Archives For youth sports

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

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

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 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


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.

This commentary is for every mom or dad who has ever personally lived through or contemplated helping their youth athlete transition into a new select sports “career path” from a former one. I chose those terms over “team” or “program” in jest, but let’s be honest, the youth athlete of today receives more pressure at a younger age to choose the right fit…and to choose it wisely…than in generations past.

This new reality mainly has to do with the fact that select teams are no longer what the designation implies. I firmly believe that anyone who is willing and able to write a check can find a team/program that claims to be select. Therefore, parents need to be more diligent and choosy when deciding what is the best choice based on their child’s ability and desire.

I don’t believe that all youth athletes (I’m referring to those in grade school) innately feel pressure to perform to a certain standard. I’d argue they just want to play the game and feel as if they contribute to something larger than themselves as well as perform well for their coaches. Oh, and crazy as this may sound, have FUN with their friends. But as I’ve personally witnessed – the reason I launched the GiveTheGameBack movement – adults tend to muddy the waters even with the best of intentions sometimes.

My husband and I have done extensive research in an effort to find a new fit for one of our boys who has played with the same program and general group of teammates for the past four years. We’ve asked him at the end of every season whether or not he’s enjoyed his experience and this year it was clear he paused a little too long before answering that question. And I couldn’t help but support his decision to look into new opportunities because I, too, felt it was time for something different.

I’ve been there as an adult and have felt the way that he feels at this point in his young life. Staying in a comfort zone is safe, but it’s not always productive, positive, or challenging.

baseball saying

I’ve heard other parents talk about the struggle of finding the right fit when it comes to youth sports programs. When you experience it, you instantly recognize it, similar to the way you feel about a chosen career path or personal cause.

For all the parents out there looking for advice on how to find the right fit for your budding athlete, I humbly offer these 10 tips:

10. Focus on your child. Ask pressing questions like, “Do you enjoy (insert applicable sport)?” If no, then don’t continue down a potentially destructive path. Just because you enjoy the game doesn’t automatically mean your kid has to. If yes, then ask the follow-up “What are your favorite and least favorite parts about playing on (insert applicable team)?” If the cons outweigh the pros, it is time to start looking for new opportunities to give your child the chance to continue to play the game they love.

9. Decide how much you’re willing to spend before weighing your options. If you take your child to multiple tryouts (I’d suggest limiting it to three or less) and subsequently receive offers from multiple programs, it’s easy to want to accept the “most impressive” offer in terms of prestige, travel tournaments, flashy uniforms, and coaching resumes. It’s a coach’s job to try and sell you on what they can provide to your child. Remember to focus on your child. Can you realistically picture them learning and thriving under one coach over another?

8. Take your entire family into consideration. Make sure you’ll still have time outside of select sports to focus on your spouse. If your child has siblings who are active too, make sure the teams you choose will mesh well together and that one won’t take away from the other. I’ve seen both ends of a disturbing spectrum: Parents who center their world around one child who has natural ability and allow their other children to stay in the shadows OR parents who stretch themselves too thin because they try to be everywhere at once and drive themselves nuts in the process.

7. Ask the coach what their philosophy is on multi-sport athletes. Many will claim they support having kids in multiple sports, but ask around to see if what they preach is actually what they practice. Both my husband and I are big believers of the benefits of playing different sports, but not everyone feels the same way. You don’t want to place your child behind the eightball before their season even starts. The majority of select sports programs has both “in-season” and “off-season” commitments. The latter should be optional as long as your child is competing in another “in-season” sport if your coach tells you they value kids who can play several sports.

6. We have three main expectations of our kids, that are each completely in their control: hustle, attitude, and focus. When they slip up on any of those, they know to expect consequences in return. Make sure your personal philosophy matches that of your coach. When negative behavior like throwing bats, talking back to coaches, and belittling teammates is allowed to occur, consider that a red flag. The sporting experience should be more than wins and losses. It should be a building block for developing young people both on and off the field.

5. Know what to expect in terms of scheduling. How many total games is the coach hoping to play? How many total tournaments? Of those tournaments, how many will be local versus out-of-town? How far in advance will you be provided with a practice schedule and will those practices happen on regular days or will they be scheduled unpredictably? Being on the same page when it comes to scheduling will save you stress especially when you have multiple kids with various activities.

4. Look for a leader who provides a personal approach. I know that’s easier said than done, but it’s no doubt one of the most important qualities for a coach to possess in my opinion. You know your kid better than anyone else. I’d venture to bet a lot of kids appreciate a coach who praises them for maximum effort and gets on them when they fall short on things they can control, giving them tangible feedback on how to improve. What you need to watch out for are situations when the players are so fearful about making mistakes that they don’t stretch their own potential. Excellent coaches value improved process over defined results.

3. When possible, try to ensure your child knows at least one other kid on their team. This predefined relationship helps the parents too. In the same manner job seekers try to find common connections with a new place of employment, it is best to know what you’re getting into by talking to someone who’s been there, done that. After all, you will be spending a lot of time with your child’s team and chemistry cannot be overstated.

2. Understand expectations and, once you accept them, give the coach you trust the room to do their job. If you didn’t sign up to invest the hours and serve as a coach, then your job is done once you hand over your child to the person in charge.

1. Listen, listen, and listen some more to your kid. Refer back to step #10.

Written by Heidi Woodard