"A winners-play-on/losers-go-home model is appropriate for professional and adult beach volleyball, but, at the developmental stages we need as many kids as possible playing as much as possible"
Similar to indoor, collegiate beach volleyball is a team game, and it is the fastest growing NCAA sport over the last five years in Division I. And the juniors are following suit. Now it's time for junior beach events to mirror the college game.
Here are three benefits of the Club vs Club format and why it is essential for the continued development of junior and collegiate beach volleyball.
More match play experience
At a panel last year hosted by the BVCA and JVA in Hermosa Beach, which featured Todd Rodgers, Beth VanFleet, and Wayne Holly, the college coaches agreed that the junior players come into their program are not college ready mainly due to the ratio of training vs. competition they at the junior level. College athletes train much more than they compete. Additionally, when the juniors compete, they are not getting match play experience. The vast majority of junior tournaments are typically set up with 5 team pools, games to 21. The top 2 teams in each pool advance to the playoffs, the bottom three go home. Event playoffs may be played 1 game to 21 and the loser goes home. This format keeps the winners playing and the losers simply go home, which means the better players get so many more opportunities for match play experience.
"A winners-play-on/losers-go-home model is appropriate for professional and adult beach volleyball, but, at the developmental stages we need as many kids as possible playing as much as possible" shares AVCA Executive Director Kathy Deboer. "We don't know who is going to get good, but we know they won't if they are always going home early."
Some beach club directors are hesitant to participate for varying reasons: they like the "unstructure" of the beach game; they don't want to identify their athletes as a #1 team, #2 team, etc; they are leery that juniors will want to "commit" to a club and prefer to play with their friend. We need to demonstrate the club directors, coaches, athletes and their parents the value of the club vs club format in providing the same number of matches and amount of match experience to all the athletes, not just the top 20%.
The indoor game has developed into tournaments with open and club divisions. Power leagues allow for matched competition so teams are playing against other teams similar to their level of experience. As the league progresses, teams fall into their level of competition and there are fewer "wasted" matches (matches that see a team wining or losing 25-10, 25-12) And as the competition improves, so does the level because the bar continues to rise.
To raise the bar for beach and provide our juniors with more match experience, we suggest a Club vs Club format where Club A Team 1 plays Club B Team 1, Club A Team 2 plays Club B Team 2, and Club A Team 3 plays Club B Team 3. The Club that wins 2 out of 3 wins that round. All the athletes on the team will get the same number of chances to improve their game, and they will compete against athletes who are of similar level of ability.
"We practice 2-3 times a week and we go and compete at these tournaments that are not set up to help our future college athletes get better at the college format" states 692 West Club Director Jeff Smith.
Sense of team and club loyalty
At the junior club level we are still training and playing events as an individual sport. Players are competing with a different partner each weekend, and many times that partner is from another club. What is missing is the sense of team and the pride for representing one club. With the Club vs Club model, we will see the team culture benefits that are visible in indoor. Junior beach athletes will develop a sense of something bigger than themselves in a team setting.
"I love it (Club vs Club competition). I think the biggest thing that kids miss out on when playing (club) beach is the sense of team" shares Derek Olson, Kleos Beach Volleyball Club Director and UC Berkeley Associate Head Coach. "Beach is so individual and so when you can come up with events that encompass that team feel I'm all for it."
Juniors can emulate the college format. It will take some adaptation on the end of beach directors. Directors will need to make the hard decision of picking teams and potentially upsetting players or parents. Directors will need to work together with other club directors to arrange club vs club events. Now it's time for junior beach events to mirror the college game. Let's unite to move our sport forward.