In Nebraska, the sport of volleyball sells itself. After all, it's the home of Cornhusker volleyball, the 2015 Division I National Champions. However, in Lincoln volleyball is only viewed as a women's sport. VCNebraska is looking to change this perception.
VCNebraska is in it's 7th year under the leadership of former Husker National Champion and professional volleyball player Maggie Griffin. The club has seen a lot of growth in the girls club program, growing from the grassroots level through it's Youth Academy for K-6th grade.
"We are doing the best we can to get boys involved, but it's difficult" shares Griffin.
There are a few obstacles that make growing the boys game more challenging.
Volleyball is fun, and the boys who attend practice have a lot of fun. However, some of the boys that attended open gyms and enjoyed it aren't playing because their parents are hesitant to let them. They do not feel there are adult volleyball role models for the boys to look up to, and it is female dominated sport.
Having a role model that plays volleyball and impresses them is extremely important for volleyball to be appealing to a young boy. Kids watch March Madness and dream of taking the final shot. Its not a surprise when they choose basketball over volleyball because they haven't dreamed of playing volleyball like they have basketball.
Most of the players and parents have never seen a mens volleyball match and if they have it was only during the Olympics. Of the boys that do play, most of their parents have either played in a rec league or seen mens adult leagues in the community.
"We have had guys stop coming to an open training session because there were girls there with them. One father said if there was enough guys to train without girls they would come" shares Dan Mader, VCN Associate Director and Boys Coach.
Mader found that many younger brothers of the girls in the club grow up playing volleyball with their siblings at home. VCN hopes that if the brothers see other boys playing they will be more open to playing in the future and not view volleyball as just for girls.
As with any club trying to grow boys volleyball, there are always other sports that take priority such as baseball, basketball and football. These sports have 4-5 month seasons with tryouts, tournament travel and championships. There is a level of commitment, and various selection processes that make it appealing to be a part of.
In order to grow the boys program, VCN has implemented a few new initiatives:
1. Bring Your Brother to Practice
A small group of 4-6 boys come in and practice with the Youth Club program every Monday and Wednesday. The main goal was to create a boys team this year. Boys in 4-8th grade were invited to attend practice.
"We had 4 boys committed at the begining of the year and we were looking for a few more so they could play in a tournament. So we thought if we had "bring a brother/boy to practice day" maybe we could get a few more interested by just getting them to a practice" adds boys' coach Dan Mader.
It was a lot of fun, and the coaching staff made that the number one goal.
"I didnt deviate from our normal practice plan too much. I did simplify our ball control series and made sure we started and ended practice with some fun games.
To my surprise the boys we have engage very similar to the girls. The boys that are 8th grade and below have a shorter attention span and want to attack more but otherwise are not very different."
2. Boys Summer Camp in July and Open Gyms
For the first time, VCN will run a boys only camp this summer. They will also hold open gyms for boys. Offering open gyms where guys in the community can come showcase high level volleyball is a great way to expose young boys to men's volleyball.
3. Men's Volleyball Match
Every May VCN hosts a Men's Match as a fundraiser to raise money for AAU Natioanls in Orlando. Top male players in the area compete, and the event is marketed to the community. It is another opportunity for young boys can see what men's volleyball is like and be exposed to the sport at a high level. Hosting the men's volleyball match is an attempt to rectify the perception that volleyball is only a girls sport.
Through it's many efforts, VCN has learned a few things about trying to grow boys volleyball in Lincoln.
1. Create a practice full of mini competitions and games to keep the boys focused and having fun.When it comes to on court interactions, the boys seem to respond well to constant challenges. They seem more motivated to win a game then to train a specific volleyball skill.
2. Give opportunity for young players to find a men's volleyball role model. ie: male coach, host men's match, watch film, bring in college players.
3. Educate the community about men's volleyball in the US and Internationally.
We hope this article is helpful in growing boys volleyball in your region. It is an on-going challenge and we hope to share more ideas, inspiring stories and education to assist your club in making it happen.
About the Author
Dan Mader is the Associate Director and Master Coach at VCN. He coached VCN 17 Elite to a 17 Premier Silver Medal at 2016 AAU Nationals. Dan was the Graduate Assistant/Volunteer Coach with University of Nebraska from 2013-2015, and was a part of the 2015 NCAA National Championship. Dan was formerly the Assistant Coach for Sports Performance18 Elite who won the 18 Open Gold Medal at 2013 AAU Nationals. Dan was a setter at IPFW from 2008-2011.