Please understand that we know strength and conditioning are very important. However, as fatigue is detrimental to learning, most sports are smart enough to put the conditioning/weight training etc. as a separate training block. At the higher and highest level, strength and conditioning become very important.  Perhaps unique to volleyball, due to the rebound aspect, three contact limit and small court space characteristics, THE most important skill is reading. Because of this, masters teams can dominate much younger and fit teams, and people make a living playing 1 vs 6 “power of one” volleyball exhibitions.  The fitness level at the beginner to average level of play – including that of most junior club and high school programs – is not the determining factor to winning. Even college level teams have successfully noted that their skill level must be improved enough to win before factoring in their physical fitness, and let specificity in training happen by adding more playing time and less strength and conditioning.

When I was growing up, I was given a metal noseflute, and learned by myself, no noseflute coaching going on, how to play it quite well. For those readers who have never had the fortune of discovering this creative musical instrument, I have included a picture, lest you think that you play by sticking two flutes up your nose. Recently I found them on Amazon at a price of a dozen for about $10, plastic mind you, but I got 2 dozen. In watching friends “learn” how to play it, after I demonstrated how amazing, loud and wide ranging the sounds you could make, I again thought about mastering a new motor skill.  You see, I had learned it intrinsically, and thus, like riding a bike, even though it had been about half a century since I last played one, I started playing it just fine. The power of learning on your own.  Just like I keep referencing in how we all learned to ride a bike…with basically no coaching or drills.

The thing that is interesting about learning the noseflute is that your mouth and nose are covered up by the instrument, so a new learner can’t really be seeing/modeled how to make it play. This, unlike other motor programs learned, forces the coach to be more specific in their words as to how to play – or lets the kids just learn to play intrinsically.  It’s a great team builder, or a laugh generator at a party as my sister did with her baker’s dozen, you watch as people you care about, suddenly make it sound, in any way or fashion, and little by little, begin to figure out how to play it.  Like that great quote about learning to play a cello, there is not a “learning to play” then “begin/get to play” time – you just learn by playing. While doubles volleyball for over half a century was learned this way, we now see the advent of “coaching” and then the slow and steady infiltration of “drilling” and other indoor “learning traditions” into the beach game. It is hard to see this for me, as it takes former great players who could be fantastic mentors and guided discoverers – and turns them into ball contact robots and false fundamental drill and machine implementers. 

It was a long journey to get the women’s side of the beach game to be an NCAA varsity sport. Some 20 years ago, I put it into the AVCA Convention, as it would begin to solve the problem that had begun with the NCAA limiting of indoor volleyball training. While some swimmers and other sport top collegians left the college version of their Olympic sport, as they could not reach their level of success by competing/training about half the year for four years – I saw how indoor and outdoor track were seen as two disciplines and thus track athletes  could train year round, and to have an indoor and outdoor option for volleyball would be the solution. While back then we did succeed in getting Beach doubles to become one of the only four sports where NCAA athletes could play with/against professionals (you likely know tennis and golf, but would not know the fourth – so I will leave that to be googled for fun), the concept of having spring volleyball be 22 weeks of doubles on the sand or grass, did fell on deaf ears at the time.

Why I knew then, and am just glad as the beach game grew at the international and Olympic level, that we have since made it happen – in large part due to the hard work and efforts of the USA Volleyball Gulf Shores Region, under the leadership of Region Commissioner Phil Bryant. He had decades of experience in a side biz of his, World Beach Basketball, but set aside that to focus on being the workhorse behind the scenes to get the non-NCAA endorsed, AVCA/USA Volleyball supported collegiate event going. He also brought alongside the juniors game, including a night before clinic and treasure hunt – complete with stories about the pirates burying the loot right on the volleyball courts and at night the kids would run and dig furiously for the prizes. Philip and grant money from USAV got things going so the AVCA under the solid leadership of Kathy Deboer and other leaders could focus on the teams and political process of being an NCAA emerging women’s sport. 

My dad, who started playing doubles in the late 1940s, would be so glad to see how powerfully and talented the game is played now, including by his grandson and granddaughter, as part of the playing doubles to be a better indoor player USAV has promoted for over 20 years. Some indoor coaches are threatened by the way doubles simplifies the game, and gets the ball coming over the net/reading skills and reality based training from the start. Those from Outrigger Canoe club, know the enhanced learning of the game that comes from having a “baby court” – 6m x 6m on a lower net, as the generations there see the power of Ohana and playing 2 v 2 develop great indoor players. The only comment I must add it that the more junior aged players play adult, not age group competition, the faster they will get better, as long as the parents understand there will be a lot of outcome based losses on the scoreboard, as this process speeds up their children’s learning. In a couple of weeks I get to return to Vail to be part of the Father/Child tournament I started there over a decade ago with Tourney Director Leon Fell, an annual playing opportunity with my own kids that will never be forgotten, as it was one of the best days of the year each year.

So back to the nose flute. Do it as a team bonding experience, as often the better “athletes” on your team will not be the first to learn how to make sound and music with it – and thus you will fulfill the group need of competency that all players have, non-starters included. Then teach juggling – a skill that their parents can’t do, which again builds confidence and is fun – just do me the favor of ALWAYS teaching the specific skill of juggling during time you DON’T have access to a net/court. Do it as a cool down when you lose the court, or on trips, in the hotel or hallways, but not at the expense of actually having time on a court to learn to play volleyball.