Isn’t bashful about its intentions. Its mission statement declares that USAV wants to be “acknowledged as the world leader in volleyball” and “win gold medals in every international competition.”
With countries like Brazil, Russia and China entering the scene as legitimate threats, USAV has the task of maintaining dominance in a sport that was born and raised in America. Its weapon of choice? Education.
“We’re doing clinics and training opportunities for athletes to be better players, for coaches to be better coaches and for officials to learn how to be better officials as well,” said Tom Pingel, USAV senior director of indoor events and high performance. “We have a hand in the education and training process of all aspects of the game.”
While clinics of these sorts are somewhat standard for national sports organizations, USAV has taken things a step further. The governing body gives parents the opportunity to get educated on how to be better volleyball parents, and trains physical education teachers on how to make the volleyball section of gym class a more fun and educational experience. All this works towards the organization’s goal of competitive success.
“Just about everybody has played volleyball,” said John Kessel, USAV director of sports development. “But the chance to play it at a little bit higher level, that is what USA Volleyball is about.”
USAV is also taking steps to grow the game through strategies like offering free membership to kids under eight and low-cost membership to children under 11. The organization saw a six percent growth in memberships last year and has seen steady growth since it started keeping track in 1980. USAV believes that once kids are signed up, the coaches, officials and parents that the organization has trained will help to keep them playing volleyball for years to come.
“USA Volleyball has a national championship coming up in 2013 for the 12-and-unders, and we are expanding down to 11-and-unders in 2014,” Kessel said. “We also have a national championship for 73-and-overs. That just says that it’s clearly a lifetime sport. You can play it co-ed, you can play it on a beach, you can play sitting.”
Already the nation’s leader for beach, indoor and sitting (paralympic) volleyball, USAV is looking at becoming more involved in grass volleyball tournaments and leagues.
“That reaches a population that is playing volleyball but might not want to commit to the level of an indoor team, and may not live in an area where there is a lot of beach volleyball,” Pingel said. “But there are an awful lot of fields around and people can set up courts and play doubles that way. That’s something we will be focusing on a little bit more heavily in the next couple years.”
Another focus is the prospect of adding a professional indoor league. USAV has already launched the Premier Volleyball League on the women’s side and will launch a similar league for men in 2013. For now the league will be semi-pro, but could someday lead to a professional circuit.
“We’ve had a few failed attempts in the past with people trying to start a professional league,” Pingel said. “Now instead of coming in and someone trying to identify cities with a lot of money to have franchises as the way to go, we’re looking to the 40 USAV regions to start basically a semi-pro league. There are some other opportunities for a professional league situation that should be on the horizon in the coming years, but that’s the only one active right now.”
A professional league would help in USAV’s quest to further commercialize the game of volleyball.
“It doesn’t mean we want to monetize the sport,” Kessel said. “We want to get it to more fans, to get more people to play—to get more people to recognize that it’s a lifetime sport and a wonderful game.”