November 29, 2022

Why is US volleyball the way it is?

I had the following come in via email from a coach in the UK.

I have followed your blog, material and career since Coaching Wizards and the articles you post are of great interest and value, and stimulate thought, debate and reflection.

More power to your elbow!

The US and UK systems are very different, and I was wondering why? For example:

a) the UK season runs from September to April and yet your women’s NCAA season can be over by mid November, mid December latest. Why is that? How do coaches and / or players keep up to speed on volleyball through such a long post, off and pre season? And which do you find preferable, and why?

b) why does volleyball in US have so many variations of the Rules of the Game? High School, NCAA vary markedly from the FIVB Rules? Not sure about Junior College or Club in US, and which version they subscribe to! Is it not confusing for those who play across the different regimes, or move from one to another? I had an American libero one season and during one game she said to me “do you want me to serve for Annie as she is not having a great day?”. Bit of a surprise as libero does not serve under FIVB Rules. Is it twelve substitutions rather than six?

Just interested in the rationale and reasoning for such rules coming in to being.

Lots to unpack here. Let me start with the second part first.

Rules

The college, club, and high school levels in the US all have the own rule books – multiple different ones, in fact, because there are different governing bodies involved (NCAA vs. NJCAA vs. NAIA for example). While those rule books are largely in line with the FIVB rules, there are some notable differences. Substitutions and libero actions are two of the most obvious.

The men’s game at the NCAA Division I/II level is the only place where you see essentially FIVB rules. Liberos cannot serve, only six total subs are allowed, and a player can only enter once (starting doesn’t count as an entry). Elsewhere, substitution limits vary considerably. In some cases they are unlimited! Mostly, though, they are between 12 and 18. This is the subject of regular debate. I won’t go into it here, but basically more subs allows for more players to participate.

Can it be confusing when moving from one set of rules to another? I suppose, but the big things are largely the same. It’s just some finer points here and there that vary.

Seasons

Now for the question of seasons.

In school-based sports in the US we generally have 3 seasons. Fall and Spring are mainly for outdoor sports, with Winter for the indoor ones. Volleyball is Fall (women/girls in most places) and Spring (men/boys mainly) because basketball is generally a Winter sport and sucks up all the court time.

What happens outside those regular seasons depends on the level. In college, there is training and a limited amount of competition in the other part of the year. For high school aged athletes you’re generally talking about club volleyball filling the gap. So we’re a long way from having just 3-4 months of volleyball per year.

Which do I prefer?

The way my mind works, I tend to favor the US model more because you have a changing array of challenges over the course of the year (in-season, out-of-season, off-season, recruiting, etc.). The steady state of the European calendar was more of a grind for me. At the same time, though, I can definitely see the benefit to spreading things out over a longer season.

What do you think?

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