Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Triumphant Return

I figure that the beginning of September marks the unofficial beginning of the volleyball season. And since this blog has been on life support for far too long, I thought it was time to try and breathe some new life into it.

I've had a really interesting summer as far as volleyball goes. But since there isn't anything worse than talking about recent history, I won't spend any time revisiting it, with the exception of one thing...

At the beginning of August, I had the chance to visit the KidsVolley camp at VK Hjallese on the Southside of Odense. When I got the invitation to come by and spend time working with the kids, I was a little nervous about accepting, I knew very little about KidsVolley and didn't really have an idea as to what they would find interesting or fun to do. In the end, I couldn't say no, and as it turns out, it was one of the best volleyball/social experiences I've had in some time.

I don't want to make it seem like this was a huge production, in fact it was the opposite. I showed up at the camp, was greeted by the always positive Aase Bechsgaard, who had sketched out a rough schedule, and Dorthe Windeleff who was helping as well, and then we started. Even though many of them had been to last year's Pokal final, none of them really knew who I was (not surprising when you play on a team with Shaun and Geo).

So, we started with a small introduction, told a little bit about our experience in volleyball and explained what kinds of opportunities there were in the world of volleyball. After this, we spent a little time playing pepper, setting and showing off. I got the chance to warm up the old shoulder and hit some balls on a KidsVolley net, etc... Finally, Dorthe and I played short matches against all the different levels of KidsVolley players at the camp. Everything from age 6 to 13-15 I believe. We got a chance to learn the rules for each level and to experience the game from on the court. Once we were done, we signed some autographs and took a picture. About two hours in all.

The kids seemed to have a great time, and all of them were better than I had imagined. They were obviously excited to have the chance to meet some real volleyball "stars" and it didn't really matter that they had no idea who we were beforehand. It's not news that KidsVolley has been an incredible success, and that the future of volleyball looks positive, but for me it was a special experience.

I wanted to share my visit to VK Hjallese because the more I thought about it afterwards, the more obvious it was to me that it should be happening in every KidsVolley club in the country. As I said before, the kids didn't really know who I was when I came. Sometimes I forget in the small world of volleyball Denmark that there are lots and lots of people who play who don't really keep up with the elite division. That includes almost every KidsVolley player that doesn't play in one of the big elite clubs. The more they get exposed to the Elite level players, the more role models they have to look up to and the more they see what higher level volleyball looks like, the more I think they will be engaged with the sport. If nothing else, it can be a fun experience for younger players to meet someone who is at the top of the sport. I know when I was younger, a big part of my attraction to the sport came from watching the older players play. I simply wanted to be like them.

Clearly, the practice program that I described earlier could be easily copied. I know that I'm not even close to being one of the most interesting players to meet in the league. If the kids think that watching me hit is exciting, then I would love to see what they would do if Kristian Knudsen, Geovan Santos, Mads Ditlevsen or Shaun Powell showed up at their training one day and put on a little show. I don't know if there are other KidsVolley clubs out there that would find it interesting to have an Elite player come by their practice but I would bet there are...

The bottom line is that I really had a good time getting out and meeting what will hopefully be the next generation of volleyball players. I think the kids enjoyed it as well, and I'd love to hear if there are other clubs out there that have done the same thing...