Iowa volleyball camp focuses on the youngest athletes


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"The more energy you have, the harder you work."

Iowa assistant volleyball coach Ben Boldt brings that philosophy into the Little Spikers volleyball camp, a three-session day camp that held its last two-hour session on Wednesday.

A volleyball gym is usually a loud place, but when the Carver-Hawkeye practice facility was filled with girls ages 7 to 11 who are continually encouraged to be vocal, it's even louder. The pang of bouncing volleyballs was overcome by the voices of the 35 young athletes as they're encouraged to be as loud as they can.

"What we really enforce is energy, especially when [the campers] aren't learning the skills very well," Iowa volleyball player Kari Mueller said. "Some of them are just so young that the skills won't stick all the way in their head, so we stress the aspect of talking to each other and having fun."

The Iowa volleyball team involved in the camp is taught to keep the energy in the gym as high as possible because it creates a better learning environment for the kids.

"These kids kind of get bored quickly, and their attention spans are so short that we try to have as much energy as we can," sophomore Alli O'Deen said. "We make it fun and have the best time with these kids to make them come back … These are our fans, the ones coming to all of our games. It's really important that we have a good time with them and make them enjoy it."

The campers pick a catch phrase and shout it after every pass, set, or hit. The youngsters shout out "Kitty cat" or "Brownies" as they slowly get the hang of handling the ball.

The campers are instructed to shout "Up" whenever they pass. If they're setting, the girls have to shout the name of the person they're aiming for.

The campers high-five each other after every play, and the Iowa volleyball players, staff, and coaches are right in there with the high-fives as well.

"With little kids, it's really important to be very vocal," Hawkeye player Grace Burns said. "Even in our [college] practices, you have to be loud. Volleyball can get boring if no one is talking, so we like to feed back positive energy."

The Little Spikers camp strives to introduce kids to volleyball. The camp draws in many participants because it allows such young kids to attend.

"This was a nice change for the younger age group, because it wasn't too intense," said Joni Anderson, a mother of a third-grade volleyball player. "It's geared toward the younger age group; without the big kids there, they weren't going to be intimidated."

Volleyball is a complex sport, so for kids as young as 7, the goal of the Little Spikers camp is just to teach the very basics, assistant coach Jason Allen said.

The camp staff purposely chooses to focus on activities the youngsters enjoy — hitting, diving, blocking — so that they fall in love with the sport at an early age.

Beyond that, the Iowa volleyball program strives to build volleyball players from the ground up, starting with the very basic skills — communication included.

"At their age, all they really have to know how to do is put their hands together and get their feet to the ball," Johnson said. "[We teach them] how to move to a ball and get to it and how to be good teammates to each other. If you're not vocal, then nobody knows what's going on. If are vocal, you're working together as a unit, and you're a better team."

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