Guest blog by Leslie: Volleyball 101 for parents of youth players

August 29, 2015

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

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9 responses to Guest blog by Leslie: Volleyball 101 for parents of youth players

  1. 

    I really enjoyed this! The only experience I have with volleyball is watching college volleyball on tv. I can tell you that even just watching from my couch it’s one of my favorite sports to watch and learn about. (I handled the jersey color question by texting Heidi while watching a match on tv, “Okay, I don’t get it. What’s with the different colored jersey and why doesn’t she appear to rotating??” She answered me like the font of sports information that she is.)

    I had no idea that in the youth volleyball world they have the kids learn to officiate. I think that’s fantastic! Thanks, Leslie, for this great, informative post!

    • 

      The athletes officiating is such a unique perspective. Glad you liked the post! Thank you -Leslie

    • 

      I’ve personally played volleyball for over 20 years. The whole rotation (and not overlapping) thing is still confusing to me. Whenever I used to play/sub on a good team, I just said “Point to where I need to start” and all the ex-volleyball college girls would nod and laugh.

  2. 

    Props to Leslie!

    This should be on one of your t-shirts, Heidi:

    “Even if you’re 100% right, and you just know it, yelling at a ref or a kid is 100% wrong.”

    As a S&C coach I have not worked with too many volley ball players through the years. I know volley ball is unique, and has it’s own subculture, but much of this can be superimposed on other sports leagues — and in the adult workplace 🙂

    • 

      Thank you, Roy! I love a good t-shirt and always have a lot to say. (Obviously) So, great idea for a shirt! – Leslie

    • 

      I needed that shirt last weekend when a loud-mouthed dad yelled out “You should have CAUGHT THAT! It’s in your hands!” to a young man I love a great deal and with whom I live. Although tempted to yell back “You SHOULDN’T always go back for SECONDS!” I instead kept my opinions to myself. Self control does work. I’m living proof.

  3. 
    Janice Kolomaya August 31, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Leslie, Thank you for this prospective! I have read this twice now, and printed it out, so that I can read it when I need to. Hope to see you and Lucy soon!