Pittsburgh Elite began as Pittsburgh Golden Triangles in 1989, and was one of the first clubs in the Pittsburgh area to offer volleyball to both boys and girls. Three teams competed nationally in the 1990 season. Two of those teams produced two US National Team players, Jen Flynn Oldenburg and Salima Davidson Rockwell, who played at Ohio State (current head coach) and Penn State (now national volleyball commentator), respectively. In 1995 the club changed its name and grew into 35 teams over the years, fielding teams from 10U through 18U.
As the club grew and evolved, Pittsburgh Elite Volleyball converted a warehouse into a five court volleyball facility and this is where they’ve called home for the past 10 years. During the pandemic, Pittsburgh Elite cut back to 26 teams in order to operate safely within their facility. Like most clubs, not having spectators in their gym and having limited spectators when traveling to tournaments forced the club to make adjustments when it came to the use of communication and technology.
“Considering COVID has changed the way our gym looks and how we function this season with no spectators, we wanted to find a way to keep our families involved in practices and home events”, shares Pittsburgh Elite Co-Director Ashley Green. “We believe the pandemic has helped make our communication with families stronger, as well as our use of technology to promote our athletes.”
The club’s technology coordinators were creative and innovative, and installed live stream cameras on each court, which has allowed the families an opportunity to stay connected to their athletes, the teams and their training through BOXCAST. In addition, Pitt Elite uses a HUDL package on the road at tournaments so families can watch the matches, and also pull film for recruiting videos. This is something that they will stick with in the future.
Pittsburgh Elite offers many programs to athletes of all ages. Free youth clinics are offered a number of times throughout the club season. These clinics are appropriate for new or beginner athletes in 1st through 8th grade who wish to learn the unique skills needed to play volleyball. It is a fun afternoon of skill development and cooperative games focused on passing, setting, hitting and serving with encouraging coaches!
Volley Tots is a parent and child class focusing on motor development, coordination, and introducing the game of volleyball. This program is open to boys and girls ages two to six and consists of six weeks of instruction.
“We love this program because not only does it very young kids in the gym learning about movement and volleyball, but also the parents too!” exclaims Green.
Another grassroots program is Winter Skills. This program consists of four weeks of skill development, team concepts, and mini games tailored to the beginner and intermediate athlete. Coaches work to improve each athlete’s ability to successfully serve, pass, set, and attack in a fun-filled and energetic environment. Winter Skills is open to male and female athletes in 5th through 8th grade. Winter Skills Junior is open to boys and girls in 1st through 4th grade.
Another program that Pittsburgh Elite started this season is the new and strengthened Pittsburgh Youth League and Pittsburgh Youth League Junior. This is one of the club’s most popular programs yet! Each cycle of Pittsburgh Youth League is six weeks long. Practices are once per week with many competition opportunities throughout the session. This is ideal for the athlete looking for an alternative to travel volleyball and a place to improve their skills. PYL is for athletes aged 1st-8th grade.
The Pittsburgh Youth League and the Train and Play League provide opportunities for training for those athletes who do not participate on travel teams so, all in all, the club serves upwards of 500 athletes a season.
This season, Pittsburgh Elite featured a community service project called “#LibbyStrong on the Move” in support of one of their athletes who is battling brain cancer. T-shirts, yard signs, and donations raised money for the family, and the Pitt Elite staff and members ran a lap around the facility to support and inspire Libby. The travel team members also have drawn pictures, and written letters and notes of encouragement.
Pitt Elite makes sure every athlete has an opportunity to participate in volleyball. The club extends financial assistance to athletes with demonstrated financial need who will be competing on a travel team. There are also a number of fundraisers throughout the season to assist families with their club dies. Some of their favorites are the Lottery Calendars, Serve-a-Thon, Pittsburgh pierogies truck, and Night at the Races.
The leadership at Pitt Elite believe that learning is a continuous process, so the club offer opportunities to their coaches to grow and evolve. Throughout the club season the club feature’s a guest speaker at a coaching clinic. Earlier this season, Dan Fisher, University of Pittsburgh Head Coach, and his staff came in for a coaching clinic. Coaches receive an Art of Coaching volleyball subscription, and there is an exclusive coaches’ page on the website featuring articles and professional development opportunities. Also, Pittsburgh Elite has LEAD coaches who plan practice and attend every practice to guide routine and structure, and assist with more intense training. It is important that the coaches continue to evolve as teachers and learners of the game.
Mental Development, Fitness and Nutrition
While physical training is the main focus of our training, we also incorporate the mental training aspects too. Coaches take time in practice to discuss goal setting, and have conversations about “what went well” and “what we can improve on”. We value these types of conversations with our athletes, acknowledging that sports can provide many life lessons. We also have an “Affirmation Station” wall in our gym. It is a magnetic wall full of positive statements. Athletes are encouraged to take affirmations from the wall if they feel a connection to them, as well as add to the wall some statements that have helped them or can help others.
In addition to practices, Pittsburgh Elite has partnered with Dan Knorr, head sports performance specialist and personal trainer/owner of Become Better Sports Performance Training. Knorr works with the athletes on volleyball specific stretching, strength training, and agility. He also incorporates nutrition information and advice to keep the athletes healthy.
Variety of Programming
Pitt Elite’s Train & Play program is the ideal program for high school multi-sport athletes or those with busy schedules who wish to train once per week and are looking for an alternative to travel volleyball to improve their skills. The traditionally strong Train & Play program practices once a week and participates in two home competitions.
In the summer months, Summer League for middle school and high school athletes kicks off, as well as sand volleyball at Blueberry Hill park. Sand volleyball is offered for male and female athletes in grades four through eight. This consists of four weeks of skill work and competitive play led by collegiate and experienced beach volleyball coach, Shaughn McDonald.
With the variety of offerings and large membership, Pittsburgh Elite puts a huge emphasis on its marketing efforts. The monthly newsletter highlights what happened in the past month, what’s to come in the following month, featured athletes in the “Meet the Athlete” section and featured coaches in the “Meet the Coach” section, as well as a note from the director. Also, the club places ads in the IN Community Magazines with the goal to reach out and attract new members.
In its fourth decade of existence, Pittsburgh Elite continues to evolve and adapt to the needs of the junior volleyball community in the surrounding Pittsburgh area. This club has proven through its passionate leadership that a club can withstand the challenges of the COVID pandemic, and come out stronger and more united than ever.
Pittsburgh Elite (Pittsburgh, PA) is a member of the Junior Volleyball Association, an organization committed to enhancing the junior volleyball experience for club directors, coaches, players, and fans.