By Walter Munday
Over the last decade or so, the evolution of club/travel sports has grown into big business. For kids who aspire to play their chosen sport at the next level, it has become almost a necessity.
That “next level” once referred mostly to college sports, but now, with club/travel sports starting with kids as young as six in some sports, that next level today may refer to high school.
According to a TIME Magazine article published in August, senior writer Sean Gregory explores the growing business of kids’ sports — a $15.3 billion industry that has nearly doubled during the past 10 years. The article indicates that between league fees, camps, equipment, training and travel, families are spending as much as 10% of their income on sports, according to survey research from Utah State University.
Some might question how parents justify such an expense. The response from many parents is… “I want to give my child the opportunity to compete at the next level and realize their dreams.” Or, “I’m hoping the investment will pay-off with a college scholarship.”
To sports enthusiasts, their reasoning is somewhat valid. A USA Today article published in May released the results of a NCAA survey of 21,233 current college athletes. The survey asked student athletes if they’d played club/travel sports prior to college. Athletes in a few sports overwhelmingly reported they played on a club team. For women’s college volleyball, 91% indicated they competed on a club volleyball team.
What if a parent can’t afford for their child to play club sports, specifically club volleyball? It’s true that lots of talented and passionate athletes are in fact being priced out of the club system. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly harder to even make your high school team if you’re not involved in club sports during the off-season.
So what are some solutions?
One of those gaps has been filled by the Metro Parks Volleyball Academy (MPVA) in Louisville. MPVA is preparing to compete in its second year of club volleyball. Initial discussions for the program started about two years ago between Adam Barrett, Center Supervisor at Cyril Allgeier Community Center and KIVA (WHAT IS KIVA?) officials. The purpose of the program is to break barriers preventing young ladies from playing club volleyball that include financial limitations and experience.
The team is coached by Lauren Benz, an eighth grade math teacher and volleyball coach at Highland Middle School and a passionate advocate for MPVA.
““I am so passionate about coaching for MPVA. This program gives ANY player a chance, regardless of their school, to play volleyball at a competitive level and not break their parent’s wallet,” said Benz.
Benz indicated that in some cases, it’s not always about the ability or willingness to pay, but the school the player attends. Those who follow high school volleyball in Kentucky know that Assumption, Sacred Heart and Mercy, all private Louisville schools, routinely are the top competitors in high school volleyball.
“If your name doesn’t appear on one of those rosters, your chances of playing club volleyball on some of Louisville’s top teams is a longshot” said Benz.
“I played volleyball for a small high school here in the city which didn’t have the reputation or lineage for competitive volleyball,” she said. “I strongly believed that’s part of the reason why I, unfortunately, struggled to make several club rosters.”
During the first year, MPVA went 15-17. They participated in three tournaments, three power leagues and three organized scrimmages. According to Barrett, who also serves as MPVA’s Club Director, and Coach Benz, the average cost for club/competitive volleyball in the Louisville area is about $2,500 annually. MPVA costs a total of $500, which includes customized uniforms.
Mia is a 14-year-old freshman at Atherton High School. She started playing volleyball in a recreational league at Cyril Allgeier at the age of nine. Mia, who already stands 6’0, plays. middle or outside hitter, and would love to play volleyball in college. Her career goal is to become a neonatal nurse practitioner.
Jordan is several years younger. She’s 11 and a 6th grader at Jefferson Tradition Middle School (JCTMS). Jordan initially began playing volleyball at Southeast Christian Church, but later moved over to playing regularly recreational volleyball at the age of eight at Cyril Allgeier. Jordan is a 5’7 defensive specialist.
Recently I had the chance to catch-up with Coach Benz and a few of the players and parents. Meet Mia Tyler and Jordan Cathey.
Mia’s parents (James and April Tyler) love MPVA, and the coaching style of Coach Benz.
“We love watching Mia play, and her ability to adapt to instruction and apply it to game situations,” said April Tyler.
Joseph Cathey agreed. A man of a few words, Joseph said,
“At the end of the day, I want Jordan to have the opportunity play a sport she enjoys, and just have fun!”
Barrett reflected on what he felt was the most memorable moment from the first season. Adam pointed to the match against Prodigy, a well-established club team from Sellersburg, Ind.
“We understood the risks of starting a junior club team,” said Barrett. “We knew why it should work, but were a little nervous as to if it would work. On January 14, 2017, we were playing Prodigy. We lost the first set 18-25, before coming back to win the second set 25-16, and the third set 15-12. It was right after that match when the “if” became “yes”… It will work,” said Barrett.
With the skyrocketing costs and pressures of club sports, the element of “fun” often takes a backseat to winning. One of the youngest players on the team last year was Savanah Scarlott, a seventh grader at Highland Middle School. When she wasn’t on the floor, Savanah danced around the sidelines while cheering for her teammates. It was that small, yet refreshing reminder that volleyball, like all sports, were meant to be fun despite all of the pressure of winning and individual performance placed on young athletes.
Several parents made it very clear that while MPVA was a more economical alternative to the larger clubs, the instruction and player advancement from Coach Benz was top notch. Others pointed to the team atmosphere and camaraderie as highlights during the first year.
Apparently, other players and parents took notice. Interest in MPVA has grown tremendously, sparking the club to add two additional teams for this upcoming season. MPVA will suit up three teams: 12 & under, 14 & under and a 16 & under. Barrett and Benz indicated they’ll have three head coaches this year, and one assistant for each team. One of the coaches will focus on strength and conditioning. Tryouts for this year’s teams were held in mid-November.
For more information about MPVA, email Adam Barrett at Adam.Barrett@louisvilleky.gov.