Building a Culture that Wants to Get Better

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By Chris Beerman

So here's a little background on the volleyball history in Lexington as a prelude to my post today: Lexington is a city comprised of great people and great kids and there is tremendous growing enthusiasm for volleyball. Over the past 10-12 years there have been numerous attempts to start a legitimate club for girls with mixed results. Most clubs lasted about 2 or 3 years before dissolving into a hodge-podge of parent-run branch-offs normally due to perceived politics or disagreements with coaches. This inconsistency in club leadership and opportunity has led to an undeveloped volleyball "culture" in Central Kentucky. What does culture mean in regards to club volleyball? If one thinks about the hotbeds of youth volleyball in the country, you immediately think of longevity, consistency, competitiveness and a standard and expectation of volleyball excellence. Chicago, Louisville, Muncie, Houston, Indianapolis, Southern California, etc. all have historically early established clubs bolstered by tremendous high school programs and a history of winning championships. In starting a club in Lexington, my challenge is to introduce the players and parents to as many experiences as possible that move us toward establishing a culture and tradition. Obviously this does not happen overnight and may take many years of development. A huge focus needs to be on training our young teams at a high level, playing great competition and having early success against established clubs so the confidence and expectation begins to take shape. One very important culture change is who you play and where you play. I just returned from the JVA World Challenge in Houston (a great event, run very well!) and our club took two teams: our 16-1's and 18's team. In hindsight, I definitely should have also taken our 13's team, a group that has the potential to be one of the flag bearers of the club moving forward. They have the size, ball control and setting and have already have beaten elite 13's teams. I should have insisted they travel to Houston to be exposed to another big-time tournament experience. Lexington teams have traditionally played a very regional schedule, not really venturing farther than Indianapolis for any tournaments and even a trip that far was rare. Just recently, Lexington teams have begun to play at the AAU National Championships to end their club season. Last year in the entire Lexington area and among 4 clubs, only 3 teams went to AAU's. This year, Lexington United will be sending 11 teams to AAU's in Orlando. These kinds of big, national level tournament experiences immediately move the volleyball culture and excitement forward for the community.

Our Houston experience was awesome, flying to a tournament in another region of the country, playing at the Open level, exposing our players and parents to a big-time environment and many of the parents commented to me that seeing these teams play was very eye-opening and really made them understand more clearly what my expectation level was, and what players need to focus on to get there. My 16's team is comprised of four 15 year olds and we played at the Open level with mixed results, but the main thing I saw as we progressed in the tournament was how comfortable they became handling the intensity, focus and expectation of the level. They are learning to compete at that level and beginning to love it! And better yet, crave it! Once your players have gotten past the fear and begin to love the competition, they always want more. This is the foundation of establishing a volleyball culture, where players go to practice "wanting" to get better. This is when the most improvement happens and kids go through the roof. I thought I saw quite a few light bulbs go off above some of our players' heads and that was exciting for me. In the future, I will always push for all of our Elite teams to travel to at least one huge JVA World Challenge-type tournament. This year we are getting our feet wet, introducing our community to what a volleyball culture can be and educating our parents on what makes "hotbeds" happen. Another thing I keep pushing this year is the pioneer tag associated with our current players and how they will be the standard-bearers for club volleyball excellence in Lexington moving forward. One of the neat moments I had early on this spring was on the last day of our LUV Bug program (6-9 year olds). I had the players bring their parents out on the court and their task was to teach their parents how to pass! It was amazing to watch them unprompted, take their parents forearms and create a platform, admonish them for not "being low", and critiquing them for not saying "mine". Their recall and attention to detail was awesome. At the very end of the session we got in a huddle and I told them that one thing they would always be is the very first LUV Bugs and in ten years when they are 18 and walking into the gym they will look at those LUV Bugs and think to themselves - "I was the first LUV Bug" - Pioneers of the big-time volleyball culture in Lexington, KY! The pride and smiles on their faces with that comment was priceless and in my mind was perhaps one of the key moments in the development of a new volleyball culture in Lexington.


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