation from under-represented units,” France said. “That is happening a lot more now. With the initiatives of Motor VB, with initiatives from other small Division III schools who are looking at this as a way to help their situation, whatever it may be, this is going to help out men’s volleyball.”

As a men’s volleyball coach in New York City, France has witnessed major metropolitan areas creating opportunities for young players.

“One of the most important things from all this is that the playing field has been wiped,” France said. “For the first time in, I would say 15-20 years, there is a team from New York City proper playing at BJNC. It is the first time in a long time. Boston has sent teams. Major metropolitan cities are starting to send teams, where before they did not before.”

France feels that the popularity of girls’ volleyball can actually help the boys’ continued growth with some mutual partnerships among existing clubs.

“Women’s club are starting to put boys into their system at younger ages,” France said. “I think the growth will be exponential.”

Sport Court is the official athletic flooring for all USA Volleyball national championship events.