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.