Suggestions on Running a Great Volleyball Club

With Ignite Volleyball Club Director Shawn Covely

This is part 2 of 3 of a little series from club directors that we have underway.   To say that Shawn Covely is fully invested in coaching would be putting it mildly.

Chris: Hey, hey. Thanks for joining us on the Volleyball Live Podcast from Gold Medal Squared. I’m Chris McGown. Today, we’re talking with Shawn Covely. Shawn is a volleyball coach that grew up in Indiana. He then moved to California and finally landed in Phoenix, Arizona where he’s coaching a high school team, a middle school team and runs a club down there as well, Ignite Volleyball Club. We talked to Shawn about some of the challenges of running a club, of growing from one team to multiple teams, exponential growth every year. We’ve talked to him about just what the difficulties have been and how he solved some of those problems and then some of the problems he simply hasn’t solved. I think you’ll find the conversation fascinating. Thanks for joining us and enjoy the show.

Chris: Thanks again for joining us for The Volleyball Live Podcast with Gold Medal Squared. I’m Chris McGown. Joining us today as mentioned is Shawn Covely. Shawn, we’re talking about you as a high school coach, a middle school coach, a club coach, you’re doing it all right now.

Shawn: Yeah. It’s a very busy time of the year, especially with… for our region, the tryouts are just going to be starting here in about two and a half weeks. Not only are we planning for all of the club tryouts and season, but I’m also I’m trying to finish up high school and middle school this week. So, very busy.

Chris: Well, tell me a little bit about how you got into volleyball and how you got into coaching and how with another full-time job you’re able to be so committed to so many programs. You’re coaching high school, you’re coaching middle school, you’ll end up with a couple of club teams from your club. What got you in volleyball and what got you into coaching?

Shawn: Sure. Many, many years ago, in the high school, my girlfriend at that time was playing volleyball. That really got me into loving the sport. Most of my…

Chris: How many stories have started that way, by the way? There was a girl…

Shawn: Exactly.

Chris: Chaos ensued, yeah. Exactly.

Shawn: That one ended well. It’s a good story.

Chris: All right. Good.

Shawn: I played as much as I could. I played sand, I played indoor, I played grass. I grew up in Indiana. If you didn’t play football, baseball, or basketball, you’re the odd ball. Well, I was definitely one of the oddballs. I was playing volleyball as much as I could. My college years, we were playing intramural games. That was my Friday and Saturday nights. I was playing volleyball. After college, I wanted to get out and play as much as I could and I took a trip to California and walked out onto the Manhattan Beach Pier and look north and south and just knew I was in heaven and in the right place.

Chris: Yeah.

Shawn: I moved out there in ’96. I met my wife who was also playing volleyball. Volleyball is a really big part of our family. I played for many years there, grass, sand, excuse me, indoor. Then I had the birth of my daughter. That put everything to a hold, put a halt to my volleyball. I want to spend as much time as I could with her. When she turned 10, she came to us one day and asked us what volleyball was. My wife and I were just like, “Wow, this is perfect!” Our daughter is going to get into the game that we both love. I was working at a job that was like 60-80 hours a week, so I couldn’t coach the first year. But my wife did at a local Rec league, and then I took over and started coaching that. It just kept growing. I think I had four teams at the time. They were one of the few coaches that were allowed to take more than one team. Then the summer, let’s see, four and a half years ago, we took some of the better players from maybe three or four of the club teams and went to Phoenix festival. It’s one of the largest tournaments in Phoenix in June and went there and just saw what club was all about.

At that point, I decided to start my own club. But that was also the first time that I met and got to know GMS. Mike Wall was the assistant coach at ASU and both him and Jason were so gracious in allowing coaches to come watch their practices. Mike talked to me about Gold Medal Squared, and I actually went up to Provo that summer and went to one of my first clinics with you guys. I met you and your dad. It was an amazing life changing experience for me in terms of coaching.

Chris: Yeah. That’s awesome. Now, you guys are running the club.

Shawn: Yeah.

Chris: In addition to working with the high school and middle school program, tell us about the club. It’s down there in Phoenix. Volleyball in Phoenix has started to go here for a long time. It was just rolling along. There wasn’t a lot of… you didn’t hear a lot of players coming out of Phoenix or out of Arizona other than to the Arizona schools that were making an impact on the national scene. Now, you do. There are a lot of athletes coming out of the Phoenix area. It’s going down there.

Shawn: Yeah. We’re still relatively new. This will be our fourth year. The first year we had, one. I guess you could call it an a half teams. I coached the 16s Club. I think we had eight players on that team. Every year since, we just keep doubling. We went three the following year and then last year we had six. Then this year, is a milestone for us. We’re renting from a newer facility that just now being built. It’s going to have 35 foot ceilings, five floating wood courts, and so we project to get to 13 to 14 teams this year.

Chris: That’s awesome. For lots of people, this is… hey, I want to start a club. I want to get going. You’re living the dream maybe to some degree. What have been the challenges of starting up of just going from zero to where you are now? What have been the big hurdles you’ve had to jump?

Shawn: It’s a second full time job for me.

Chris: Yeah.

Shawn: I’ve always continue to keep my day job. Just the amount of hours that you don’t realize how much planning and detail goes into making sure that you have all of your Is dotted and Ts crossed. Just writing the handbook alone kind of consumes you. You want to make sure you’re conveying everything correctly. I think that’s been one of the biggest challenges for us in getting into this is parents will… you’ll say one thing parents will hear another. We’re just constantly trying to adjust to make sure that we’re being heard correctly in what we’re trying to promote for the club, and we’re also trying to be something different. Sometimes you get… there are some clubs that just put a bad light on to things and they’re in for more of the wrong reasons.

That was one of the reasons we started our club is just to be more of a positive influence in the region and make sure that the girls are the focus of what we’re trying to do.

Chris: Tell me a little bit more about that. What do you consider, I guess, in terms of you’re trying to do it for the right reasons as you define them. How are you defining them?

Shawn: For us, it just seems like it’s more of… in terms of coaching, for us it’s more about a positive experience in the coach. I’ve seen so many coaches throw their clipboards down, scream at the girls, play mind games, coaches that are maybe in the high school, coaching high school that are basically just using that as a recruiting service for their club. Girls feel trapped and don’t feel like they can look around and see other options. That’s the first and foremost is one of the things that we’re very good about doing. I have a few high school coaches with us that are very black and white about that. They don’t allow any kind of club paraphernalia at practices, they don’t mention that they’re associated with Ignite. We try to keep that as clean as possible. We want the girls to know that they’re going to have their high school and middle school experience separate from club. That and then pricing, just making sure that we stay as affordable as possible. We’re not here to make a million dollars off of volleyball. I just want to make sure we don’t go under.

This year, we’re going to be promoting and hosting a first for the region. It’s a charity tournament. We’re going to be giving all the proceeds to Hope Lodge. It’s a facility for cancer patients to go and recover little casitas, that kind of thing, and they get to do that for free. We’re going to be donating all of our proceeds, doing a paper drive and a few other things for that organization. That’s something new. The most of our preseason and tournaments are more club oriented. This is the first for the region, and that it’s a charity tournament.

Chris: Do you feel like that’s one of the core beliefs of your club, of Ignite as we want their to be this charitable component of giving back to some degree?

Shawn: Yeah. Every year we‘ve done some charity community service, that kind of thing. Last two years we’ve done Feed Our Starving Children Program. That’s awesome. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that. But basically, you get all of the teams into this one huge room and everybody is assigned a station and you get to just battle each other out in terms of packing food for that get shipped overseas to different countries that need help. It’s just fun. The girls have a great amazing time and we’re doing something good in the process. That’s always something that we’re going to do as part of our club.

Chris: Right on. I want to go back to something you mentioned. You said, “Hey, it took us a long time to write the handbook.” There’s a handbook that you guys have. Tell us a little bit more about that.

Shawn: Forty-five pages of me blathering on about our policies and procedures and stuff, is that I keep writing and adjusting. With everything that’s going on with club, I always seem to be forget to send it out. This year we’ll get it sent out. It’s just a guidebook for parents to understand our policies. We’re very open and transparent. We allow parents to come and watch practices. We encourage them to ask us questions why we’re doing certain things, why we’re running drills, what our strategy is. We want to have that engagement. We feel if parents understand more, they’re going to be better partners, especially with the girls and making sure that they understand or have a positive experience and just outlining some things. Nobody wants to engage with a parent when they’re angry right after a match. We do have the 24-hour rule. Unfortunately, sometimes to parents that means Sunday at 8 o’clock in the morning. We adjust.

Chris: Burning them all night long, yeah.

Shawn: Exactly.

Chris: Yeah.

Shawn: But yeah. It sets those kinds of guidelines. It explains how we do… or what the expectations are for tournaments and how we do our camps, food camps and stuff like that. Yeah. I just need to trim it down. That’s a little too long.

Chris: In talking with other club directors, they felt like that was one of the critical components of success for the club and… I don’t know, and for the kids and for the coaches, for the staff, for everybody, was having clearly communicated expectations upfront. “Hey, here’s the way things are going to go,” and consistency of execution around those expectations.

Shawn: Yeah. I guess we’ve been using our… right after tryouts until the next day. We have our fittings for jerseys and what we do is have different stations the girls would go, girls and parents would do the fittings to make sure that everything is signed off. Then the parents come talk to me for an hour while the girls get to go do some fun things on the court. During that hour, we spend tremendous amount of time just going overall the expectations. I verbalize the handbook during that meeting. This year, they’ll have a copy of it so they could be able to read it when they can.

Chris:  All right.

Shawn: Yeah. I agree. That’s a definite backbone for how we communicate things out. We just need to do it in printed for this year.

Chris: Okay. What are some of the other things that you look at as you’ve been at it for these number of years here that have been, “Boy, this a real big challenge and here’s how we’re addressing it.”

Shawn: Yeah, each year I think we uncover something new, right? The very first year was just how to run a business getting the company incorporated, making sure that we have all the branding figured out. Those are the back office stuff that we had to figure out. Then each year we get presented with a bigger problem. Last year we had a team that just for some reason had a lot of bullying. As coaches were on the court, we hear everything. But for some reason, we don’t hear that kind of stuff. It’s whispered at the net or it’s done in certain manner. Last year we had to put together a no bullying policy and have to have the girls sign it.

But it still, it was just hard… that was the first time we really have to deal with that intensive concern on a team. Normally, it’d be like maybe one or two players and you can work it out with the help of parents. Last year, it was more than… I think we were ready to accommodate. This year, the no bullying policy is going to be a part of the forms that we go over at the beginning with the girls and have them sign it. But just so that they… and go through the reason why we’re doing that, right, and so that they have a buy in from the very beginning that that’s not going to be acceptable.

Chris: In addressing this, do you guys talk about… how do you talk about it? Do you say, “Hey, here are the behaviors that constitute bullying for us.” Do you define it for them? Is it in broad strokes? Are there specific behaviors? How do they know? What are the… hey, if you’re found in violation of this, here’s the ramifications, here’s the follow up.

Shawn: Yeah. We had a little bit of both. We have broad strokes and then we had some specific examples. We pulled up specific examples from what we had heard and communicated that out in a team meeting so they understand they kind of heard the language that was being used to understand why that that’s not appropriate. This was an older team… for me it seems like I would assume some of the stuff might happen with younger less mature athletes, but this is with older girls.

We did broad and more specifics. We have that form they could fill out. But then it was also an engagement with the parents. The parents were a part of that form as well. We needed their buy in because a lot of it had to do with me spending hours upon hours after practices talking to parents saying, “Well, she said…” we just need their involvement just as much as the athlete so that we can help manage and have a positive experience for the team.

Chris: Right on. Somebody violates the policy, what are the things you guys have in place?

Shawn: Yeah, part of the problem that stem from that, right? We have some specific examples and some broad strokes. Is then we got into this situation of, “Well, this girl said this and I think that’s bullying, so they started making up their own definitions of what bullying were.” You go to the other side and then, “Well, I never said that,” and the parents back them up. It kind of became hard, actually, to be… to put something in place where either sitting for an entire match or sitting for an entire tournament, sitting during practice. It was hard police in many ways, and we felt like we’re doing more of that than spending our time on court with the girls.

I don’t know that we have it fully solved yet, Chris. It’s still something that I feel… unless we fully catch it in action, it’s a really hard thing to pin down.

Chris: Yeah. How much proactivity goes into when you guys have a trial process trying to get as much information about a kid as possible upfront. Like reports from other teams or who have you played for before and why you’re not playing for them and that sort of thing.

Shawn: Yeah. That one also is a little hard. You might get a little bit. But then you also run into the problem of some parents just don’t like the other kids, so you’re also wondering like, “Are they doing this to try to leverage their kid?” It’s a crap shoot. But I understand. Yeah, we do look at that. It’s more about their attitude on the court. A lot of times you just see it. You can see how girls are reacting. You put them on a really good player. You put them on a court with girls that are less skilled than them and you see how they react to that. You can get a good sense from some of that just seeing how they stay engaged and help positively coach the other girls and stay team oriented, so you kind of get a sense that way too.

We have three to four open gyms for prior to tryouts. You do get to see a lot of that. But then you’re also trying to make an educated guess with as much as you’ve seen, and sometimes you make the wrong decisions. We try to adjust afterwards.

Chris: Yeah. As you start thinking about just the club and the growth and just, “Hey, this is an organization that I want to have be successful and I want it to be a great experience,” what are the critical factors for you? Like, “This is the most important thing. This is the next most important thing.” What are your top three? Like, “This is the culture that I’m trying to drive and here are the three most important things that I’m worried about.”

Shawn: For us, it’s critical that we have a family environment for our club. What stems from that is an honesty and transparency that I think a lot of clubs don’t offer so that you have a close tryouts to closed… well, close tryouts for sure. But close practices. Then for us, that’s first and foremost. It’s also education, so we’ll take every single coach whether they’ve been coaching for 20 years or two years and we take every single coach to GMS every season. For us, that’s just to make sure that the entire club is using the same kind of language with the girls. A girl who starts with us age 10 and goes all the way through to age 18 has the same consistency in terms of principles and keys, that kind of thing.

The third, we’re trying to not be somebody’s last coach. Right? We’re making sure that we’re… each kid is different. Some kids want to be pushed, some kids don’t. We’re trying to always adjust for that. But we’re there trying to make sure that we’re spending just as much time and energy on our top national teams as we are with our lower-ranked region teams. That for us I think is very important that you may not get from some of the area local clubs in our region.

Chris: All right. As you transition from high school to club, what would you say the biggest difference between coaching a high school team is and coaching your club teams?

Shawn: Yeah, that one is a hard one for me. This is my second year. Last year I was helping out a friend as a JV coach for a different school. Then this year was my first year leading a program. To be honest, I was on my heels from the very beginning. I had a coach that I was going to coach the high school team for me back out last second. For most of the season, since most of our coaches at Ignite are already high school and middle school coaches, I had to work with a couple of coaches to help me out. I felt like I didn’t get to do as much of the planning and stuff trying to build a culture and build a program there as I had wanted from being put in a situation where I had to bounce back and forth between two teams.

Chris: Right.

Shawn: That was the hardest. It felt like I was starting over with club. Then to add to that, we also had an AD that quit right at tryouts, so then we had… I don’t know two to three weeks without an AD and then an AD that the next month was awesome but he was learning at the same time. It was very much a learning process this year, which we hope to make sure we have everything in place for next season.

Chris: Okay. The other question I wanted to ask you about is what has been your experience with facilities as you grow in the club? Has that been a bottleneck? Has that been easy? What have you done with respect to facilities?

Shawn: Sure. Every facility is different. They have pros and cons for each. It’s hard in our area to find a really good facility that isn’t already being utilized by another club. We’ll bounce around between… Well, we’ve actually had a middle school kind of our home base for the past three years. We found a country club that had two courts that they’ve been very good about allowing us to stay later if we needed to run something past their normal close time. We just start to find these little facilities that kind of help…

Chris: You’re making due here.

Shawn: Yeah. This year with the new facility that we’re getting, it’s opened up a lot of opportunities for us in a new area closer to where we all work and live right now. That’s going to be a fun experiment.

Chris: All right. Well, tell us how people can learn a little bit more about your club?

Shawn: Go to You’ll see all of the information for tryouts there as well as get to see some photos of the new facility that we’re going to be utilizing. Yeah. Then on Facebook, same thing,

Chris: Okay. Well, hey, it’s great talking to you and I appreciate the time and we wish you the best of luck as you close out the season with a high school and then as you get going with the club this year. Yeah. Good luck with the growth and the kids and all you got going on.

Shawn: Thanks, Chris. Honored to be a part of this. I really appreciate it. Thanks.

Chris: Hey, yeah, you bet. We’ll talk to you soon.

Shawn: Okay.

Chris: See you.

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