Sneak peek at an exciting 2019-2020 Serve City Volleyball season ahead

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by Jeff Smith

The next club volleyball season doesn’t officially start until November 25, so some plans are written in pencil instead of ink. But we’ve already begun crafting an exciting 2019-2020 campaign.

Here are some of Serve City’s hopes and goals for a memorable and meaningful new season.

National and regional teams at every age level

In 2017-18, we were able to field our first two national teams that competed in the Asics Jr. National Championships at Navy Pier in Chicago. This year that figure will double to four later this month.

Next year, our hope is to field one national team at every age level from 12U to 18U. Our national teams will be true national teams in that, instead of giving the national squads a three-week break in April like we did this year, they will continue training and playing tournaments throughout April and May into June.

This change will ensure that our national teams receive the kind of sustained training they need to continue growing and developing their skills, tactics, strategies and chemistry as individual players and as teams.

Having said that, regional teams will always be a vital component and the primary focus of Serve City. Our hope is to field two regional teams and one national team at each age level from 12U to 16U along with one regional team and one national team at 18U for those athletes who love volleyball but need to conclude their seasons in April. Regional teams will form the nucleus of our enrollment. Our enduring mission is to make quality club volleyball training accessible to all middle-class and working-class families in the western suburbs, and our regional team program plays a critical part in that purpose.

We also plan to offer two and possibly three middle school short season teams in 2019-20 after running two short season teams in 2018-19. Our short season program is popular with families who either want an 8- to 9-week season that gives their daughter a taste of club volleyball, can’t afford the cost of a full season of club volleyball or whose girls don't have time to devote themselves to a full regional or national season.

What the 2019-20 schedule will look like

After tryouts on Oct. 6 for middle school and Oct. 27 for high school, our practices will begin the week after Thanksgiving (Nov. 25-29). The regional season wraps up the week of April 13-18. Our national season will end at Asics Jr. Nationals June 19-21 for 15U to 18U national teams and June 22-23 for 12U to 14U.

Our regional and national teams will again practice two weeknights per week and most likely in the same format as this year. One practice will be as an individual team and then one combined practice on multiple courts with other teams of similar age levels and with a lead trainer running that practice while the other teams’ coaches still work with their teams.

This format works well on many levels. It gives our athletes opportunities to train more in a 6v6 game-like format for parts of the combined practices. It also ensures that our teams are being trained based on a structured, intentional player and team development model for each age level. This model enables athletes to learn specific skills, tactics, offensive and defensive systems and strategies that progress them developmentally from 12U to 18U.

New positional training option

Because of our expanded plans for national teams and our desire to offer regional team athletes additional opportunities to develop their skills, we also are planning to run positional training clinics one weeknight a week from the end of November until April 15. The positional training clinics will be optional, but for a reasonable additional cost you can sign up your daughter for as many of these clinics as she’d like to attend for her age group. This new option will provide our athletes with an extra venue for learning new skills and refining current skills throughout the season.

Unlike many clubs where positional training is required, families who aren’t interested in this clinic series or who don’t have the time or funds for these clinics will not be required to participate nor pay for them.

Serve City’s family-friendly focus

As a family-focused club, we will again give our teams 2 1/2 weeks off for Christmas and New Year’s and nine days off for spring break so our athletes can spend quality time with their families. We will also intentionally wait to start the club season until the Monday after Thanksgiving for this same reason. Most clubs kick off their practice schedule the first or second week of November, but we want to continue giving our athletes a longer break between the fall school season and the club season so they can rest, recover and re-energize before hitting the club schedule.

We will also continue scheduling only tournaments in the Chicago area. Our teams will not participate in any overnight tournaments that, truth be told, only serve to drain a family’s time together along with their pocketbooks. (As a former national team coach at another club, I know this from experience.)

The Chicago area features some of the best club volleyball in the country. There are plenty of good to outstanding club tournaments here that our teams can enter, as well as the Windy City Power League and the Chicago Volleyball League, which we will continue registering our teams for in 2020.

Our hope is to register our strongest national teams in 1-2 two-day pre-national tournaments at such prestigious club tournaments as Sky High’s national invitationals to expose our most experienced national teams to the best competition. This strategy will allow our national teams to sharpen their skills against opponents who will prepare them best for Asics Jr. Nationals.

And, as usual, our player fees will be either the lowest or nearly the lowest fees of any Chicago-area volleyball club. We offered the lowest fees this season, But you never know if another club comes along and offers even lower fees, though we expect our fees will still be the lowest in 2019-2020.

Continued emphasis on helping athletes reach their potential as people

One of our most heartfelt missions is to assist athletes in reaching their highest potential on and off the court. It’s one reason why our Serve City Serves program is so important. We believe volleyball is a tremendous tool not only from an athletic standpoint but in training our youth in the life skills and values needed to excel as Americans, as leaders, as compassionate servant-minded people, as students, family members and positive contributors to society.

With this in mind, we will continue to emphasize our three core values of Excellence, Relationships and Love in each practice throughout the season as well as provide service opportunities that help our athletes see how they can impact the lives of others in their communities and around the world.

Ultimately, as enjoyable as it is to win a match, execute a new skill or achieve a team or personal goal, the life lessons learned over the course of each club volleyball season will be the most enduring qualities that athletes take away from their Serve City experience.

Jeff Smith is Serve City’s volleyball director.