Lady Panthers volleyball camp integrates young players into the program

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By Scott Akanewich

When the Lady Panthers’ lineup is announced before a volleyball match, what one sees is the finished product.

A Purple-and-Gold production, which began many years earlier, manifests itself in the form of a varsity squad whose roots lie deep beneath the surface of what spectators see from the stands – roots that have been carefully cultivated before finally coming to fruition in full bloom for head coach Gretchen Peterson’s club.

However, only after passing through a rigid system as a young player climbs up the ranks – beginning as early as fourth grade – can an aspiring hitter or blocker play for the Lady Panthers at the highest level of prep competition.

One of the biggest and most important building blocks in this foundation is the annual Lady Panther Volleyball Camp, which is not only a way to introduce young players to the program, but also give them a glimpse of what the future holds, said Peterson.

“First and foremost, we want to get kids excited and interested in playing volleyball and we want them to want to be a part of Liberty Hill athletics,” she said. “We really try to have fun, but we also want all campers to leave having learned a ton.”

With this in mind, Peterson and her coaching staff, which includes varsity assistants Kristen Brewer and Wayne Munger, who also direct the freshman and junior varsity teams, respectively, provide players with a plethora of what they can expect more and more of as the years go by.

“We use the same terminology we use in the high school and the fact we start it with as young as our fourth-graders – is a big plus in building a program,” said Peterson. “Not to mention, we have our junior high coaches there to start building relationships with our incoming seventh and eighth-graders and getting them going with the same drills and skills we will work on with them in their season. We’ve been really blessed to have a community that supports our program by getting their daughters involved in camp and our program at young ages.”

Peterson added a goal of the camp is to simulate as closely as possible what the players can expect at the various age groups so nothing takes them by surprise later on as far as what’s expected of them.

“We actually try to not water anything down, we teach the same skills the same way, we want them to get more and more comfortable with the standards and expectations we hold all of our players to,” she said. “It’s challenging and a little rough at the beginning, but they always seem to embrace the challenges and rise to meet them. It’s really cool to see the same campers who were just starting out as fourth-graders come back as eighth or ninth-graders and in a way seem like seasoned camp veterans – it’s a great experience to watch them evolve.”

Of course, the players learn how to properly execute all of the tangible, physical skills needed to play winning volleyball, but what goes on in the young minds of players is just as, if not more important, said Peterson.

“We focus on hustling from spot to spot, being coachable, saying ‘yes and no ma’am’ and being an encouraging teammate and team player,” she said. “We want them to be the leaders when they go back to their schools and their seasons.”

With the right instruction, some of them will even be inspired to step up in showing their teammates how it’s done, said Peterson.

“We would like them to understand by putting in the extra work they can be leaders to their peers and that’s something to be proud of and confident in,” she said. “Also, it should be fun and something they enjoy and although it goes without saying, we want them to know what it means to be a Panther – there’s a pride and tradition they’re now a part of and we’re so happy they’re here.”

Finally, Peterson hopes each and every player begins to understand what their respective roles are in the big picture of the program, but perhaps above all else to enjoy the experience.

“We’re so happy they’re part of the Panther family, but it’s about more than being the star player – it’s about representing themselves and something bigger than themselves and feeling good about what they’re doing,” she said. “We want them to know it’s okay to make mistakes, that learning is a process, but they can and will get there – we believe in them and we want them leaving camp feeling good about the effort they put forth and confident they’re on the right path to being the player they want to be – and it’s supposed to be fun.”

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