As the Junior Volleyball Association celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, the organization has developed into something much more important to the sport than simply providing a cost-effective menu of events to its members.
Instead, JVA has stayed true to its mission statement of promoting the growth of youth and junior volleyball through program and resource development, education and events that benefit club operators, coaches, parents and players alike.
“Their marketing approach of juniors for juniors is brilliant,” said Atlanta-based A5 club director Bob Westbrook, whose club is an original JVA member. “JVA is all about the juniors.”
How it all started
JVA got its start after a meeting of 33 club directors in a hotel in Chicago.
“We talked about the state of volleyball and what we think needs to be better,” said JVA executive director Jenny Hahn. “Let’s face it, volleyball is a business. We asked what is in the way of growing the juniors game? What needs to be done to be better?
“During the meeting we explained it wasn’t USA Volleyball that really was the problem, it was the regions,” said Hahn, then-director of the Milwaukee Sting. We were seeing different problems and different roadblocks at that level. We advocated for two years to USAV for changes and didn’t see anything coming down the pike. If something isn’t working, you have to try something else.”
In its early days, JVA, then known as JVDA (Junior Volleyball Directors Association), had its championship tournament sanctioned by USA Volleyball until the national governing body pulled its blessing.
“They didn’t want to have another championship under USAV,” Hahn explained. “We went out and found our own insurance and started our own. At the end of the 2009 season, a lot of teams were going to our championships and then going to AAU or USAV to finish off the season. We had a strategic planning meeting and said it was silly to have our tournament and then go onto another one. We decided to move ours to mid-year and then throw our support to AAU.
“The biggest reason for partnering with the AAU championships was because teams did not have to qualify, they could put it on their schedule and families could plan for it, it is not a “stay to play” event, and teams are home before the end of June.
“In addition AAU provided two paid entries to the AAU national championships for the top two teams in every division at our JVA World Challenge.”
And thus, JVA was off and running. Dallas-based Texas Advantage Volleyball club director John Sample thought the JVA had a good shot out of the gates.
“We had a good group of people and you had people invested in it,” Sample said. “We had some successful club people that got things done. The prospects for it were pretty good because of the people who were involved and the concept was good. I thought it was going to be successful.”
Much more than courts in a convention center
Hahn used that brief history to show the pivot JVA has made in the 10-year timespan.
“We’ve morphed into more of the educational resources, networking and trying to grow the community of the juniors club game,” she said.
Today, Hahn said JVA’s membership numbers just more than 1,000 clubs. “Our mission is to help clubs make their programs safer, run their businesses better and advocate for the juniors game. If a club is experiencing any roadblocks we are there to help.”
JVA’s long list of services it provides ranges from educational tools on how club directors can better run the business side of things to how to run a tournament to coaching education (including an online video coaching library) to a successful sponsor program that rewards clubs for promoting the JVA brand, supporting the JVA mission and growing JVA at the regional and national level. This year JVA gave $200,000 back to clubs through this program, Hahn noted.
Westbrook said the business-education side of the juniors game is a beyond-critical component made available to members. “If you are not good with the business part of a club you will not succeed,” he said. “When you are talking about having your own facility, now you are in the facilities business where volleyball becomes a component of that. A lot of folks are not equipped for that. This business has a low barrier point of entry. You put a sign out front and you start working. JVA is helping clubs gain those strong business practices.”
Hahn added: “People usually get involved because they love to coach and then they get involved in running a club. You kind of get thrown into it. We’re here to help clubs run their businesses and understand they do have a friend and a resource for that. We’re looking after them.”
Maggie Griffin, a member of the 2006 Nebraska national-championship team, started her VCNebraska club six years ago and immediately joined JVA.
“We saw that JVA was focused on a more cost-effective tournament schedule that made it better for kids and families,” Griffin said.
But Griffin quickly realized JVA reached far beyond that.
“As I got more involved I realized how many more resources they have that are available to parents, coaches and the kids,” she said. “They are helping parents learn about recruiting and injury prevention. They have increased the number of events they do, but one of the biggest things is they have been able to keep costs low. They don’t have the same end game. They are able to give back to clubs with sponsorship programs. They have a lot of different avenues to help their customers, who ultimately are the kids and their parents. They look out for the juniors game.”
Griffin added the networking component has aided her in providing a better experience for her VCN families.
“There is a community of people you become connected with,” she said. “You form relationships with these people outside of just the events. When I was a new club director, it was great to be able to get ideas and share information with other directors on how to make your club run better. JVA has been extremely helpful to our club in a lot of ways.”
A recent addition to the JVA list of services is the establishment of zone member groups.
“This allows our members to work on issues in their own areas and act as an advocacy group for JVA,” Hahn explained. “What’s going on in Texas? What’s going on in this other region? This helps us be aware of what is going on across the country.”
JVA also is advocating for the continued growth of the sport at the younger age levels.
“A good business model is like a pyramid,” Hahn said. “You have a wide base that feeds up to the top. A typical club looks like a diamond with a few at the 11-12-year-old level, a lot in the 14-16 age range and a few in the 17-18 age range. We want to help clubs develop youth volleyball.”
Westbrook concurs with the commitment to grow the sport at the younger age levels. “In the south here, the fastest growing age group probably is in the 8-10-year-old range,” he said. “That 10- and 11-year-old group is the future of the game.”
Hahn pointed out JVA’s membership represents about 15 percent of the total club volleyball landscape.
“That’s a total guess,” she said. “The bad news is we have 15 percent of the market. The great news is there is still more than 80 percent of the market out there and we would like to tap into it. Our goal is to have 51 percent of the clubs in the country to be members of JVA.
“Our strategic plan is membership growth, but another big part of it is continuing to develop our programs such as club management and education. We want to make sure we cover all the areas of what a good club should look like. If you need help in an area such as accounting or human resources, where can you go? We’re working hard to develop that education.”
On the issue of its relationship with USA Volleyball, Hahn and other key JVA members feel there is opportunity to band together for the continued good and development of the juniors game.
“The message is people don’t have to choose,” Hahn said. “People have the mistaken notion it’s USAV or JVA. A club’s schedule should provide the best competition possible whether that’s USAV, AAU, JVA or a combination.
“Do I think USA Volleyball and JVA will be back together? I absolutely think there are things we can work on together. JVA is never going away. There always will be a need for an independent juniors volleyball association, but I think we can work on a lot of things together, for sure.”
“I have hope for it. I think we need to sit down and talk and communicate to each other. Our club (A5) plays both sides of the fence so to speak for competitive reasons,” Westbrook said. “If we want to be a national-level club we have to play a competitive schedule. Both groups probably are territorial, but both groups have very good people. What’s in the interest of both sides? I think a clear, unified message would be a benefit to all concerned.”
Sample is proud of what JVA has developed into in such a short period of time.
“Everybody has stuck it out. There were some tough times at first,” he said. “Everybody stuck it out and sucked it up. It shows what can happen when people are out for the sport first. This has been about volleyball for these clubs. I’m most proud of the process. We started out right and didn’t back down. The intent always has been about benefitting juniors volleyball.”