Originally published in 2011.

This blog is for everyone wondering what is best to do this summer....and for those programs which may be playing indoors in a June season-ending event, but know that the options of summer can also help prepare players for Nationals. There are several core options, and I will take a look at each of them to help you with your summer volleyball decisions. The two main principles I look at are:

“Contacts per Dollar” – How much does an option cost vs. how many gamelike contacts you as an individual are getting in the time period.

“Speed First, Accuracy Second” - Why does old age and treachery overcome youth and skill and what can you learn from this older/higher level of play?

1. Play Doubles - This is my first option, for so many reasons. First, you get to TOUCH the ball a lot, and work on your weaknesses, in advance of the next change of seasons to school volleyball.  What do I mean by that? Well, let’s imagine you have spent the season as a hitter – and partner with a good, but shorter teammate/setter for doubles. What will likely happen is that your opponents, in order to stop you from hitting the third ball which they know you are good at, will serve your partner, and you thus spend the summer working mostly on your setting. You also might have your teammate work to set you up to spike on the second contact, which means you learn to hit balls coming from off the net, and become a better hitter of such imperfect hitting situations. Meanwhile your setting teammate gets to be a better serve receiver and hitter, and you both get to develop your all around play, being better at all six skills. If your serve needs work, you will get a lot of competitive repetitions, as you don’t wait 11 rotations until you serve again, you just have to wait three, before your chance to attack them with your serve happens again.

So you get to work on ALL your skills, and better realize that you are not just a “setter’ or a “middle” but you become a “volleyball player…” As I have noted in other blogs – you stop being a “passer,” and learn to serve receive, and stop being a “setter” and learn to run an offense – even if it is a simplified one with just two and not six player options.

The value of random training and learning abounds when you play outside. You have to show how simple and compact your serve is, or improve it, by tossing and serving in the wind. You have to deal with windblown sets. You must read while dealing with the sun. The ball is a bit heavier, so you get to strengthen your setting and hitting efforts. You get to cover the WHOLE court, with just a teammate, extending your range and hustle skills in completely gamelike conditions. You play uneven surfaces, grass and beach. You get gamelike conditioning/jump training when in the sand especially, but simply because one of you hits or blocks every third ball – there just is no better specificity in training for increasing your jump. Let me say that again – the best way to increase your vertical jump is to do spike and block jumps in games and practice. 

You learn to stop hitting where you are facing, and how to hit to where your opponents are not. Since you can’t open handed tip, you get better at roll shots, how to place them and contact the ball – including hitting effectively when the set is poor and “tipping” (just not open handed) when the set is perfect.  

Play Older Players... Play adult divisions, so you get to learn from those hopefully far older than you. Sure you should enter and play in the USA Beach Junior Tour when it comes through your area. Nonetheless, summertime is when you should also seek to be challenging adults – playing in their “B,” “BB”, “A,” “AA” and even Open divisions. There is a junior player in Southern California who last summer achieved her adult “AAA” rating. She was 13. Olympians Mike Dodd and Karch Kiraly reached their “AAA” rating when they were 16 years old. They learned by playing at the faster level of play that comes against young adults, and the craftier level of play that comes from the veterans of the game.

Play Coed&.This is another advantage of our sport, being non-contact, both genders can compete with and against one another. Girls, take on a boys team, or even a men’s team. Play coed with some strong male players, and your reading, skill and volleyball IQ levels will grow. 

PLAY...You can simply put up a rope or a net in your backyard, and invite three other players, junior level or adult, to come over and play. One wise coach in Nebraska has about a half dozen nets up all summer in his large backyard. He puts out a jug of lemonade and ice in the late afternoon, and lets kids play any day they want, with no coaching or tips from him – he goes inside to chat with the parents who might have had to drive their child over. Set up the lemonade and go back inside.

Compete.... The USA Beach Junior Tour likely has a stop near you.

Compete in the National State Games in volleyball

Check your USAV Region for more local outdoor programming.

2. Get on a Summer League team.  Here many options abound. Certainly playing the six-person game with your school teammates in a team camp, “High School Summer League,” or simply “Open Gym” are options worth pursuing. However, if you can get on a four-person adult team, or even a six-person team, you will gain the advantage of “playing up” and learning from their wisdom and often faster level of play. Indoors or outdoors, this again is a chance to play with or against adults. It is also a chance to play with your mom and/or dad – something that is special about our game but which is much harder to make happen in the school year due to training and homework loads.

3. Attend a Summer Camp

The other option of value is to TEACH at summer camps. This June and July, son and daughter will be coaching summer camps in California, Wyoming, Colorado and Canada. That which you teach, you learn. Simple as that.

4. Take a Break – For some, depending on the intensity and length of the indoor program you have been a part of, this option is also one to consider. Go swimming, mountain biking, camping, boating. Catch up on your laundry, REALLY clean your room (since you had no time for spring cleaning), help in the garden….and just take a break from trying to keep a ball off the floor/put a ball down on the floor.

So, hope to see you enjoying your summer break, while still enjoying the chances to play the summer brings. As always, thanks for coaching and let us know what other ideas you might have in making the summer a chance to grow your game and the game for all.