Volleyball Developments Camps, based in England joined the JVA during the 2017 AVCA Convention in Kansas City. Widely known as “VbDC”, the organization is not a club, although it has become linked with many clubs in the United Kingdom and continental Europe since it was established in 2005. Its main activity is providing development training for junior volleyball athletes, the training of coaches, and assistance for high level athletes who wish to investigate their potential for playing at a US or Canadian university.
VbDC was set up by three enthusiasts who now share over a century of volleyball experience between them: John Biddiscombe, a club player, coach and administrator at local, county, regional and national levels, and two American expats, Bob and Deb Pickens. Bob, a latecomer player, coach and administrator, was introduced to the game by his wife Deb, a PE instructor at an international school and University of Missouri varsity volleyball veteran (who received her letter jacket 41 years after graduating the year before Title IX took effect).
The three set up VbDC initially to be a club activity because there was almost no way for young volleyball athletes in the country to acquire structured developmental training.
Finding a Niche
With the London Olympics less than a decade away, most clubs were geared exclusively toward adult participation, and interscholastic high school volleyball was almost non-existent – in fact the national PE curriculum for state primary and secondary schools had no requirement for volleyball being taught as a module. Unless a junior athlete happened to be noticed by the sport’s national governing body, which might then invite them to a training camp, there was almost no way for juniors to participate in anything other than the occasional recreational game.
Volleyball is still a minority sport in England, despite a respectable record for British athletes having played ball at North American universities and in European professional leagues. Host nation entitlement to enter a team in the 2012 Olympics created a spike of interest in the sport, though not enough for it to break out of its minority status. Nevertheless, recent years have seen a steady increase of interest in the sport by juniors, driven by commercial interests such as VbDC, enlightened clubs that are now beginning to create junior programs, and the national governing body. Schools, however, continue to lag behind and are still not required to include volleyball in their PE curriculum, one of the major impediments to growth of the sport in Britain.
From the single summer camp launched 13 years ago, VbDC has grown to offer 11 camps a year, each with a curriculum tailored to specific skill levels.
Youngsters from the age of about 8 who want to learn the sport can attend the First Stepz Camp, run in two-hour sessions over consecutive weekends
Athletes who have been named to their national squad or who play in the first division of their national league can apply to take part in the annual August Elite Camp, which is limited to 12 male and 12 female athletes.
At these and all camps in between, the coach-to-athlete ratio is maintained at about 1:6, and except for the Elite Camp, enrolment is restricted to around 30-36 athletes.
The summer camps have an optional residential component, with athletes either being housed with host families, in university dormitories, or in youth hostels. All residential athletes under the age of 18 are accompanied by chaperones 24/7. Resident athletes can participate in non-volleyball activities organized by VbDC, such as cultural and sightseeing tours, take part in informal scrimmages with local clubs, or, in a new activity being organized, as member of a VbDC team entered in international junior tournaments across Europe. While open to all, this is being created with North American athletes in mind, to enable them to experience the game as played in Europe.
There are two levels of instruction:
- “Skills” which concentrates on individual ball-handling closed-ended drill and
- “Performance” which is team-based, open-ended game simulation drills.
Participants at the advanced level must submit assessments from their club or school coaches, videos and for the Elite Camp a handwritten 250-word essay, to ensure they attend the camp that will benefit them most, and also to cooperate with the athlete’s principle coach.
VbDC coaches are drawn from an international pool of national team and national development staff. The growth in the number of VbDC activities – specialized camps are currently being planned – means there is an increased requirement for coaches specialized in instructing specific age groups, or who have foreign language skills that can supplement their coaching.
VbDC has introduced a North American style of developmental volleyball coaching to the UK, but has intentionally given its camps an emphasis on European-style training and kept the camp participation at low numbers to create a more personalized training regime.
By joining the Junior Volleyball Association VbDC is hoping to improve its awareness of current trends and practices in volleyball in North America, which it can bring to Europe, and also to form connections with North American clubs and share its experience in the European game across the Atlantic.
About the Author
Bob Pickens only had a passing awareness of volleyball as he grew up in Mississippi, but while attending the University of Missouri a chance meeting in a car park introduced him to a player on the Mizzou varsity women’s team who agreed to a date, showed him the game and eventually became his wife. After graduation Bob and Deb played in local leagues in the Kansas City area, and in 1980 he took a leave of absence from his job as a newspaper reporter and followed his new wife to Britain when she was offered a job as a volleyball coach at an international school. Soon after he was asked to edit a newspaper, and he and Deb have lived in England ever since.
During that time he has helped form a club in Farnham, Surrey, where they live, raised two sons in a volleyball-minded household who went on to play for the England juniors and England national league teams, and became involved in local leagues. Bob works with the South East Volleyball Association’s regional youth development programme by coaching beginning boys’ teams, and has chaired the Surrey Volleyball Association for two years, concentrating on efforts to revitalise the SVA’s infrastructure, bring new area clubs into its competitive schedule, and introduce a plan for junior development in the county.
Bob’s main duties at VbDC involve working on external communications and marketing, and providing logistical support for the growing number of camps, and helping as an assistant coach.