Illini Elite opened in 1998 with 1 team and no dedicated facility, but had a tested blueprint for how to successfully develop volleyball players. Since then, their programs have grown to include over 70 teams with over 750 players and coaches. They are now one of the largest volleyball clubs in Illinois by membership size. With over 300 alumni that played or are currently playing collegiate volleyball, Illini Elite is widely regarded as the premier volleyball club in Central Illinois for developing youth volleyball players.
In 2004, the Illini Elite Training Center opened, making Illini Elite the only Central Illinois club to have its own dedicated facility. The club was one of the founding clubs of JVA (then JVDA) in 2006 and has been a member ever since. In the Fall of 2018 Illini Elite moved the IETC into a brand new facility. The new facility is a 34,000 sq. ft. climate controlled building with six competition courts, ProShop, concessions, training room, and a large office and storage space.
While the recent pandemic has created countless obstacles, it has also created new opportunities for Illini Elite to adjust and persevere.
Due to the schedule changes for high school and junior high volleyball seasons, the club was able to adjust their club schedule this year to start in the fall. This allowed Illini Elite to run a pre-season training program and expand tryouts to a full week of evaluation. They have taken breaks as recommended by local health departs and will pause for their athletes to participate with their junior high and high school teams without having to choose between the two.
While some clubs were frustrated by state restrictions that limited youth sports and the size of gatherings, Illini Elite embraced the measures to provide a larger offering of their summer camps with smaller group sizes. They even ran a middle hitter camp with only 2 players. Their six court facility split up into 4 isolated courts with bleachers and wood barriers and only two of those courts were used at a time.
Youth Academy – In the Fall of 2018 Illini Elite shifted from independent junior high clinics to the Illini Elite Youth Academy (IEYA), a Train & Play model where players could progress through the levels at their own pace. They have continued to offer IEYA sessions throughout the re-opening process.
Inclusion and Racial Equity
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and as racial justice movements recaptured our country’s collective attention, Michelle Erins, Ilini Elite 17U Coach created a curriculum for her athletes to educate themselves on the current issues and challenges facing Black America today, and to step outside of their comfort zone to see or hear someone else’s point of view. Michelle shared her detailed curriculum along with resources and her personal inspiration for change with the JVA community. If you are a Club Director or Coach seeking actionable ways to have these discussions among your fellow coaches and athletes, view some potential steps to get started.
Illini Elite is lucky enough to have 3 full time directors that serve as master coaches for all team practices, camps, clinics, and lessons. The directors create a practice plan for every practice, camp, and clinic so that no individual coach is responsible for coming up with their own plan. This also creates a clear progression so that every coach is teaching the same concepts and players do not have to start over every year. Check out the social distancing drills to help enforce social distancing with a group or team of athletes from the Illini Elite staff during the middle of the pandemic.
The directors/master coaches are also available to teach and provide feedback for each team/court coach. Illini Elite is able to bring in parents of players as a great resource for new coaches in their youth programs. These parents are able to shadow a current club coach to learn the basics and become invaluable assets, even after their players graduate and move on.
Like most clubs, Illini Elite is looking forward to getting back into the gym and providing a safe and fun place to play for as many youth volleyball players as possible!
Illini Elite (Bloomington, IL) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization committed to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for club directors, coaches, players, and fans.