Expose Your Players to College Volleyball

A message from Wisconsin Badger Coach Kelly Sheffield

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In 1991, I attended practices and games at the NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four in the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis. The overwhelming favorite going in was UNLV. North Carolina, Kansas, and Duke were the other three teams participating. That UNLV team, wow, that was possibly the most talented team in my lifetime - they played with such freedom and level of athleticism that was absolutely fun to watch! Duke was a very disciplined team but most considered them overmatched. It surprised me when I sat down and watched UNLV and Duke during their open practices that year. I would have never guessed by watching their games that UNLV would take the floor and run a very choreographed and focused practice session. Duke, on the other hand, surprised me by how loose they all were with dunk contests and half court shooting contests during their practice session. The contrast was shocking!

There were thousands of people at the practice sessions of which a very large number were high school age and younger. Fast forward to just a few years ago to when I was coaching at Dayton. Dayton has been the host site of the "First Four" (also known as the 'Play-In' games) at the beginning of the NCAA men's basketball tournament. My staff and I would go over and watch the practice sessions every year and it was incredible to see how many young kids were there doing the same.

The past two years, here at Wisconsin, have been very difficult endings for our team. We believed that we had a team that could make the Final Four, but both years have ended just short of that. Regardless, I enjoy talking the game with recruits – some whom have already committed to play here, and others who have not, and may never be Badgers. I enjoy those discussions even when the focus is on a team that is still playing that we may be recruiting against. It's not about tearing another team down, or pretending their success isn't happening, it's about igniting passion about our sport. It's disheartening when I talk to these young players and see how many of them missed the Regionals or Final Four matches because they were either practicing with their club teams or traveling to/from their practices. I got my start coaching middle school, high school, and club. I still remember the excitement of helping pick my 14-2 team my second year of coaching. And even when I began coaching the 16-under age group, the time between tryouts at the beginning of December to when we began practicing at the beginning of January seemed like a lifetime. I couldn't wait to get started!!

However, I have a gentle request that will hopefully tie all of this together. Let's help our young players dream and let's help them with their volleyball IQ's. If there are NCAA Tournament matches in your hometown, gather as a team and take them to the matches. The past three years we have hosted the first and second round. Three other teams are also here. All four teams have an "Open Practice". There have been a grand total of zero fans at those practices. Last year at our Regional in Louisville; Ohio State, UCLA, Wisconsin, and the defending national champs Penn State were playing. I think there was one person in the stands during the practice sessions and I'm pretty sure he was there to report back to one of the other coaching staffs. This year in Texas there was one person in the stands watching practices.

Coaches, take your players to a practice. Have a Regional Finals party – 8+ hours straight of volleyball on television – does it get any better than that?! Or have a Final Four party at the club facility. I'm asking you to hold off practicing on those days, regardless if your favorite team is playing or not.

There are great discussions to be held with your players.  For instance:

  • Did you know that Texas came out in a defense they hadn't played in all year against Minnesota in the Final Four?
  • What kind of message of toughness would your players see when watching the Ohio State player throwing up in a trash can during time-outs?
  • How about watching how Lauren Carlini warms-up and her attention to detail whether it's during a match warm-up or practice session.
  • How big would it be for them to see Nebraska's freshman, Mikaela Foecke, performing at a big-time level on the biggest of stages
  • Or to see up-close the passion and drive of Minnesota's Daly Santana.

My gentle request is, let's have our tournament be a sacred time, when everything else shuts down and we watch. A time when we encourage our players to watch, and learn, and DREAM! Congratulations to the Nebraska Huskers on an awesome tournament run. And good luck to all of the teams and players that are just getting started on your own journey this club season. I'm certainly looking forward to watching.

Oh, and by the way, in case you were wondering, Duke won their first National Championship that year in 1991. I was rooting for UNLV.

About the Author

Kelly Sheffield is the Head Women's Volleyball Coach for the University of Wisconsin. 


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