I'd like to pick your brain a little bit about roster size for a team. Our team is finally starting to taste some success (we're 6-5 in dual matches this year -- the first time we've had a winning record in October in seven years!). I feel as though this in a large part to the junior high program begun four years ago. I have also co-founded a new club team in our area that has contributed to our success. It's the first club in our county that combines players from several different high schoolt eams. We had three teams this past season (two 17's and one 16's) and we hope to have that many plus a 14's and 18's team this season (if we can find enough coaches).
We still have a ways to go to challenge the district power in our classification but we are starting to close the gap. Over the weekend I spent some time thinking about what we need to do to continue the improvement. While reviewing my practice strategies, I began to think that roster size may be something that I need to look at.
We have typically hadbetween 24 and 28 players on the JV/varsity squad. This year we have 27. Thireteen are on varsity and 14 on jv. I'll be graduating six seniors, only two of which are major contributors on varsity, and I have six juniors on the junior varsity. However, I'm really not seeing any of them stand out enough to think that they are going to step in and fill the voids left from the seniors. Honestly, I can say that a freshman and an 8th grader are the two front-runners for a middle and outside hitter position. Aside from that, I'm expecting at least 6-10 new players moving up from the middle school team next season, so I could be looking at possibly 30 players on theJV/varsity roster.
While I love the fact that athletics can be a positive influence on a lot of kids, I really think that it will be extremely hard to elevate our program to a high enough level to be competitive if we continue with these kinds of numbers. I really think that if we can trim the number of players to 18-20 for both squads that we would be in a much better position to challenge our rivals. Not only would they get more touches per practice, they would also get more attention from the coaches. I had a talk with my AD today about reducing the number of players and he really doesn't like the idea of cutting. He said that the decision was mine to make and he would back me if that's what I want to do, but he had another suggestion. He said that he would prefer that I set a limit on the number of varsity players (say, 10) and have the rest play on the jv team. He felt that enough players would "cut themselves" which would leave us with a more manageable number and would be easier on the players' psyche.
A few thoughts:
- I’m not so sure that putting a senior on the junior varsity team and allowing her to "cut herself" would be more preferable to her not making the team after tryouts;
- I’m not so sure that having underclassmen languish on the bench all season because of so many players is better than being cut.
- I also think that diluting the talent on the jv team will have the effect of weakening the varsity team in the long run.
I'm certainly not saying that cutting players is an easy or painless process. In my previous coaching stint, we had cuts a few times and I do remember the feelings of the players and the coaches. But I also feel that the team was betterin the long run.
What are your thoughts on team size?
Or on placing players on the jv squad and hoping they quit?
Over my career we've had years when we had more players than we needed and other years when our numbers were lower than I would have liked. Both situations present their own unique challenges. I really see us having a steady stream of 8-10 players per class for a while, so I think that we will be facing the issueof team size for some time.
Here is my answer to this coach!
Your email was fascinating. I was laying in bed last night, reading everyword.
I can tell that I’m not chatting with a rookie coach who doesn't know what the heck he's doing. Your email was thoughtful, caring, yet looking at the big picture. You can see the forest, and aren't very distracted by thet rees.
Let's "cut to the chase". The question you must ask is: "What is in the best interests of the program?" (In other words, what will do the forest the most good?)
Part I: What the most successful programs do!
a) CLUB BALL is the AAA way to improve your program. So I beg you: concentrate on 13's, 14's, 15's, THEN your 15's - 18's will occur b/c most will be volleyball addicts by then.
b) Getting to the girls in the 6th, 7th and 8th grade is the AAA-2 method.
c) Having them play, play, play is AAA-3: Doubles. Open gyms. Camps.
If no one in your conference is doing all this, but you, then your team will be at/near the top every single year. And it will occur very soon, my friend.
Part II: Number of kids on your team.
* The #1 Question: What is in the best interests of your program?
* The #2 Question (and it MUST be #2): What is in the best interests of the kids?
a) I like having 13 on varsity. NEVER ANY MORE! I tell myplayers, "For 3 months, I need you to sacrifice playing time for theteam. The rest of the year, you can play doubles, club ball, open gyms,etc. Three months is what I need from you, and I will try my darndest toput a banner on the wall, and special medal on your varsity letter".
I like 13 on varsity b/c (1) it create competition among the girls at practice (2) it creates competition among the girls for playing time (3) I will bring up the stud 9th graders asap, regardless of theirplaying time, and I need room for them. So, almost every good high schoolteam I've ever had has also had a few younger freaks who weren't going to playmuch, but WERE going to be MVP, players-of-the-year, etc, in the future.... soI wanted them to experience (1) and (2) asap.
If you cut down to 10 onvarsity, then there will be girls who will play every night, regardless of thescore, b/c you have no sub. In this situation, 99% of girls (and adults,for that matter) will not play their best at practice, in matches, etc. They will take plays off because theyknow in their heart and brain that there is no one to challenge them. ALSO, ankle sprains, family emergencies, discipline issues ARE going tohappen. When these situations occur, how will you adjust when you onlyhave 2 MB's? 2 OH's? 1 Libero? 1 setter?
Hey, those freaky freshmen: they may play for 5 minutes in the biggest (or easiest) match of the year, or they play in some critical spots because theolder, "better," girl is sucking it up. PERFECT! Benchtime solves A LOT of problems! But, they may also have to step is up inthe conference championships because of an ankle sprain. I remember in1998 when "T," a freshman, had to play MB 1st round state tournamentb/c of a torn ACL suffered by our junior freak. AND WE WON! hahahaha. I don't think "T" touchedbut about 10 balls the entire night (all block touches), but she had been onvarsity all year. Keeping her on varsity was the right thing for ourprogram. I knew it was at the time.
b) I NEVER have had, and never will have a senior on JV. Why? It does the program no good. If she was good, she wouldn't beon JV. But there are girls on JV who NEED the reps, they NEED attention,coaching.
c) JV can be larger, maybe 15 or 16, BUT ONLY IF the head coach has anassistant or two. If she doesn’t, then I'd say 14 is maximum. Keeping more would be benefiting a few kids, while harming a LOT. While your JV coach is doing "volleyball day care" to 18 or 20 girls,your opponents down the road are learning/accomplishing/improving way more thanyour team is.
d) Cutting themselves? OK, we're the adults. Wemust/can/should do it. Leaders don't hope their problems vanish. They confront/deal with them. I will admit, that sometimes I'm weak inthe area of dealing with problems. But every day, a message pops up in myinbox, "Deal with issues NOW! No, don't put it off."
The AD at a local school said similar things a few yearsago: "Well, if the parents areupset, then we'll ..........". Who runs these schools? Theparents? The kids? Nope. If they don't like it, they can goto elsewhere. As long as I'm the teacher/coach/AD/principal,I'm going to do what I was paid to do: Use my best judgment to look outfor my team/program.
e) Yes, you can have a positive influence on kids. As teachers, that is one of our jobs! However, it's our #1 job as a coach to take careof the team/program. For example, my friend had two 6'1" girls onthe bench. No, they couldn't win a starting MB job.... they weren't goodenough. But he was running a 6-2 offense and leaving his 5’2” setters inthe front row. OK, if he's looking out for his program, something has tochange. "But my setters are seniors." So? Do youwant a championship or not? "The 6'1" girls have never playedright." OK, so you teach them. You practice 3 or 4 or 5 times aweek. "But I LIKE my setters out there. They areleaders!" Hey man, I'm telling you what I would do to win achampionship. You will see OH's this season that will devastate you, andyou'll finish 3rd or 4th in the state (AGAIN!!!). Don’t you want more? How many bannersdo you have? "None." OK, these big girls give you abetter chance.... don't you WANT to give your team their best shot?
I heard someone say: Cut a girl, and the parents holler for aday. Keep a girl on a team who doesn't belong, and you'll be hearing theparents holler for 3 months. Which one is it? Our heart cannotget in the way of team. Our sentimentality cannot get in the way ofwhat's best for our program.
Dead Weight: Have you read before what I ask seniors who I don't believeare going to play any? It's in the ebooks. Probably several times. Very quickly, I tellthem: "You have two choices: make the team and acceptsitting 97%, or just don't try out. BUT YOU WILL NOT disrupt the team justbecause you're not playing. If you do,then I WILL cut you that very day. Idon’t care if your meltdown occurs 2 weeks or 2 months into our season. Is that clear? If so, sign here. Have your parents sign here. And I'll see you at tryouts."
I don't know if I've answered all of your specific questions. I tried to.
But always look out for your team/program. If you do that, you can alwaysdefend your decisions, and you can always sleep at night.
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