Q&A: Wilma Weber

Wilma Weber is the head volleyball coach at Aberdeen High School and the chief organizer for the Grays Harbor Volleyball Club. A graduate of Rogue River High School in Oregon and Oregon State University, she earned 13 varsity letters during her high school career and played one year of collegiate volleyball at Western Montana College (now Montana-Western) before transferring to Oregon State. Weber works as a health educator for the Grays Harbor Public Health Department and spends the bulk of her time educating elementary students about nutrition and drug abuse prevention. She was named the Evergreen 2A Conference Coach of the Year this fall. She and her husband Dan have two children, Alahna and Conner, both Aberdeen High students.

What is the Grays Harbor Volleyball Club? How often do you meet and what is the schedule like?

The Grays Harbor Volleyball Club (GHVC) is a member organization of USA Volleyball and was formed with the intent of increasing the level of play locally and providing female athletes with the opportunity to learn the strategies of competitive volleyball.

The Harbor has a vast array of opportunities to learn basketball, soccer, softball and swimming at fairly young ages, but when it comes to volleyball there are very few avenues of exposure — especially when it comes to proper skill development. The Grays Harbor Volleyball Club attempts to bridge that gap and we welcome players from fifth through 12th grades.

The club has been in existence for about seven years in varying degrees. I have been involved for the past six years, the last three-four years as director. Last year, we were able to field four teams (12-U, two 14-U and and 18-U) and had 35-40 girls participating. Our season usually gets started by the end of November and goes until the first part of April.

We practice twice a week (depending on gym availability) and, starting in January, we play about two tournaments a month. Tournaments are usually based in the King County area and are all-day affairs (we leave by 5:30 or 6 a.m. and sometimes are not home until 8 p.m.). The girls get a lot of court time during these tournaments.

For more information, contact me at 580-6365 or via email at vbwilma@comcast.net.

What types of instructional things do you focus on?

Skill development and team play is the main focus (repetition, repetition, repetition), but the rest varies by team and coach. The higher the level of play and experience, the more the coach can focus on running a quicker offense or more complicated defensive rotation. We take what we get and try to make sure that everyone participating has the opportunity to improve their own skills, which in turn improves the level of the team.

Personally, I have coached every level for 12-U through 18-U and I believe that every athlete has shown improvement and growth because of the time they have put in.

When you were hired at Aberdeen High School, the participation numbers were so low that there were fears there wouldn’t be a program. How were you able to increase the participation levels and quality of the program?

The reason I applied for the job was I knew there were a few girls who had put in a lot of time in developing their volleyball game and, win or lose, were still in it for the love of the game. I want athletes who participate in this program to carry that love of the game and passion for competing with them. I truly believe that passion and hard work are the keys to success not only on the court, but in many areas of life.

I think the example current players set and the comments they make to their peers are the biggest drivers of increasing participation levels. I have also been very fortunate in surrounding myself with assistant coaches (Billie Toyra and Desiree Glanz) who exude passion for the game and are positive leaders. We have fun but do expect our girls to be accountable, respectful and focused. I know I still have a lot to learn about coaching, but feel we are laying a solid foundation for the future.

What, in your view, separates state championship-caliber high school volleyball teams from good teams that may make it only as far as the district level?

Throughout my volleyball career, I have seen many state championships played. What strikes me about these teams is the number of pure volleyball players (as opposed to good athletes) they have on one team. I don’t know how that happens, but I’d like to add that to our water supply!

When I look at the good teams we’ve sent to state from our area, notably Montesano and South Bend, they usually have one or two really strong players and, in volleyball, you can only hide for so long — everyone has to touch the ball at some point.

When you have a team sporting six Tera Novys (the Montesano graduate who, in my view, was the most complete volleyball player to come out of the Harbor) vs. a team with one, it will be virtually impossible to win. Compete, yes. Win, no.

Those teams are likely also sporting players who are year-round players on high-performance club teams as well. In our area, we don’t have the numbers to be able to specialize like that.

One knock on off-season clubs such as yours is they are perceived as discouraging participants from turning out for multiple high school sports. Is that a valid concern? If so, is that beneficial for the athlete? If not, how would you counter that argument?

I have a different view of the value of our local club program. First of all, I want my players to be athletes — to do something. I don’t care if they play basketball in the winter — athletic skills are transferable. Our club provides an outlet for those who maybe don’t play basketball and want to keep improving.

The concept of specialization is crazy to me because I think it causes burnout and, realistically, only a select few are going to continue playing at the collegiate level in any sport.

Although girls can play club and basketball at the same time, it is very time-consuming and I believe you have to take some time to be a teenager as well. Everything suffers if you try to do too much.

I think many Harbor coaches in general have gotten way too possessive of their athletes’ time, especially in the summer when all coaches have that window of opportunity to coach their athletes. So, a shout-out to all coaches: Let’s change the culture and work together for the sake of all our athletes.

As a former volleyball official and now a coach, are there any volleyball rules you’d like to see changed.

Change is always hard, but I like most of the rule changes we have seen, as they speed up the game.

The one that made me roll my eyes when it first came down was that it is legal to play the ball off any part of your body. I was afraid that we would start seeing scissor-kick attacks and one-foot digs. Fortunately, volleyball coaches are keeping the integrity of the game intact and very rarely will you see a ball played inadvertently off someone’s foot.