Small Victories

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By Chris Beerman

With every developmental process there are those moments where you acknowledge small victories; a momentary satisfaction and pride in what you are trying accomplish and knowing you are heading in the right direction. As Lexington United heads into the homestretch (horse racing term from here in Lexington) of our first season as a club, I'm able to take inventory of what's been accomplished, improvements made and take a look ahead. Our regional program has two weeks left of training and competition and the thing I'm struck by as I attend their training sessions is how excited the players are, how much fun they have with each other and how much they've improved. It reinforces to me the idea that volleyball is really the ultimate team sport, one of the most difficult to coach and the sport that creates very long-lasting personal relationships with your teammates.

As a former high school football player, I have often compared volleyball to football, which is often called "the ultimate team sport". I believe volleyball mirrors football in three ways. First, complete reliance on a teammate for success; second, the anaerobic + stamina nature of the sport: explode, relax, explode, relax, etc. over the course of a couple hours and finally the similarities in the physical, mental and emotional responsibilities of the various positions.

  1. Setter (leader, distributer) = quarterback
  2. Passer/digger (dirty work) = linemen
  3. Hitters (glory, scorers) = skill positions
Where volleyball differs and makes it an even tougher sport to be good at as a team is the ball can't be held, thrown or caught, your team is confined to a small court and there is no contact with the other team. Therefore, there has to be a "connection" with your teammates. The ball cannot touch the floor, therefore using your body parts to rebound the ball to teammates requires constant focus, trust and execution from everyone In order to be successful.

As I watched the regional players advance through their season, the vast majority in their first year of club or any kind of advanced training, those psycho-social elements of the game were most notably improved upon. In some ways, they began to grasp the "soul" of the sport which I've always contended is what makes volleyball so different. I believe above all else our regional players began to learn this part of volleyball that separates it from other sports and makes it such a popular sport for those who learn to play it on a team. The excitement I see coming from them is that they are not only learning how to play the game, but also discovering how important their individual role is to the success of their team. Definitely fun to watch develop.

I also feel our regional coaches did an outstanding job of mixing skill development with fun. Sometimes beginning players can be inundated with an overdose of intensity by well-meaning coaches, but for which they are simply not ready. Volleyball is a life-long sport and it's difficult enough to learn and play in the beginning without adding stress and inappropriate expectations. When I walk into a regional practice after 4 months of training and see smiling faces and improvement, I know our coaches have done a nice job. I'm excited to watch these kids develop even further in the future and continue to learn the game and gain confidence in themselves as players and people.

On the other side of the coin is our elite program and the same concepts of volleyball I described in the regional program hold true for the elite teams, but there is also the very important concept of being competitively successful. My goal going into this season was that I wanted our elite teams to make a splash immediately. We created a scheduling philosophy that would challenge our teams and allow them to play at a higher level, with higher expectations, with the goal of peaking at AAU's. That 4 month process has had its share of ups and downs, but as we evaluate our current competitive standing, I feel we have perhaps exceeded even my own first-year expectations.

As a JVA member club, we participate in the Mideast Power League (MEPL), which is a four-stop competitive league where winning is rewarded. Each weekend if you win you move up and if you lose, you move down. The end-game goal is to finish in the "A" bracket and have a chance to win the power league for your age group. The MEPL is populated by highly competitive, national championship-level clubs and teams and allows for your team to compete against the best. As we head into the final leg of the MEPL in May, three of our elite teams have ascended to the "A" bracket, 13's, 14's and 16's and our 18's finished in the "B" bracket. I consider this a great accomplishment for a first year club from Lexington and confirms a few things: we have talented, competitive young players, we are training them in the right way, and we have coaches who are doing a great job creating confidence.

This first-year success will create a core-group of players who will move forward believing in the system and believing they should not only be among the elite, but beat the elite. That attitude and culture change is what I've been preaching all along and with these small victories I feel we've made great strides towards those high-level goals. The quest now is to not pat ourselves on the back, but to keep striving to get better. Our teams want to be peaking at AAU's in June and we are on a steady, positive course to do just that.


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