• Brandon Boozer, 13, of Stuttgart, leaps high to send a spike down on his opponents, earning his team a point during a scrimmage at the A.C.E. Volleyball Camp in Vilseck, Aug. 17.

    Playing above the net

    Brandon Boozer, 13, of Stuttgart, leaps high to send a spike down on his opponents, earning his team a point during a scrimmage at the A.C.E. Volleyball Camp in Vilseck, Aug. 17.

  • Two teams scrimmage during the A.C.E. Volleyball Camp, Aug. 17.

    Playing above the net

    Two teams scrimmage during the A.C.E. Volleyball Camp, Aug. 17.

VILSECK, Germany -- High school volleyball players from DODDS-Europe and other international schools gathered here to reap the rewards of world-class coaching at the Asia Continental Europe Volleyball Camp, Aug. 12-17.

The A.C.E. Volleyball Camp, led by Vilseck High School Head Coach Brian Swenty, has been prepping DODDS-E volleyball players for the fall season since 2009. This year, however, they received a professional boost in training from USA Volleyball director of sport development, John Kessel.

Kessel, a vanguard in his field, works with the U.S. Olympic, Paralympic and Wounded Warriors teams. Under Kessel's instruction, the DODDS-E students received the same innovative coaching that propelled the USA Olympic women's team to silver medals in the 1984, 2008 and 2012 Olympics.

Athletes at the A.C.E. Volleyball Camp touched the ball as much as possible, playing three on three and two on two matches. Teams, grouped according to ability, scrimmaged often.

When the athletes did drills, they were as "game-like as possible," said Swenty, with a focus on "getting in as many game-like contacts as we can."

Kessel compared learning a sport to learning to ride a bike.

"How did you learn to ride a bike," he asked. "Did you first learn how to steer? And then were you drilled on how to pedal?"

The answer, of course, is no. Beginners learn to ride a bike by riding a bike, explained Kessel, and volleyball players should learn their sport the same way.

"The game teaches the game," he said.

"It's the whole method, instead of breaking things down," added Swenty.

Though the methodology is simple -- the more an athlete plays volleyball, the better she'll get -- it signifies a major departure from the traditional technique of coaching where the coach tosses the ball at athletes for hitting drills.

When a coach feeds players the ball, explained Kessel, attacking it becomes rote, mechanical. Furthermore, a tossed ball doesn't mimic the action of a real game, which leaves athletes scrambling when they face off against another team.

"In the end, they never saw anyone throw the ball," said Kessel. "And when they get in the game, they don't know what to do. No one in the game throws the ball."

When athletes play against each other in practice, they receive and react to imperfect passes. By doing this, they become more agile and their knowledge of the game grows.

"One of the most important skills we've been teaching play over the net is reading or anticipating," said Kessel.

This constant-play philosophy has the added benefit of increased competition. By playing mini-games and scrimmages, said Kessel, the campers had the chance to practice "in a fun way, but in a competitive way. That's why we do sports: to be competitive."

Borrowing a phrase from the U.S. women's national team head coach, Hugh McCutcheon, Swenty labeled this approach as "coopatition," or cooperating in competition.

The wisdom of this process rang true with the athletes, who could feel themselves improve with the constant play time.

For Sarah Snyder, 14, an incoming freshman at Brussels American School, the camp prepared her for the high school season.

"It's been awesome. It's helped me a lot," said Snyder. "I love the coaches. It's not the same as traditional coaches. (Kessel's) method is more hands on. Instead of working out, we actually get to play volleyball."

Prior to the camp, Kessel conducted a coaches' workshop where he instructed 20 coaches from Europe and the U.S., along with the DODDS-E athletic coordinator, Karen Seadore.

Swenty felt the workshop made him a better coach and a better player even though he had previously participated in a Kessel coaching camp.

"I learn every time," he said. "As the methods change and get better, we get better."

Page last updated Fri August 24th, 2012 at 10:11