Don’t Be the “Thumbs Up Dad”

Every time Suzie touches the volleyball, whether she gets an ace or messes up the play, she looks up at her dad. When she makes an error, Dad gives her a calming hand gesture and mouths the words, “It’s OK.” When she rocks the play, he gives her that iconic thumbs up with the ecstatic facial expression that goes with it. We all know the look because we have all done it at one time or another.

Don’t be the “Thumbs Up Dad (or Mom).” You have been and probably always will be your daughter’s biggest fan. However, you are hurting her if you are giving her your constant feedback. Don’t make her feel like she must impress you to feel good about playing the game of volleyball.

I feel I can say this because I’m a parent also. I know what it feels like to look down at your athlete at practice and see her goofing off or not absorbing every detail of what the coach is trying to teach her. It takes every ounce of energy to not yell across the gym, “KNOCK IT OFF.”

In an article written by Steve Henson, he shares that hundreds of college athletes were asked, “What is the worst memory from playing youth sports?” The majority responded, “The ride home from games with my parents.” Click here to read the entire article

Your athlete spends a minimum of 4 hours per week at practices being told over and over what she needs to do to correct a problem. She doesn’t need to be reminded of it when she gets in the car. She really wants to hear you say, “I loved watching you play today. What do you want to eat?”

It is really hard to coach an athlete that needs to be complimented every time she does something well. As a coach, our job is to give an athlete the tools she needs to not only succeed at the game but to be able to coach herself through a situation. Athletes need to be able to embrace a mistake. The truth is, volleyball is a game of mistakes. The team that makes the least mistakes usually wins. We must trust the process.

As a parent, please know that your daughter is going to make mistakes. She is going to make a lot of them. The mistake may happen on set point, or on a really easy ball. She can’t look to you for guidance or acceptance on every ball. We as parents need to teach our athletes to accept the mistakes, own up to them, and move forward.

How do we make sure we are not the “Thumbs Up Dad?”

  1. Cheer on the Good Plays – This means all of them. I respect a parent who sits quietly in the stands and cheers respectfully even when the other team makes a great play. I hate it when a parent only gets excited when their daughter makes a great play. I hate it when a parent throws their hands in the air and makes that loud grunting noise of disgust when their athlete misses her serve or hits the ball into the net. Cheer on the good plays and be quiet on the rest.
  2. Bring a Good Book – We see parents all the time that watch their athlete like a hawk at practice. It’s very noticeable from the practice court. This is where we see the “Thumbs Up Dad,” the most. Instead of straining to hear what the coach says to your athlete after a mistake, bring a good book, and sit on the couches that are turned away from the courts. Allow yourself to miss some of the action. Imagine what your reaction will be when you get to watch your athlete at the next tournament and see the amazing improvements she has made because of her hard work at practice.
  3. Let your Athlete Bring Up the Game in the Car – If your daughter wants to talk about the tournament, she will. She may even ask your advice. The best thing you can say is, “I think you did great today. What did your coach say about your performance?” Each coach has a game plan and a process he follows. He can’t teach your daughter everything in one day. The team’s focus may have been on communication for the tournament. If your athlete communicated to the standards the coach was asking, she succeeded. Ask your daughter to share with you what the team’s focus was. She may love teaching you about what she is learning.
  4. When do you step in? – You should step in to give advice when your daughter is not showing respect for the coach or the team. If your daughter gets in the car and says, “My coach has no idea what he’s talking about.” Please remind her that it isn’t her job to know what’s going on in the head of a coach. It is her job to stick to the game plan and win. We need her to respect the club, the coach, and her teammates. We all know the scenario when an athlete gets subbed out of the game. The subs stand together touching hands like an elongated high five for approximately 30 seconds waiting for the scorekeeper to record the substitution. You see the face of the athlete being removed from the game as cold, upset, and disappointed. The face of the athlete that is going into the game is excited and motivated. Imagine if the athlete coming out of the game fixed her face and said to her teammate, “You’ve got this; you’re going to do great out there!” She would empower her teammate/friend to succeed. As coaches, we cannot stand it when an athlete leaves a game pouting. She should go to the end of the bench and be the loudest cheerleader. We need to teach our athletes to be excited for the team in all moments even when it’s hard.

Don’t get me wrong, I want you to cheer on your athlete and her teammates. However, I want to encourage you to spend the next tournament watching someone other than your daughter. If you criticized that athlete the way you criticize your daughter, how would that athlete feel? We appreciate that you have allowed us to teach your daughter the game of volleyball. Now bring a good book and trust the process.

Lauren Sampson: College Connections

Lauren Sampson, an Elite Alumni, just finished her Freshman season at Gannon University. She came back home for Christmas Break with some recommendations and insight for our younger players looking to compete at the next level.

Gannon University is a Division II School located in Pennsylvania. Lauren was able to make a significant impact for the team as a Freshman. The team finished with a 31-3 record with a trip to the PSAC Championship game and the NCAA Tournament. She was named Freshman of the Year for the PSAC Conference along with a First Team selection. Sampson earned a spot on the 2018 NCAA Atlantic Region All-Tournament Team and won PSAC Northwest Volleyball Athlete of the Week on three separate occasions. She finished her season with the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) naming her to the 2018 DII All-American Honorable Mention team.

At Elite Volleyball Training Center, we strive to continue to help the next generation of athletes prepare for what lies ahead. We asked our returning Alumni a series of questions regarding their Freshman year experience. Here is what Lauren has to say about her first season at Gannon University:

Were you ever home sick and felt like you were all alone?

  • For the first few days I felt homesick, but I got over it quickly.

What did Elite help you prepare for?

  • I was ready to play at a high level. I was ready to compete for a spot on the court along with compete for the win. Everyone at Elite pushed me to become better, and I was well prepared when I got to school.

What did you take for granted while in the gym at Elite?

  • I took the resources I had available outside of practices for granted. This included lessons, conditioning, and weight room training.

What is your recommendation to our younger players that have dreams of becoming a collegiate volleyball player?

  • Work hard all the time. Get as many extra reps as you can on the court or in the weight room.


“Elite has helped me prepare for the intensity and high level of college volleyball”

Lauren Sampson
Elite 2018 Alumni
Gannon University

Nikki Van Cleave and Dan Reilly Join EliteVBTC Full-time

We are excited to announce Nikki Van Cleave as our new Recruiting Coordinator for Elite Volleyball Training Center. In addition to her recruiting responsibilities, Nikki will be teaming up with Jackie Cline to enhance our Setter Training, coaching clinics and lessons, and stepping into the role of Heach Coach for the 17 Blue team.

Prior to joining EliteVBTC, Nikki was the assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at The Ohio State University Women’s Volleyball program. The Buckeyes advanced to the NCAA Tournament and Sweet Sixteen in both her years with the program. She coached three All-Americans and four All-Big Ten players. She was named an AVCA Thirty Under Thirty Award Recipient in 2017. While at Ohio State she recruited the #16 and #13 ranked recruiting class according to

Van Cleave also has coaching experience as the assistant coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She assisted the program to the Horizon League regular season championship, tournament championship, and NCAA appearance in 2013.

As a player for Marquette University, Nikki was named two-time All-Big East setter, and honorable mention All-American in 2010 following a 12.10 assists per set average which ranked fourth nationally.

Following her collegiate career, Van Cleave competed overseas in Germany for a season following her senior campaign.

Her addition to Elite Volleyball Training Center will streamline the recruiting process for the athletes and their families. She has extensive knowledge in the field of recruiting, not to mention her long list of contacts in the collegiate volleyball world. All recruiting fees are included in your club tuitions. Please reach out to Nikki at to set up anything from a meeting about the recruiting process to a mock phone call with a head coach.



Dan Reilly has been working with Elite Volleyball Training Center for the past few months as a part-time coach. We are excited to announce he will continue with Elite as a key staff member in club training and lesson training. He has been named head coach to the 16 Blue team at EliteVBTC.

Reilly is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He recently finished working with The Ohio State Women’s Volleyball program as a video coordinator. At Ohio State, Reilly helped with scouting of opponents and used video to provide technical and strategic feedback to coaches.

Prior to his time at Ohio State, Dan lived in Charleston, West Virginia, assisting with the Men’s and Women’s Volleyball teams at the University of Charleston, and in Wilmington, North Carolina coaching club volleyball.

At the University of Charleston, Reilly assisted in aspects of the offense and blocking schemes, helping lead the Women’s Volleyball team to a 42-29 overall record and second place in the Mountain East Conference both years. During these seasons, Reilly was an integral part of coaching three First Team All-MEC Players, as well as helping drive the team to two AVCA Team Academic Awards.

Reilly also coached the University of Charleston Men’s Volleyball team in the spring of 2018, Dan helped lead the Men’s team to a 16-10 overall record, with a 5-9 record in the EIVA, both program records. During his time with the men’s team, Dan was tasked with analyzing video and preparing scouting reports, as well as assisting with offensive and defensive schemes for the Golden Eagles.

Reilly attended Penn State Altoona for four years where he played Division III Men’s Volleyball for the Lions.  A switch of majors added a 5th year at Penn State Main Campus in University Park, PA. During his final semester, Dan worked with the Penn State Men’s Volleyball team as an assistant manager, and finished with a degree in Kinesiology.

Reilly’s educational background includes a Bachelors of Science in Kinesiology from Penn State and a Master’s Degree in Strategic Leadership from the University of Charleston in 2017. He currently resides in Columbus, Ohio.


For the Love of the Game

A stranger comes to your door. He hands you and your family $200,000 cash. He says this is for your daughter to help her get her life started right. He also suggests that she meet some of his connections. These connections are very successful business owners, corporate leaders, or experts in their field. He explains these connections are part of his tight knit family group. This group of people want to help her become a successful person in this world in any field of work she finds interesting. He finishes his conversation explaining that the only thing your daughter needs to do to receive all this money and special treatment is…play a game for four years.

He approaches you and explains that he notices your daughter is exactly like a group of people he knows. They would get along perfectly. He explains that this group of people spend 20 – 30 hours a week doing the same game. Even when they are not doing this game they spend all their time talking about it. Sometimes they even like to dress up wearing gear that represents this game. He can guarantee that in four years your daughter will make some of the best friends of her life.

She will be able to travel the country for this game. He would provide private jets that would take her and her group to play this game against other girls from other states. Since they are traveling so much, he said she needs to represent the group. He will give her 2 pair of game shoes, 2 t-shirts, shorts, pants, a winter coat, gloves, a hat, special shoes to wear on the plane, and even shower sandals. He promises to give her all new gear every year, and he explains he will even wash her clothes for her. All she needs to do is play a game for four years.

In addition to the $200,000 cash and the gear, he promises to give her a monthly check to cover her rent and food. This amount is the same every month even if there are times of the year that she does not need to play the game as often. He promises that there will be plenty of time for her to take classes in any field that interests her. She can become whatever she wants to be when she grows up.

He does explain that he needs her help to show others how awesome this game is. He says that there will be times that she will have to take some of these new players to football games. It won’t be that bad because he promises to get her seats really close to the field. There may even be days that she can go on the field and watch the action up close and personal.

Lastly, he promises that there will be several younger participants that will look up to her. They will ask her for her autograph and tell their parents that she is who they want to be like when they get older. She has the potential to be in the newspaper, or even on television. She may even become a household name.

You daughter gets all the above if…..she plays the board game Twister for four years.

I know, you were assuming that all this was for a volleyball scholarship. If your daughter received all the above for a simple board game of Twister, you would be eternally grateful to the organization that so generously provided for your daughter and your family. That is how we must feel regarding volleyball scholarships. Your daughter has an opportunity to go to college for FREE….plus much more.

The love of the game must come first. If the end goal is to get a scholarship, then your daughter will stop being excited about the process when she commits to play collegiate volleyball. She needs to love the game through the good times and the bad. She should not feel as if she is entitled to anything. My sophomore year of college, I called my father crying. I was not getting the amount of playing time I thought I deserved. He interrupted me and said, “Jackie, just go to practice and play volleyball because you love volleyball.” He was right; I loved volleyball. After that, I played my heart out, not for playing time, but because it was the game I loved to play. The game does not owe you or your daughter anything. However, the game can provide everything if she shows her passion for her teammates, the love of the game, and the willingness to continue to learn and grow.

My dad kept the ball that started it all. When it was new we used it to pepper in the backyard when I was a kid. This ball is now tattered and torn, flat and unuseable, and my dad handed it to me the day I got in the car to drive to The Ohio State University to play for their volleyball program. It sat on my shelf in my dorm, apartment, and now in my office. It represents my volleyball life. I hope your daughter loves the game so much that she ruins a few balls in her career too.


The EliteVBTC Story

Club Volleyball?

Game Changer

If you are ever at a convention center volleyball tournament, take a moment to walk over to the 10 and Under – 12 and Under courts. As you mosey into this area, you will feel as if you are getting taller, but the nets are actually getting shorter. The ball is different also. Pick one up, and you will see it is lighter. Coaching styles and athlete body types are much different too. I am telling you, the 10U – 12U game is completely different from the game played by 13’s – 18’s.  The 13’s age group is a game changer for a lot of athletes.

At the age of 13, a volleyball player essentially becomes an adult volleyball player. She will be asked to play on a women’s regulation height net at 7 feet, 4 1/8 inches (compared to an 11/12-year-old net height of 7 feet, and 10-year-old net height of 6 feet 6 inches). To most athletes this is the difference of getting their hands over the height of the net at 12’s to barely getting their finger tips over the net at 13’s. The ball also changes from a “light,” volleyball (7-8 oz.) to a normal volleyball (9-10 oz.). To the average person a change of one ounce seems like nothing, but to a young girl still developing muscles and growing it can feel like 5 extra pounds.

Athletes ages 10 – 12, come in all different shapes and sizes. Some are short and round, others are tall and thin, and some are so tiny even the smallest size spandex look like basketball shorts on them. The most successful volleyball players ages 10-12 are the stronger, thicker girls. They are the ones with the best serve. They go back to the service line and serve a line drive ball that the other team has no hope of returning. The tiny volleyball players go back to the service line and try with all their might to get the ball over, just to have the ball barely clear the 10-foot line on their own side. Even if they do serve the ball over, it is usually in the form of an underhand serve. Underhand serves are the easiest to receive. Any good team is going to convert this serve into a hard-driven attack and a point.

When these volleyball players transition into 13’s, the strengths are almost reversed. Serving becomes less important. It is no longer the number one scorer but becomes just a way to enter the ball into the game. Most 13’s are able to get the majority of their serves over the net consistently. The girls who are taller and faster now have the advantage. Shorter and slower athletes now struggle to keep up with the speed of the game.

The skills that a 13-year-old athlete are expected to perform or at least be willing to try are:

  • Overhand Serve: Almost every 13-year-old is overhand serving. Most are using a Jump Float or Jump Top Spin Serve. The goal is to serve a tough enough ball that the other team cannot pass it to their setter at the net.
  • Full Approach Jump and Attack: She must be able to transition off the net and expect to get set the ball. Once she is set, she must be able to approach, jump and score.
  • Block: She will not need to be an expert blocker. However, she should be showing desire to stop the other team’s attacker by blocking.
  • Use Three Contacts: Passing the ball over the net in one contact or sending a ball over by passing/setting (also known as a freeball) is no longer acceptable. The only way to beat the other team is to start passing, setting, and hitting the ball hard.
  • Running Plays: Most 13-year-old teams will start running plays off of serve receive or freeballs. The idea is to confuse the other team, so they are not ready for the attack. Here’s an example of one of our Elite Volleyball Training Center teams running a front one and a back one play off of serve receive.
  • Dig a hard-driven attack: She must be able to dig a hard-driven attack up in the air. This ball should not go over the net but should be directed toward the 10-foot line on her own side.
  • Be a good teammate: She must be able to cheer on her teammates, even if she’s on the bench. Most 13’s and older volleyball players are only playing 3 of the 6 rotations. Usually they are either playing front row or back row.
  • Tell someone what to do: Feedback is crucial in the game of volleyball. She should be able to look at her setter, when she receives a bad set, and say, “I need it higher.” This should be done without fear of hurting her setter’s feelings. The team is working toward a common goal of winning. If she needs a better set to score, she needs to speak up.
  • Take criticism: On the other side, she needs to be able to take this feedback. If she’s not passing a good ball to the setter, she may be replaced by someone from the bench who can. She needs to maintain a positive attitude and be willing to hear her faults, so she can correct these mistakes.

Just because a volleyball player was good/great when she played on a 12 and Under team, does not mean she will be good/great at 13’s. There are 5-6 months between the end of the season to the start of the next. That is a lot of time for athletes’ bodies to grow taller, thinner, or faster. Make sure your athlete is working on the things listed above in the off-season. The key is to be an athlete first, and a volleyball player second. A coach can teach anyone to play volleyball if they are jumping higher than everyone in the gym. A coach cannot make you faster or jump higher if you are not willing to put in the time to get there. Our staff at Elite Volleyball Training Center works with athletes transitioning from the Junior’s game to the adult game every day. We would love the opportunity to work with your daughter in a lesson or clinic to help her reach her goals.

Early Contracts

Beach Volleyball has begun and the indoor club volleyball season is coming to an end. Most athletes seem to be glad for the change of scenery with Beach Volleyball. However, with the indoor club volleyball season wrapping up for the year, there are a few things you should be aware of going into the Summer months.

In the Ohio Valley Region, clubs affiliated with USA Volleyball are permitted to offer contracts to their current athletes for next years club season. The window of opportunity for clubs to distribute these early contracts is June 1 through July 31. There are some things you should know before signing a contract to any club:

  • Clubs are not allowed to offer contracts to members of any other club until tryouts. 
  • Clubs can offer early contracts to current club members anytime between June 1 through July 31. At Elite Volleyball Training Center, we typically wait until a team is completely done with the season. This means 12 year old contracts may go out earlier than a 17 year old’s contract. 12 teams are done in May but 17’s teams are done closer to July. If you do not hear from us by July 4, feel free to reach out to us if you have questions.
  • Clubs can designate their own deadline for when these early contracts must be accepted. Make sure you know when you need to get back to them with a response.
  • Some clubs ask for a deposit at the time of acceptance. This is a great way to get a head start on paying your club fees.
  • It is nearly impossible to nail down coaches for next years club season in June. Do not sign the contract just because of the coach designated to the team. Make sure you would be happy with the team even if that coach decides to not coach anymore.
  • Signing the contract means that you are committed to that club no matter what. The Ohio Valley Region states that these early contracts are binding. This means that you cannot attend another club’s tryout if you sign an early contract. Terminating your contract could lead to a club asking you for your fees in full before releasing you to play for another club. If unforeseen circumstances do arise, do not wait until after tryouts to discuss termination of a contract. Reach out to your club director before tryouts so the club has the best chance of finding a replacement for you.
  • Some clubs will offer contracts back to the club, but you will need to attend tryouts to determine what team you will make. Before signing this type of contract, make sure you can see yourself playing on the lowest level team listed within the club/contract. If you end up being placed on a higher level team at tryouts, consider that a benefit.
  • Only sign your contract if you feel that you are comfortable with the club. At Elite Volleyball Training Center, we will not hold it against any athlete if they choose to not accept their early contract.
  • It is not the end of the world if you do not receive a contract. Volleyball Clubs need to keep spaces open in case there are other athletes that want to change clubs. Plan to attend tryouts and fight for the spot you had last year.

Parents sometimes question why a club would hand out an early contract back to the club versus back to a specific team. For example, Suzy played for a local club on a 12 National team for the last season (a National team is typically the highest level team, and Regional is the lowest level team). Her club sends her an early contract on June 15 stating that she has been offered a spot to one of the three 13’s teams that the club will have for the upcoming season. By signing this contract Suzy, and her parents, are agreeing that she is ok with the possibility that she could move from a National team down to a Regional team. In short, she is agreeing that she understands that in order to keep her spot on the National team she is going to have to be one of the best in her position at tryouts. Clubs use this process to motivate their athletes to ensure they do not become complacent. Athletes should battle to not only earn their spot on the top, but also hold onto their current spot. Consider this contract as motivation to prove to that club that you deserve to be on the highest team.

In this situation, some parents and athletes will choose to not accept this contract. Just be aware that there is a chance that another athlete could come in to tryouts and take your daughter’s guaranteed spot in the club.

These early contracts are intended for the athlete that loves her current club and does not want to go through the stress of trying out for other clubs. At Elite Volleyball Training Center, we have had instances where athletes decided not to accept a contract and lost their spot to someone at tryouts. We understand it can be hard to commit to a program that does not start for another 5 or 6 months. However, declining a contract means you need to prepare to tryout at 3-5 different clubs in the fall.

Clubs in the Ohio Valley Region are going to offer early contracts regardless if they agree with the process or not. Make sure you educate yourself prior to signing anything. It is important that you know the best and worst case scenarios with signing an early contract. Do not think your club does not like you if you do not receive a contract. Reach out to your club and ask what you need to work on to stand out at tryouts. We want all our athletes to have a good experience from start to finish at Elite Volleyball Training Center. We are happy to answer any questions about early contracts even if you do not play for our club.