A Thank-you Letter to My 13U Teams

By John Kessel | April 04, 2019, 4 p.m. (ET)

GJNC

This goes out to the 13U girls teams I have been fortunate to teach this season. Feel free to use any part of it for your closing words to your players as well.

We have shared a special season together. As it ends, I wanted to say thanks for the chance to watch you grow as an athlete, volleyball player and leader.

This process of learning should never stop, and I want to share suggestions for what you might choose to do between now and the start of your school tryouts. No matter what, remember that the top of the pyramid, our national teams, seek players who are good at all six skills and great at one or two. It really isn’t about how tall you are, it’s about how well you play the game (remember, three-time Japanese Olympian Yoshie Takeshita was all of 5’2”).

The years ahead of you are your time to “become your best self;’ not time to compare yourself to others. Take the joy of playing to the next level and have fun in times ahead. There are long summer days ahead, and here are a few ways to spend them.

Take a break from training while having more fun playing

Pick a partner and play doubles in tournaments. Prepare for these events by playing. There is no need to get coached during this break time; it’s more a time for you to apply what you have learned while getting game-like reps through playing 2v2.

There is the option of playing in regional junior doubles tournaments, and if you went that path, I encourage you to play up an age bracket or two.

If there is not a junior tourney opportunity, or you want to challenge your process even more, play in the women’s and even adult coed tournaments in the region. If you serve and serve receive well, you will hold your own and learn a ton from the more experienced players. They might beat you on the scoreboard, but they will also teach you shots and speeds you have not seen.

Finally, put on your calendar to head to Vail, Colo., to play with your dad in the Father’s Day tournament there – both boys and girls divisions, 18/16/14/12 and under. Played on Sunday, you can play adult or juniors on Saturday, too.

“Study” on YouTube

If you begin with the end in mind, you spend time watching the best players in the world. These days, there are many highlight videos of great plays by skill set, amazing rallies and saves, and player highlights well worth the time to gain ideas for ways to improve your skills.

Learn another sport…or two

This off-season is a chance to cross train with another sport, new or not, and to see if maybe an individual sport is more of your liking. Given all the challenges of rebounding the ball off your body found in volleyball, maybe pick a sport you get to hang onto the ball – or even one that does not include a ball. You can also spend time outside hiking, biking, rollerblading or running. These activities will give you a mental break and keep you strong.

Set up a net and invite over players who love the game

First, invite younger players, starting with your brother(s) and/or sister(s), and be their coach, mentor and setter in 3v3 games. When you teach something, you learn it, and your skills are good enough to awe younger kids who look up to you already.

Then, whether you are in your backyard or in the park, set up a net or a rope The other option is simple – in your backyard or in a park, over a rope or Park & Sun System, invite three friends who love to play and do just that. Mix up partners so you get to read and learn from different teammates. The wind, sun and alternate surfaces outdoors will make it easier for you when you head back to the indoor court in August.

Attend a college summer camp

Attend a camp at a school or area of the nation you might be interested in attending someday. Even if you are not thinking about playing on a varsity collegiate team, volleyball is a lifetime sport. You can play for the school club team competing in the NCVF or on an intramural team (campus leagues are a great way to get to know new students).

Study to become an official

Most regions train officials in the summer, and your USAV membership lets you take the officiating and scorekeeping courses free of charge. Learning to be an official paves the way for you to make money in college, both on and off campus.

Study leadership and growth mindset

I see you not as a volleyball player but as an amazing future leader. You are a role model for so many; you are playing volleyball for not just fun and fitness, but for developing your group skills, especially leadership.

Take advantage of the internet and local library to learn from some of the great leaders of humanity over the centuries. Study how to be more mentally strong, resilient and humble. Ask your teacher for a book suggestion or two, and if they don’t know, ask your parents or even me. There are so many to learn from. After all, you are on the Ancora Imparo (yet, I am learning) pathway.

Thanks again for giving me the chance to share my love of this sport. It’s been an honor to be courtside with you.

Coach

P.S. This really is a sport for a lifetime. You have the U.S. Open Nationals with an 80 and over division to look forward to-there is a lot of time to get better.