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Building A Successful Training Path

I have been coaching for nearly 20 years now and have seen so many different choices by athletes and their families when it comes to their choices along their training path. Each athlete with a different ultimate goal, and each athlete working toward that goal in a different way. While there is no one size fits all formula for training, here are some of the things that I have found to be the biggest keys in a successful training path for athletes along with some pitfalls to avoid.

  1. Selecting a coach: Select coaches who are both knowledgeable and encouraging. Coaches who have a proven track record for success. Research these coaches. While a lot of coaches claim to be the best, the ones who truly are will have a very proven track record for success. Look not just at how many players they have sent to the next level, but at what those players have done at the next level. Lots of coaches will send kids to college and those players don’t have the basic skills required to truly compete at the next level for a spot, so they end up being on the team and a part of the practice squad, but never actually get to travel to matches and compete for their schools. A good place to start looking for coaches is to look at their website, see who they have committed, and then cross-reference those players with This data base has every collegiate player and their record in college. Look to see as a generality if players from that program went on to be successful at the next level or just made it there. In established programs that have been doing it for a long time, you will be able to see a pattern. Not all coaches are created equal and this one choice can truly make or break a career.

  2. Training group success: Once you have selected coaches to train with and are put into a training group, do everything in your power to embrace your training group. Be proactive in not letting cliques form. If you are in a training group with 5-9 other players, those players need to be your allies in helping you to get to where you want to go. Each player offers something different that will help to grow your game. Acknowledge them for it. Tell the big blocker she is awesome and that she really challenges you to be better on offense. Tell the great defender that she challenges you to have to be more crisp. Tell the great server how much you appreciate that her serves challenge you every day to be a better passer. It’s also important to understand how other people’s short comings make you better. If you choose to partner with that one great setter every day because you hit best off of her sets, what happens when she doesn’t go to college with you? Will you be able to make the adjustment? Instead, find the setter who isn’t as accurate and challenge yourself to hit off of her sets while understanding that when you can hit ANY set, you are a much more rounded player. Play with the partner who isn’t as fast on defense or isn’t the biggest blocker understanding that having to cover more court every day is to your advantage, not your disadvantage. Each player’s strengths and weaknesses can become your biggest advantage if you choose to see each of them for what they are and take advantage of them. Your own choice of perception here is key! Identify ways each player in your group can challenge you to be better and choose your partners in the best interest of your growth, not the best interest of you winning.

  3. “Playing up”: While “playing up” has its advantages, it also has its disadvantages, so this can be a delicate thing to navigate. Playing at an age group outside of your own age group can give you an extra challenge and help you to accelerate your growth. It can quicken the pace of the game for you and you will see things at a more advanced level quicker too. It can also cause some unintended side affects for you as you advance through your playing career. I’ve seen quite a few players over the years try to challenge themselves and have fully supported it. With each player, I try to caution them against some of the pitfalls I have seen so that they can avoid them, though. First, playing up if you aren’t continuing to be conscious of maintaining relationships with other players your age can be a higher problem for you. I have seen players who were younger and advanced for their age, neglect the other players they train with that are their age only to have the older players they play with graduate. When that happens, the players that are their age no longer want to play with them since they neglected them for all those years, and now, at the most crucial time for them before they go off to college, they have no partners to play with, and even people in their own training group don’t want to engage with them. Another pitfall can be just blending in with the older players. If you are good for your age, but don’t stick out with the older players, sometimes college coaches may pass you over because they think you are the same age as the other kids that you are playing against, so they see you as just average compared to them. Taking the time to truly shine within your age division and get some national recognition amongst your true peers is important if you want to go to college. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t “play up”, it just means that you shouldn’t ALWAYS “play up”.

  4. Leading or following: Learn to lead as well as follow. Continue to seek out situations where you can do both. Play with multiple partners that aren’t as good as you so that you can learn how to lead. It is a quality that is not only attractive to college coaches, but it will also help your confidence in your game to grow to have played with partners who aren’t as good as you and to still find success. It helps you to know that in any situation, you have the ability to take over a game and win it. Play with multiple partners who are also better than you. Learn to take a back seat and be humble. Learning to take direction from a partner will help you to understand how to best communicate when the roles are reversed. If you only ever choose to play with partners that help you to win tournaments, there are valuable pieces of your own growth that you will miss. Embrace each role and find the pieces of it that will help you to grow the most.

  5. Private Lessons: Private lessons can be great tools in helping you to grow, but you have to use them in the right way. Talk to your coach. Ask what you can improve on the most. Then get a few private lessons to work on it. Once you feel like you understand, don’t just continue to take private lessons, go out and get the reps on your own. Get thousands of reps at it, talk to your coach a month down the road after a couple of lessons and all the work you put in on your own outside of lessons and practice. I guarantee that with a good coach, there is a “next step” to that skill. So then go and get a couple more lessons to work on that next step and then repeat the process. Your reps outside of lessons and practice are what separate all those kids that are beating you from you. You have to get a ton of reps and they DO NOT have to be monitored every step of the way. How many stories do you hear about players like Kobe Bryant showing up to the gym and having the janitor let him in so that he could get reps. Same principal. Get the reps, get the reps, get the reps, then find more instruction to advance.

  6. Outside reps: Getting reps outside of practice. This is where EVERYONE who remains average fails. It’s easy to show up when others show up with you. It’s hard to get out on your own and practice. Do you need a partner to get out and pass or set a million balls into a basketball hoop or off of a roof? Do you need a partner to string a piece of rope at the right height across your driveway and work on your cut shot over it? Do you need a partner to walk to the beach court at the park by your house and hit your jump serve, or to go out in a grassy field somewhere and do the same thing? If you truly want to be great, and you truly want to EARN your spot at the next level, you’ll make the commitment to yourself to find a way to get extra reps every single week. This is a choice! You can’t blame other people for what you are not willing to do for yourself! You need no one else to get reps. Ask your coach, I am sure that he or she can give you creative ideas for how to get reps at a skill without a partner.

  7. Playing High School Ball: The choice of whether or not to play high school beach is a difficult one. While on the one hand, I would never want a kid to not have the opportunity to represent their high school, it does come with consequences. Being a high school athlete, earning a varsity letter, representing your school, and getting to play in front of your home crowd is a writ of passage. It's a part of growing up that every athlete should get to experience and I would NEVER tell an athlete not to. Unfortunately, the beach season for high school here in Arizona comes just before the summer and all of the national championships. Why does this matter? Well, the game is still so young that most high school teams are not at a level that is competitive enough to have the pace of the game challenge players on a daily basis. It hasn't grown enough that most high school coaches know enough about the game to teach it at a high level yet either. You can definitely find some gems, and you will definitely find a few matches that challenge you, but as a generality, when scores are 21-10, 21-11, you aren't getting what you need out of it. It's amazing to get to show all of your hard work off and show how much you have learned, but when college scouts watch you just after your season is over and you are playing against the best of the best in the country, will you be prepared? So what should you do then? I have had plenty of players play both for their high school and for our club. It's a very difficult thing to manage and often times can burn a player out right before the summer. I have had others who have hit the pause button on their club season to focus on their high school team, and still others who started playing for their high school, realized it wasn't going to give them what they needed in order to reach their own personal goals, and ended up quitting their high school teams. That choice is a tough one and one that should not only not be taken lightly, but also one that athletes and parents should not allow others to pressure them into. Not their peers, not their high school coaches, not their club coaches, not other parents, no one. What needs to happen is an evaluation of goals, and what it is that you TRULY want out of the sport. Playing varsity sports is an honor and is often times the end goal for athletes. Other times athletes truly want to make a run at an athletic scholarship. Many other states don't have high school beach and aren't faced with this decision, but in states that where athletes are, a definite conversation needs to happen. A plan needs to be made and executed. It's what is best for YOUR journey and no one else's. You will be pulled in both directions. Make the best choice for YOU!

At the end of the day, anything great takes time. It takes meticulous planning. It takes dedication, and it takes being willing to put your self into situations where you fail so that you can grow. Lose so you can win. Struggle so that you can be successful. Plan, research, and plan some more! If you truly want to be great, planning, the perspective to see how each situation you are in can help you to grow, and the ability to not just embrace each situation, but to seek out each type of situation will ultimately help mold you into the champion that lies inside you.

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