In the last few weeks Volleymob has brought its readers full coverage of all of FIVB’s Youth World Championships:
Results for Team USA squads were dire (as it has been historically so):
- Mens’s and Women’s U23 Tournment: Team USA did not qualify.
- Men’s U21 Tournament: 14th place, after losing all sets of play in its group matches.
- Women’s U20 Tournament: 7th place
- Boys’ U19 Tournament: 15th place
- Girls’ U18 Tournament: 8th place
However, here follows three comprehensive reasons why fans shouldn’t be the least worried about what this performance means for the future of American volleyball.
American Youth Sports are Organized Differently than in the Rest of the World.
It’s no secret that American sports follow a different formula than that of the rest of the world. This is specially true in youth sports. In the USA, children start their athletic career in school, and continue in it for the length of their amateur careers. In most countries, this is rarely the case, as children develop their talents in club play.
This scenario leads to an early specialization process for most foreign kids, where they are able to become better faster. That is the reason why we see Turkish star Ebrar Karakurt, who is already a paid professional playing in the farm system of European powerhouse Vakifbank, dominating Girls U18 competition. Imagine having the opportunity to share the court with Ting Zhu, Lonneke Sloetjes, Naz Aydemir Akyol, Milena Rasic and being coached by Giovanni Guidetti at only 17 years of age!
But, evidently, there is a huge downside to this. Even though countries like Turkey, Italy, and Brazil are able to afford a 15 girl roster full of young professional players, they are usually the cream of the crop for that level of competition in that country, as the number of clubs, even in large population countries, are very small. They either develop the small number of girls they have playing, or have no team at all. That is the main reason why Italy’s U18 gold medal squad also made up most of its U20 squad. Also, since most of international teams have professional players in it, winning a medal can net both players and coaches nice salary raises, so they are always playing their hearts out.
In the other hand, when you have an organized and successful school and college system like in the USA, you have a gigantic offer of players to grow the sport. Ditto, they may take longer to develop, as most high school coaches simply don’t have the expertise as top international coaches do, understandably. But when they do, they achieve the same level of proficiency as all their peers around the world, and at a much greater number.
USA Volleyball currently has over 330,000 members, including an estimated 5,300 junior clubs. Volleyball is the most popular team sport for girls in high school, with more than 432,000 girls on varsity level programs. The boys are also catching up, with 54,000 athletes playing also playing at the varsity level. As you can see, the base of the American volleyball pyramid is very wide, allowing for a high apex. Ultimately, you just can’t beat shear numbers.
USA Volleyball Simply Doesn’t Care that Much about Youth Tournaments
It is common for USA Volleyball to not even send its best players to these competitions, as they are usually in the middle or college of high school season. This is of course, not a knock on the players who do get to represent Team USA’s colors, but the truth is we rarely see top 10 recruits show their faces in these competitions. Heck, it’s a national trend these days for some players to forego their senior year of high school in order to prevent injury and intensify their training and academics, imagine going to Team USA camp and foreign trips!
The reason why USAV doesn’t care? It follows:
Ultimately, Youth Tournaments Don’t Really Matter
Success at the youth level does not necessarily translate into success in senior competition. Team USA has never won a medal in Men’s U23 and U21, as well as Boys’ U19, competitions. The same is true for Women’s U23 and U20 tourneys. Matter of fact, the only youth american team to ever have won medals are the Girls’ U18 2013 and 2015 squads, who brought home two silver medals. This means that out of 74 total tries, Team USA went up to the podium in only two tournaments.
This, however, has not stopped Team USA from being the third most decorated senior Olympic squad in history, behind only the Soviet Union and Brazil. In both men and women disciplines, it has won 3 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 4 bronze medals. Also, USA is the only nation in the world to have medaled at every Olympic game since 1984 in a volleyball discipline (beach or indoor). Let’s us also not forget that Team USA ranks second for both men’s and women’s squads in FIVB’s most recent international senior team rankings.
While for most countries medals at youth tournaments are very important, possibly being the difference between continuing funding or not, for USA youngsters it should more of an opportunity to have fun experiencing international play for the first time, having as the ultimate goal, getting prepared to one day assume a spot in one of Team USA’s very successful senior squads.
The words of coaches Jim Stone and Samuel Shweisky, who coached Team USA’s U18 and U19 squads, respectively, sums it all up nicely:
“We knew when coming in here that we were going to be chasing teams; we were hoping to improve as the tournament went on and we have, so to get to the final eight teams it’s a good thing for us. We’re not ready for Italy, we’re not ready for Germany yet and that’s OK, it’s part of the process.” Jim Stone
“This is the USA pipeline and this is all part of the process in trying to prepare for our senior national team. The youth national team is the first step these guys have to play international competitions. Such an eye-opening experience for us with 20 teams, and to train for several weeks, to travel across the world. And now, the work begins for us. Some of these guys have the chance to make it to our junior team and hopefully all the way to the senior team.” Samuel Shweisky