One of my biggest motivators for launching GiveTheGameBack earlier this year was to connect with other youth sports parents to learn from them and their experiences. One sport I know very little about is club volleyball. What I’ve heard about the sport second-hand from parents whose kids are playing is that it is INTENSE AND EXPENSIVE.

Lucky for me, I met fellow writer Leslie Murrell. Leslie and her husband have a set of twins, one boy and one girl, who are both heavily involved in sports. Leslie played volleyball and basketball for West Texas A&M University and, like me, has transitioned from competing as an athlete to spectating as a parent.

I hope you enjoy her insight into club volleyball as much as I did. Enjoy!

volleyball 101

You would think, as a former collegiate volleyball athlete and club coach, that I’d be fully prepared to be a volleyball mom. Not so much, it turns out. This last year has been a year of growth and learning for this momma just as much as for my daughter, Lucy.

Volleyball is fairly unique in the world of select and club sports.

So here are my tips and explanations for club volleyball moms (and dads) out there:

Don’t get sucked into the drama.
It’s not your drama. Chances are, it’s probably not the team’s drama either. In my rookie mom year, I was completely sucked into some super bizarre dialogue, gossip, and drama. Little, if any, had anything to do with Lucy. I can’t decide if it’s the money invested, or the parents adjusting to their daughter in sports.

Volleyball is a strategic, smart sport.
Trust your daughter’s ability and emotional intelligence. Heart to heart, and mom to mom, this is a tough one. Stop telling people how smart your daughter is, and let her show you. Give her some room to learn and do.

Don’t be sexist.
We have the unique disposition of having boy/girl twins who are also athletes. So, seeing how the parents interact with my son’s team versus my daughter’s team is interesting. My observation is that parents emotionally coddle their daughters in sports way more than they would their sons in sports – which is odd, given that girls mature faster. On the flip side, volleyball continues to grow in popularity so much that your son may ask to play. Please don’t be sexist! There are boys’ teams out there too, and it’s a great opportunity.

Prepare financially and emotionally.
Club volleyball as I see it, seems to be one of the more expensive select or club sports. Do your research on the clubs in your area. Go through Heidi’s tips for select sports. Learn what each club offers. Many clubs in town offer several different levels. Look into all of your options and do what’s best for your athlete. Ask several parents why they chose that club.

Have a complete understanding of what you’re paying for.
For a travelling club volleyball team, we’re talking a STARTING RATE of $2,000. For any other purchase of that amount, you’d get an itemized bill.

Also, don’t assume the more money you drop, the more say you have as to where and how much time your daughter plays. Try to remember everyone on the team paid the same amount as you did.

If you pay that club fee and then you get hit up for a Sand Training, it’s not bogus.
Not only is training in the sand is one of the most effective ways to improve on coordination, agility, fast-twitch muscles, but beach volleyball is now offered as a scholarship sport at several universities. And it’s not just on the west coast. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a beach volleyball team.

Learn to say no or sandbag that financial preparation I just mentioned.
Be prepared to get up charged on private lessons, camps, and clinics. In talking to my other select sports moms, this seems pretty unique to volleyball. Consider your budget, your daughter’s time, and prioritize what you feel is necessary based on her goals. It’s okay to be the parent who says “no” to an additional tournament or private lessons.

We were first to speak up about a tournament we didn’t want to add on, and were soon relieved to discover there were several other parents who felt the same way…which leads me to my next point…

To travel or not to travel? You have options.
In Omaha, alone, we have more than five clubs which, on average, have three teams in each age group. We are a short trip down I-80 from one of the most successful college volleyball programs in the country, a direct consequence is a lot more competitive youth volleyball clubs. Regionally, the Midwest is oozing with clubs and competition to play.

There’s a pressure to travel so that you don’t have to play the same teams over and over again.

Here’s a fun math equation: If a collegiate volleyball player plays for four years, she’ll play the same opponents at least eight times. So, playing the same teams repetitively is not such a bad idea. There’s a learned behavior to scouting teams repetitively played, and making adjustments when you play them again.

With that said, maybe you and your volleyball athlete and team want to travel. The larger tournaments do have a plus side. When your daughter walks into a convention center filled wall-to-wall with over 200 courts, it’s kind of a big deal. That they can be part of a greater competition has significant impact on their level of competition and focus.

Leslie's daughter, Lucy, attacking at the net. Photo courtesy of Bob Safar.

Leslie’s daughter, Lucy, with an attack at the net. Photo courtesy of Bob Safar.

Understand that you don’t understand the game. Whether volleyball is new to you, or you played “a few years ago,” believe me, the game has changed a bit. For example:

“Hunny, poor Susie wore the wrong color, someone needs to tell her!” Don’t wonder out loud why one of your daughter’s teammates has a different colored jersey on. You might as well ask your kid in front of your techy boss to show you those emoji thingies on your phone again. Don’t embarrass yourself like that. Ask your daughter in private how to pronounce “libero” and that will start the conversation for you.


Did you know? The volleyball libero is a defensive specialist position in indoor volleyball. The position was added to the game in 1999 along with special rules for play in order to foster more digs and rallies. The libero remains in the game at all times and is the only player not limited by rules of rotation. She usually replaces the middle blocker position when they rotate to the back row and never rotates to the front row herself. c/o volleyball.about.com


Refrain from yelling at the ref when someone taps the net. Rules fluctuate from school to club, to different leagues, regions, and tournaments. So, this rule is frustrating. But as far as I can tell, if touching the net advanced the game, they call it against the offending net toucher. If it’s a sly touch on the net that does not hinder nor advance the game, the ball stays in play. Look, I hate this rule, too. But I also hate how carbs make my butt big. I don’t cry and whine about it every time I’m eating cake. See where I’m going with this, y’all?

It’s always rally score. You don’t need to serve to earn the point anymore. I tried to tell you – things have changed.

She’ll learn more than playing the game – Your daughter will learn to referee, line judge, keep the books, and keep score. This of course offsets costs for tournaments and games. But more importantly, and completely intentionally, your daughter is learning effective communication skills, volleyball call motions, how to make a quick judgment calls under pressure, applying the rules of the game, respect for other teams, how to keep stats, make substitutions, all while not playing, but while refereeing the game. Unfortunately, she’ll get a ridiculous lesson in idiot parents with a checkbook and loud mouths who think they know better. She’ll learn composure.

No other competitive youth sport empowers their athletes to learn the game and respect the game through refereeing the game.

So stick around. In time management of a tournament, plan on your daughter being at the very last game. Don’t try to skedaddle from a tournament early after her team has lost. The losing team referees. The whole team stays until the last game is over.

Even if you’re 100% right, and you just know it, yelling at a ref or a kid is 100% wrong.
Don’t be the idiot parent with a checkbook and a loud mouth who thinks you know better. For goodness sake, you just asked what a libero was! Before you yell at a kid making a line judge call, remember that could be your kid out there. Have as much faith in the refereeing team as you have in your daughter.

Teach your daughter about Title IX and gratitude.
Learn about Title IX. Whether you were a female athlete or you’re a dad who’s new to the female sporting world supporting your daughter, or you’ve just discovered that indeed, they’re letting the dang females play sports – you’re benefiting from Title IX. Chances are, your daughter’s coach played in college – because of Title IX. Which means she has experience, motivation, and inspiration to teach your daughter.

Learn to pepper.
Pepper is a term in volleyball when two players volley back and forth. It’s volleyball’s equivalent to “playing catch” or “shooting hoops.” Get an outdoor volleyball and learn to pepper. This has been the single best advice I was given. It’s repetition and ball control practice with your child. But mostly, it’s a humbling experience as to how hard the game really is. It’ll make you think twice before yelling something stupid at a game. When Lucy and I started out, just getting two consecutive contacts was a challenge. Lucy had to adjust, hustle, and move her feet to compensate for my lack of ball control. And she talks to me and appreciates my willingness to play with her. That, or she just feels really sorry for me and my lack of coordination. Either way, it’s a delightful bonding experience.

As you can see, there are a lot of specific club volleyball tips, and then a few replays for parenting a select or club athlete.  Whether you’re new to the sport, or just needed a reminder, I hope you take a chance to learn the game!

Written by Leslie Murrell

I find it equally surprising and comforting that so many people took the time to comment on a post I wrote back in June 2012 titled “I’m leaving my job” because, at the time, I wrote it mainly to reassure myself I was making the right choice. I honestly didn’t expect feedback in response to what I wrote.

Since that initial post sparked a lot of well wishers to chime in and let me know I would be ok, I thought it would be fitting to follow-up three years later with an update. I AM better than ok.

You see, I left a corporation that had limitless time attached to it (no, that’s not entirely true, there is no place that is 100% safe). But I did say goodbye to a company with seemingly more security than I have now.

Back then I accepted a new role that is tied to a company that was awarded a defined-period-of-time contract to do business. I live with the knowledge that, as early as this time next year, I could be job hunting again if we aren’t re-awarded new business.

I like to talk the talk, but not necessarily walk the walk, when it comes to embracing change.

I know without a doubt that every leap I’ve made up to this point in my life has resulted in being better off than where I was before. Yet, it never gets un-scary to take that leap, does it?

There are likely more than a few of you on the fence right now struggling with an important life change. I’m here to tell you…it WILL be better than ok.

  • It will be better than ok so long as you’ve weighed your options (never underestimate a pros/cons list) and it feels like it’s a choice you can accept and embrace.
  • It will be better than ok if you can imagine the possibilities of pursuing something that calls to you without fear of the unknown blocking your perspective.
  • It will be better than ok if it makes it easier for you to explain to your children why you choose to go to work because, believe it or not, they are interested in knowing what it is that you do all day and why you do it.

If you are anything like me, you started working because you wanted to somehow make a difference along with a paycheck. You wanted to use your talents and work alongside compelling colleagues that brought out the best in you. You didn’t mind putting in extra hours when no one cared that you did because you thought your work would define your greatness.

Allow me to let you in on a little secret….

…. (come close and listen, this is good stuff)….

…. life happens when you least expect it.

It happened to me.

I graduated college, got married, landed a job, lived in a few apartments, played in slow pitch softball and volleyball leagues, bought a house, had three children, stopped playing all previously mentioned activities, leaned on and laughed with girlfriends, signed my kids up for too many activities, watched loved ones get sick, rejoiced when some got better, said goodbye to others forever, and started to listen more than I talked.

That last one continues to be a struggle.

This time in my life, this job, has given me opportunities that I won’t take for granted. This phase of my career has given me the chance to make an impression on my kids.

Lexington baby shower4

Helping a little guy with the ring toss game at a community event.

I have more life experience and, as a result, recognize how different people deemed “in charge” have either helped or hindered my progress over the years. Some were leaders who encouraged new ideas, other were followers who trickled down orders.

Because life happens, I now know how to take better care of the people who rely on me from day-to-day. I’m handling less projects and more people.

People are saying things like “Your communication was excellent,” and “I appreciate you more than you know.” Amazing the types of things you hear when you stop doing all of the talking!

Yet the future remains uncertain.

If it all comes to an end in a year’s time, I will never regret making that leap.

Because…I am better than ok. And you will be too.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Remember that piece of advice I wrote for you last year about how I remembered what it felt like to be a 12-year old girl in seventh grade whose primary goal was to snag the boy with Vanilla Ice hair? The one that I forced you to read on the way to football practice? About treating girls with respect while also not falling victim to their voodoo magic?

The one you took roughly 25 seconds to scan?

I could tell it sunk in deep. You thoroughly appreciated my insight.

As evidenced by your head nod, grunt, and total indifference.

Lucky for you, I REMEMBER EIGHTH GRADE TOO. I feel like I would be robbing you of a treasure chest full of mom knowledge if I didn’t impart my wisdom on you again this year.

So here goes…

Sports are your world right now. Look, I toooeeetally get it. It’s hard to beat that feeling of competing alongside and against your friends. It’s fun to be cheered for at pep rallies and to have your locker decorated on game day. Just remember to keep your eyes open to new areas of interest too. Don’t let your jock friends be your only friends.

Were you aware your mom was quite the singer back in the day? Wait, scratch that. Technically, if we’re being real, mom went to a small enough school to be deemed “not as tonally terrible” as the dozen or so other kids who tried out for musicals so she landed solos in a select few.

I was going to be nicer to my former cast members, but no one seemed to have kept a picture of me as Alice in Alice in Wonderland our eighth grade year (which, frankly, floored me) so I’m letting the claws and honesty come out.

I received a Tony nod back in 1989 with my vivid portrayal of Jack's mom - struggling to keep him off the beanstalk and in my arms.

I received a Tony nod as a 7th grader back in 1989 with my vivid portrayal of Jack’s mom – struggling to keep him off the Beanstalk and in my protective arms. #mothersinstinct

Whatever you do and no matter how old you might feel, remember that no one has your back like your mom does.

teen textYou can publicly ignore me around your friends and then come to me when you need my help. I get it. I used to do the same to my parents.

But my parents didn’t have social media to pay me back.

overconfident pitcher tweetYour dad had interests outside of sports in eighth grade too. I had the privilege of listening to him recite the entire soundtrack of Straight Outta Compton while sitting next to him last Friday night at the movies. Who knew he was a closet rapper back in the day? Obviously NOT your grandma or grandpa with those lyrics! He kept that talent well hidden from them.

You seemed to have grown about half a foot over the last year. This increase in height has made you jump to the conclusion that there should be a proportionate increase in your level of freedom and independence from your dad and me. We’re here to remind you on a daily basis that you are still 13.

I’ll try to continue to give you some slack as long as you don’t give me too much of an attitude. A little attitude is understandable. That’s how we define ourselves in this world after all…especially in eighth grade.

mom and Owen

I’m confident you will conquer this – your final year of junior high. I feel myself taking shallow breaths anytime I think about how few days remain between now and your freshman year of high school.

But don’t you fret. I’ll offer up some ninth grade wisdom soon enough.

Written by Heidi Woodard

Anyone who has followed my ramblings for any considerable amount of time has likely seen a dramatic shift from me telling “kids do the darndest things” stories to me being hyper-focused on youth sports and the role parents play in them. The reason for that is because my husband and I have three developing athletes in our household and I’ve racked up countless hours on the sidelines watching them learn how to play several sports.

I haven’t been the only one on the sidelines. Many of you have said you can relate to my observations, which proves my personal accounts reflect a much larger epidemic. Some of you have shared stories with me that I can’t believe are actually true due to the absurdity of them all.

What I’ve come to discover – the main reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – is that we, as parents and promoters (I’d lump coaches and league administrators into this latter category), are all bound and determined to help position our kids on the best path for short- and long-term success.

We look for coaches we believe will teach our children how to play the game and enable them to maximize their potential. We hand over down payments to secure our “spot” on the team. We buy sports equipment and uniforms per league standards. We fundraise for tournaments and hotel costs. We shuttle them to practices and games all the while giving unsolicited advice on how to improve. We sit through pre-game warmups and day-long tournaments. We celebrate victories and agonize over defeats. We forfeit vacations for the greater good of the team. We live through our kids.

Re-reading what I just typed makes me understand why my friends who don’t have kids in organized sports think all of us who do should just make it official and form a community called Crazytown…population: too many.

I have learned first-hand over the last several years that adults tend to muddy up the youth sporting experience. Some parents fall into the “things we don’t know we don’t know” category when it comes to their involvement in their child’s athletic journey.

You don’t know you are making an ass out of yourself by yelling and foaming at the mouth like a ravenous dog (because you think it’s ok to argue a bad call with an official to prove a point).

You don’t know that your constant berating is not helping – but rather hurting – your kid and your kid’s teammates (because you think it’s a motivation tactic to get them to work harder and play better).

You don’t know that, by bad mouthing kids who are late bloomers and by excessively praising early developers, you are not helping either group in the long-run (because that’s the only way you can ensure a winning record year after year).

I had a customer recently contact me asking if he could purchase a GiveTheGameBack t-shirt for one of his acquaintances and have me mail it anonymously. I was more than happy to oblige.

After all, you don’t know what you don’t know and sometimes all it takes is for someone to give you the gift of perspective.

Order online for someone who needs a little perspective.

Order online at givethegameback.com for someone who needs a little perspective.

It's about time we started calling a spade a spade.

It’s about time we started calling a spade a spade, right?

Written by Heidi Woodard

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Extra commentary for those who like to read:

I was tempted to start things off with the old saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This popular phrase might be a bit too ambiguous for some, since people tend to interpret it differently.

It could mean that we, as humans, have natural limitations in what we are able to mentally absorb: I don’t know how to speak Spanish because I haven’t taken classes since high school nor have I lived among people who speak the language fluently.

It could also mean there are gaps in our intellect that we aren’t even aware exist. At this point in my life, I am completely unaware of some of the knowledge that I am missing.

Let me further explain where I’m headed by offering up another saying – a quote that’s attributed to Donald Rumsfeld. The end of which observes that there are unknown unknowns in life, that is, those things we don’t know we don’t know.

unknown unknowns quote

I would imagine I share a goal with many of you: To reduce the amount of unknown unknowns in my life by expanding my mind and perspective, not only through study but also through personal experience.