Club and School Teams in Calif. Begin Dialogue

By Staff

Coaching Management, 12.11, November 2004,

As in many areas of the nation, club and high school volleyball teams in California haven’t always been on the same page. Club team tryouts have sometimes conflicted with high school championship games, advice to players from the two coaches may differ, and friction has often arisen.

But, over the past year, things have started to change, thanks to leaders in both camps opening up dialogue. And their first steps toward some solutions may be a model for others.

Discussions began in 2003, when the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) organized a meeting with representatives of all club sports, as well as student-athletes and coaches, to discuss problems that had developed between the two structures. A regional constituent organization of USA Volleyball represented the club volleyball community.

"We had become aware of more and more conflicts and more and more issues, some of them through third-party stories and some directly," says John Tarman, an Assistant Executive Director of the CIF. "We held what we called an interscholastic-club sports summit, on a Saturday in San Diego. It helped to create a greater understanding and appreciation of the different perspectives of the constituents involved in the issue."

From there, the CIF-Northern Section and the Northern California Volleyball Association (NCVA) convened a mini-summit of their own a few months later. They gathered in a conference room at a hotel in the San Francisco Bay area and hashed out both conflicts and mutual needs. By no means were all the problems solved, but a couple of key issues were identified and, perhaps more importantly, there was reason to see that relations could improve. "I think it could lead to a better environment," says Tom Donaghy, Office Manager for the NCVA, the organizing group for USA Volleyball in the region.

Tarman also attended this meeting, and he felt the dialogue was extremely positive. "For example, we said, ‘We understand that club coaches do this for a living, and that many of their athletes do get scholarship offers,’" says Tarman. "‘But why do club tryout dates have to conflict with the CIF playoffs?’

"Everybody looked around the room," he continues, "and somebody from club volleyball said, ‘You know, you’re absolutely right on target here, and I’m going back to my board of directors and recommending some changes in our timelines. We don’t need to force quality players who are in the CIF playoffs to skip a practice or a match so they can come to our tryouts. That’s totally insensitive and inappropriate.’"

Another issue that emerged was the NCVA’s view that the CIF should better enforce its own rules designed to prevent high school coaches from pressuring their players to join the coaches’ non-school club teams, says Donaghy. Without better enforcement, many in club volleyball believe the coaches who work in both structures may get away with such coercion, eventually leading the CIF to prohibit scholastic coaches from also coaching club teams.

The other major issue was that many administrators in charge of scheduling the use of their school facilities are reluctant to make their gyms available for club teams. This hurts athletes who want to play more and reach the next level in volleyball, says Donaghy.

"We would like to see every high school have a club team," he says. "We believe that if every high school has a club team, it’s going to make the whole sport better, which brings more people to the sport."

No one is suggesting the meetings solved every problem, real or potential. For one thing, the NCVA’s push for more club opportunities conflicts with many high schools’ desire to nurture multiple-sport student-athletes. But the NCVA plans to join in on the CIF’s next board meetings, and there seems to be a feeling that both sides are at least willing to hear one another out.

"We feel like we made some progress," says Tarman. "We all came together. If people had chips on their shoulders, they seemed to leave them at the door because the conversation and the dialogue was not adversarial. It was very collaborative. Clearly, people had the welfare of the student-athletes front and center, and that’s what made the process work."