13 Going-On 14
Go to the park and you’ll see kids at play. Coach a 13’s team and you’ll see it too. But go over to the 14’s practice and much of the play that you see with the 13’s is gone. They are doing the same drills, but the sense of play is no longer there. It’s more professional, more adult… less enthusiastic, less fun, less joyous, i.e. it’s no longer play, it’s work.
Some of the work is satisfying work, the kind of work that instills a sense of accomplishment in the player. But much of it isn’t, it’s just work.
So what happened? Only 1 year went by, but somewhere between the age of 13 and 14, volleyball changes and the joyous play starts to leave.
Go to an 18’s practice and you’ll see the trend continue.
So I asked my 17’s team why they thought the 13’s still love to run, roll, dive and play whereas they have to find motivation to do those things. And (of course) their answers were exactly what all the psychologists have discovered through decades of research (these scientists should just coach a team and ask their players - it would save them a lot of time).
Top Reasons: Pressure, Overload & Lack of Autonomy.
Pressure: They talked about how they felt more and more pressure to play well, to earn a scholarship, and to get in better shape. These expectations are not communicated directly, instead they come in the form of statements like: “You need to talk to your coach so you know what you need to do to start; I scheduled a Private Lesson for you so you can improve XYZ; You need to act this way so college coaches will notice you; You should go to this trainer and work on your vertical.” All great advice, but all communicating the following expectations: you need to start, you need to be good, you need to get a scholarship, and you need to get in shape. Now if the players themselves made these statements, it’s different. But when adults make them, it’s pressure (which isn’t all bad - high expectations are good for kids). But over time, it all adds up and I think many of my 17’s are feeling the weight of it all. I’m as much to blame as anyone.
Overload: The life of a So Cal High School Volleyball Player goes as follows: Play 3 months of high school ball where you play & practice 5-6x a week. Before its over you tryout for club. After high school you get 1-2 weeks off and then club begins. Club is 7 months of practices, tournaments and workouts. WHILE CLUB IS STILL GOING ON, your high school coach holds daily conditioning & then has Spring Practices where for 4-6 weeks you practice with your high school team and then have to run over to club practice. After Junior Nationals (which is a 4 day tournament) you get another 1-2 weeks off (if you’re lucky) before your high school coach (who is acting out his fantasy of being a college coach in the Pac-10) makes you attend Summer Practices and workouts. When that’s over you get another 1-2 weeks before the fall high school season begins and we start this over again. And all of this wouldn’t be so bad, except much of this training is uninteresting, monotonous and something you do because you have to.
Lack of Autonomy: Studies show that one of the greatest motivators in business is giving your employees autonomy. Let them decide when and how to work. Give them control over their work and thus their lives. In sports (at this age) the adults decide for the players. Parents decide what club they will tryout for, whether they need private lessons, whether they will go to practice or skip practice, etc. And coaches decide what they will do when they get to practice, what drills they must do, how much effort they must give, how enthusiastic they should be, what position they will play, etc. When do the players get to make any decisions about their own lives? How would you feel if all your decisions were made for you? Take the thing that you love doing the most (your favorite hobby) and imagine what it would be like if someone else told you when, how, where and for how long you were going to do this hobby. Would you still like it? No one tells the kids at the park what games they should play, they play what interests them.
And now, after all of this, we expect the players to have fun and enjoy themselves. If I was them I’d say, “look old man, you make me play this sport year round with less of a vacation than you get at your current job, you make all my decisions for me and force me to do what you want no matter how I feel about it and now you want me to be happy? You crazy.”
Photo by Kevin Boyke