The Three Gifts We're Most Grateful for This Christmas

As I was preparing to leave a parent meeting I led for two of Serve City's club teams, one of the moms in attendance asked if she could talk for a minute. After pulling me aside, the first words out of her mouth were music to my ears: "I just want to let you know how grateful I am that my daughter switched to this club."

The mom went on to reveal that her daughter had played for one of the area's most elite clubs last year. "They were such a large club that they were like a big factory," she said. "There would be 10 teams and over 100 girls all practicing at the same time. They treated the girls like numbers on an inventory sheet. They got no individual instruction or attention. My daughter received more attention and got more instruction in her first practice here than she did the whole year at (her previous club). She already feels more valued at Serve City after one practice than she ever felt last year. It's more like a family here, too."

Stories like this don't just materialize out of thin air. They are the result of numerous hours of hard work, intentional planning and significant contributions from an entire team of people at Serve City. As we celebrate with gift giving this Christmas, we recognize three early Christmas gifts to Serve City -- the three key groups that turn our motto of love, relationships and excellence into reality.

Our athletes: The players on our 19 boys and girls club teams form the heart and soul of our program. Serve City draws athletes to our teams that are a cut above the rest in terms of their teach-ability, respect, enthusiasm, character and values. Our athletes bring so much energy, passion and joy to each practice and tournament that our coaches love coming to the gym each week.

Our players exhibit the same zeal for life off the court, such as when our four Elgin teams packed over 19,000 meals for needy kids in Africa through Feed My Starving Children Dec. 19. Watching 40-plus young athletes and a dozen parents pack enough food to feed 53 malnourished children in Malawi for a full year may have been my favorite moment of the club season so far. Then, our West Chicago 17 Smack team committed the same generous act of service by preparing meals for poor families in the Chicago area at Northern Illinois Food Bank Dec. 21.

Of course, seeing over 200 players representing Serve City on 19 teams at tournaments around the Chicago area this year has been an incredible blessing. These young athletes are representing Serve City with pride, and we are grateful to each one of them.

Our parents: We may be a tad biased, but we feel Serve City has the most supportive parents of any club in our region. Our parents go above and beyond to help make club volleyball a terrific experience for their kids and our athletes. From filling team parent roles to cheering on their team, not just their own child, at tournaments, our athletes' parents play a crucial part in the success of our program.

Our coaches: We unabashedly ask a lot of our coaches. The reason is simple: The role they fulfill with their team is critical to the development of their athletes and the positioning of Serve City as a club that is a cut above the rest in combining love and relationships with excellence. It takes a special kind of person to be able to train young athletes to reach their highest potential on and of the court while treating them with dignity, respect and care. Some clubs resort to using physical punishment (do 10 burpees each time you "let" a ball hit the floor) and consequences (the whole team runs lines if you miss this serve) to "train" their players in practice. We believe a positive approach is the better approach, and we hire coaches based on our unique philosophy.

From carefully planning practices to seeking out creative ways to develop team chemistry to one coach even making libero jerseys by hand for our preseason tournaments, our coaches pour their hearts into what they do and go the extra mile to help their athletes learn, grow and feel accepted and important. Each coach is a gift to our organization and to the teams and athletes they serve.

On behalf of everyone at Serve City, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year and a special time with family and friends this holiday season.