MORGANTOWN, W. Va. – Sport is a constantly changing entity. While change may come in barely noticeable differences here and there, the fact remains that staying ahead of the game requires constant change in thought and strategy.
West Virginia University volleyball coach Jill Kramer is well aware of this. She knows that coaching involves a great deal of personal investment, and a willingness to take the initiative to continue learning.
This past spring she was presented with both a coaching and learning opportunity when she was named one of the assistant coaches for the USA Women’s Junior National Team, which will be competing in the FIVB Women’s Junior National World Championships
in Lima, Peru from July 22-31.
“Every time I have an opportunity like this and get to coach with different people, I’ve learned from every single one of them in all kinds of ways,” Kramer said. “Things like technical skills, the way they look at the game from a numbers standpoint, the way they approach the team and the group and how they choose to get them on the same page, and how they utilize their staff. I’ve watched how they connect with the team to help get them to their goal, how they help the girls bond, and how they scout opponents. There’s just so much to learn and take in every time.”
Working with USA Volleyball is nothing new for Kramer. Her aspirations began when she started a regional program in Texas, appropriately called the Lone Star Region. She coached with that program for a couple of years before working USA tryouts for kids looking to make youth and junior programs. From there, she worked the national team tryouts.
“You make a personal commitment and fly out to Colorado Springs and go the clinics and you learn,” Kramer explained. “You show that it’s important to you and that you’re willing to give back to the sport and it becomes about the success of USA Volleyball.”
Kramer will be working with head coach Rob Browning, currently working at St. Mary’s College. He has an impressive resume, having served as head coach of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Junior National Team that won the NORCECA (The North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation) Women’s Junior Continental Championships, punching a ticket to this month’s world championship. He also served as assistant coach for the U.S. Men’s National Team for six years, and was with the team when they won gold at Beijing in 2008.
She will also be working with Erik Sullivan, an assistant coach with the University of Texas who was also named assistant coach for the Women’s Junior National Team, and team leader Denise Corlett, from Stanford University.
“I’ve never worked with Rob before, I’ve never worked with Erik before and I’ve never worked with Denise before so I know I’m going to come back having learned a ton from the whole experience,” said Kramer.
As for preparing for the tournament, she admits that so far it’s mostly been about communication between the coaching staff about the players, travel logistics and training blocks for when the team arrives in California on July 10th for a brief ten-day training camp.
“A couple of the players have played in the U.S. Open Championships, so we’ve heard about how well they did,” she elaborated. “Some of the girls have played in some other USA programs over in China and they’ve kept up to speed and they’ve been playing all summer long also. It’s been cool to hear reports about how they’re doing.”
While this will be the first time this specific group of people has come together to play in a tournament, it’s not the first time that some of these athletes have played together. A few trained over the summer together in Dallas for the Open Championship, and still others played together last year on the team that won at NORCECA.
“I’ve actually coached a few of these girls in other programs and a lot of them have played together before,” said Kramer. “Rob has also coached some of them before, so it’s definitely not the first event they’ve played in together.”
When the tournament is over, Kramer plans to bring new strategies and techniques back with her when she returns to Morgantown on Aug. 2, just a week before the start of training camp for the Mountaineers.
“I get a whole week off instead of a day,” she said with a laugh, referencing her quick turnaround last year from assistant coach at Virginia to head coach at WVU.
In the meantime, the team is back in summer school, using their time to work hard on academics while training individually to prepare for the preseason.
“Some of them went home for May and some of June, but for the most part they’re back here and settled into their home away from home,” Kramer said. “We’ve added a lot to our roster, and we still have a few more girls to add to our roster, but they’re getting after it and having fun together, which is important as well.”
And when the time finally does come for the team to come together and take care of business, rest assured Kramer will have some new strategies to keep them one step ahead of the competition.Note: Be sure to follow Jill’s month-long stay with the Junior National Team on volleyball’s Facebook fan page, on her Twitter site @JillKramer, as well as her trip blog on MSNsportsNET.com beginning next week.