CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – When Virginia head volleyball coach Shannon Wells watches the Olympics this year she’ll be pulling for the USA to bring home Olympic gold for the first time. But knowing she will have a hand in helping train the next wave of student-athletes looking to compete for the Red, White, and Blue, will give her a slightly different perspective on the matches.
Starting on Sunday (July 18), Wells will spend six days in Anaheim, Calif., coaching with USA Volleyball National Team Development Program (NTDP). She will be one of seven coaches working with 15- and 16-year-old athletes practicing twice a day, reviewing video, and helping the athletes get a feel for USA Volleyball and the systems it runs with the goal of having them be a part of the senior national team.
The opportunity to work with these athletes this summer is one that has Wells eager to begin.
“Any time you’re in a National Team gym it’s really exciting,” Wells said. “Obviously the National Team is preparing for Tokyo right now, but to be able to wear the Red, White and Blue this close to an Olympics and being out there when the National Team begins to compete and being around athletes who have aspirations to compete at that level one day is exciting. The other exciting piece is getting to work with some of the best young athletes in the country.”
The NTDP is made up of athletes from around the nation identified by a scouting network and invited to participate in the program after being identified at qualifiers, bid events and high school or club tournaments. NTDP replaces the USA Volleyball High Performance program. Since the 1990s, USAV High Performance has identified, evaluated, trained and developed young athletes to build a sustainable pipeline of future Olympians and Paralympians.
In an effort to increase retention and improve identification of potential athletes, USA Volleyball analyzed the existing High-Performance program, looked at youth systems other national teams were running in the US and around the world, and developed the NTDP.
Though the format is new, the upcoming experience isn’t the first time in the system for Wells. She’s been working with USA Volleyball since she entered the coaching profession. In almost 10 years she’s worked her way up through the system and had an opportunity to explore moving to this level a few years ago while an associate head coach at Florida.
“Three years ago, I went out to Anaheim and sat in the gym with [current Women’s National Team assistant coach] Erin (Virtue) and [current Women’s National Team head coach] Karch (Kiraly). I watched a couple of players who were playing for me at Florida at the time and got to know the coaches and pick their brains about the systems they were running and why they were running them. I started talking to Erin, who leads the program, about my involvement with the program.”
The experience of working with the student-athletes during the week in California is one exciting aspect of the week but being able to bring the knowledge and experience she gains through that experience with her back to student-athletes in Charlottesville is also something Wells values.
“As we’re building this program, a lot of energy is going into recruiting athletes who continue to be some of the best players in the country,” Wells said. “Those players have aspirations of representing the USA. Getting an opportunity to be in the National Team gym and running their system allows us to have a better understanding of what it takes to play at the highest level. I get to come back to the UVA gym and talk about what Karch Kiraly is looking for and what USA Volleyball is about.”
The opportunity to be back in a gym working with other collegiate coaches and trade information is also something Wells looks forward to as the community she loves comes back together ahead of the upcoming collegiate season.
“What I love about coaching volleyball is we are a very open book kind of community. Any time I’ve had a chance to sit with other coaches – whether it’s visiting their schools, talking before or after matches, or just talking when out recruiting about how they are training and what they are training is doing in their gym is very beneficial to me. Being in a situation where we are all together for five days is exciting because we haven’t had that chance in the last 18 months to continue building that community. But, I look forward to good conversations about what people are doing and getting to communicate with some of the best coaches in the country.”