Earlier this month the University of Minnesota and the University of Illinois met for a practice and scrimmage at Center Court. Brad Van Dam, the coach of our 12 Black team was there with his daughters and he made some fascinating observations which he shared with John Kessel at USA Volleyball. Kessel is USA Volleyball's sport ambassador and regularly blogs about the state of our sport. I think it is a good read and Brad has granted me permission to share his letter with you.
I had the pleasure of watching a practice followed by a scrimmage between Illinois and Minnesota earlier this month, with my two young daughters ages 3 and 6. Our club was fortunate to have the two teams scrimmage in our local gym and many of our club parents, players, and coaches were able to watch, although the crowd was not overwhelming. It was the first time for my daughters watching collegiate volleyball. My wife had gladly taken the day to herself and I was excited to bring my girls to the scrimmage. Selfishly, I wanted to see the practice as well, so I made sure the girls packed their first touch balls, snacks, crayons, and coloring books, knowing I would stay longer than their attention spans. Goldfish crackers are an amazing patience extender.
I was struck with two things, both I wanted to mention as I read your blog regularly and enjoy the concepts and the title.
The practice was filled with play. Almost the entire time there was nothing but pure competition. Divide into teams with players from both squads, enter balls from various angles and in and out of system balls, keep running the score up as high as the flip boards will allow, and make sure the volleyballs are fed continuously. Players were engaged, players were happy, players kept competing. It was not a grind, run this drill until you get it correct that I remember when I was younger playing indoor growing up in California. It truly reminded me of the days outdoor and hours spent at the beach, hoping all the guys brought their volleyballs so we could keep the rally going till sunset if one of the balls rolled into the water. After attending CAP 1 last year, it was a blessing to see one of the finest coaches in the US living the mantra of let the game teach the game.
The second item pertains to the players. There was no designated time for interaction with the athletes. There was no expectation of crowd interaction, it was a small crowd, less than that at a local middle school match. The love of the game that was in the gym kept my youngest quiet and focused on the action on the court. During the scrimmage the communication, effort, and heart the athletes showed was better than ice cream at holding the attention of my three year old. Post-match, my youngest daughter asked me if she could speak with the players while they were stretching, we happened to be closest to the Minnesota post scrimmage stretch huddle. She waddled up with her first touch and a pen in her hand, the first touch almost larger than she is, gently asked if she could have a signer, and a wonderful young lady or two, along with Coach Hugh after she grabbed her father for some courage, all penned a memory on her First Touch. I'm sure it's no surprise to you that Hugh's team and he were nothing but first class, and that several of them went out of their way to be nice to someone that could do nothing for them. I was immediately coerced to purchase her first net, and the backyard grass will likely never be the same again, as we now play "how many can you get over the net" every night I get home before dark. What I wanted to say, is that those moments, those gifts of inspiration that players or coaches give back to our youth, are the reason this sport grows. I recall my first interaction with someone who inspired the game for me, and 25 years later, I still have the lunch card from the Al Scates camp Ricci Luyties signed for me when I was a youngster. He penned a funny note, called my group of teammates the turkeyballers, and he made the experience of my first volleyball camp a blast and we played a lot. If we truly want to grow the game, we need to create more interaction between young fans and players of various ages and levels, in situations where their love of the game and passion for competition shine through and inspire. My daughter might forget who signed her first touch in 5 or 10 years, but her dad will always remember who inspired her to wear out my grass and play how many times can we hit it over the net in the backyard. I'll likely now get to enjoy watching whatever level of competition satisfies her desire and ability, and the game will keep getting bigger because a college athlete made time for a three year old that could do nothing for her but smile.
Brad Van Dam
Milwaukee Sting Summer Academy dates have been announced please check out the camps/clinics tab for more information. Registration is available at www.milwaukeestingcamps.com.
The Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Medicine Center is a leading provider of comprehensive sports-based programs to treat and prevent injury, aid recovery, and enhance performance. Our experienced and dedicated healthcare team helps athletes in all sports not only stay at the top of their form, but also realize their full potential. Additionally, we offer specialized services and state-of-the-science equipment and treatment techniques to help athletes attain full recovery and achieve optimal performance. Please call 414-805-7100
for more information or to make an appointment with our Physicians or Physical Therapists.
Benefits provided to Milwaukee StingMembers: