By Evgeniya B. Kirk (Fayetteville, Arkansas; Ozark Juniors Volleyball Club)

Club volleyball opens up a world of opportunity to players. Increasing numbers of young players are coming out to play volleyball. This early exposure to the game is beneficial in the development of players of the future, but the increasing numbers of young players brings with it some challenges.

One of the biggest challenges is finding qualified coaches to work with younger players. Players of a young age are at a critical point in their development of sound fundamental volleyball skills. Young players are also formulating opinions on whether they will continue with the sport or not. A poor coaching decision can determine whether a child will continue to play or can have a negative impact on their skill development which can affect their playing career.

The first consideration in choosing a coach to work with a young player is to find someone who has the technical knowledge of the sport. When teaching fundamental skills, a coach has to possess the ability to demonstrate proper form and train players to perform the skill consistently. Coaches of young players must also be able to teach skills in a safe manner. Coaches need to be in control of their practice sessions and need to be able to hold the kids attention while training to ensure that the athlete’s safety is protected. Young players also are learning about the rules of the game, so coaches that work with beginners need to have a solid understanding of the game. This not only includes technical training, but an ability to effectively explain the rules.

Communicating and teaching the young player can be a challenge and requires a great deal of patience. While young players are especially anxious to learn the game, beginners sometimes have difficulty grasping the concepts presented and often have to be told over and over again how to perform the skill. The coach has to have an understanding of this particular challenge and be willing to work through it with their players. Consistency in communication is important. The coach needs to be able to clearly explain the concepts they are teaching and say it in a tone and manner that the kids pay attention to and understand.

Another consideration is finding someone who has the desire to work with young players who are just beginning in the sport. There are often coaches who have the technical knowledge and know how to train kids, but who have no desire to work with younger players. Likewise, there are coaches who have a desire to work with beginner players but do not have the necessary technical knowledge or coaching experience to be an effective coach for beginners. Finding the right balance is often challenging. The coach of beginner players must display a genuine enthusiasm for the game. It is important for beginners to enjoy playing the game, so coaches must find a way to have practices that are effective and productive, while maintaining a positive tone and letting the kids have fun. Especially with younger players, coaches need to find drills that are effective at teaching the skill while allowing the kids to “play” and have fun while learning.

A coach of young players also has to be willing to balance the improvement the players will make with the desire to win. The character trait necessary to accomplish this is a true concern for the athletes. Many coaches do not feel successful unless they are winning. Beginner players need to be given time, attention, support and encouragement as they learn the sport and need to understand that winning isn’t everything. Coaches of young players must be able to control their emotions and not express frustration to the kids or in front of the kids. Learning anything new can be frustrating and some kids can give up if not encouraged to work through the difficult times. Kids often feel a pressure to win to define success and need a coach who can explain that winning is not the only component of a successful season. Helping the kids recognize improvements by celebrating every accomplishment is vital.

When children participate in competitive sports, there are lessons learned about the sport and about life. A great deal of coaching involves character development of players. This is especially important when coaching young players. Coaches at this level are developing the foundation for the athlete’s future in the sport. Coaches have to be able to model appropriate behavior in their responses to difficulty and their methods of coaching the kids. Athletes are constantly watching and listening to their coach and basing their reaction off of what their coach does or says. Often, non-verbal communication speaks louder than any words, so coaches have to be aware of facial expressions and body language, in addition to the words that they choose. Coaches also have to be concerned with each athlete’s level of confidence. It is, of course, necessary to correct mistakes and make sure that each athlete is learning the appropriate way to perform the skills, but involving the kids in drills in some way will help build confidence.

Coaches of young players have additional issues with dealing with parents who are new to the sport and have to be effective communicators. Parents of players who are new to the game will often be confused and need constant attention, guidance and communication about what is going on, what the coach’s expectations are, how success will be defined, etc. Parents also need to gain an understanding of the boundaries of a parent in a competitive sport situation. Coaches of beginner or young teams have an added burden of setting the bar for the future with the parents, as far as what is acceptable behavior and what isn’t. Often, coaches are not only training their players, but their player’s parents as well.

Choosing the right coach for young players is especially important in the development of athletes with a solid development of skills and a love of the game that will carry them throughout their career. Young players are the foundation for future achievement of any club or school and must be treated as very important components of success.