Updated 8-10-20 by NJP
NJP Deep Dive Analysis of High School Volleyball Participation
One of our main goals for the NJP website is promote greater participation in youth, high school, and college volleyball in New Jersey. Volleyball participation in The United States continues to increase for both boys and girls at the high school level, especially in New Jersey. NFHS.org provides rich resources on all high school sports programs in the USA as well as statistical information across all 50 states. There are many ways to interpret the data especially with our NJ focus. It will be very hard to predict what the effect of COVID-19 will have on current years statistics that will be published in the next month, as well as the next few years moving forward. High contact sports may see some sharp declines but it all remains to be seen. Complete cancellations of high school seasons may destroy the positive trends seen over the past decade as youth sports continues to be a focus for students and families who see the major benefits of participation.
The high school sports experience has well documented positive influence for participants. High school sports promote psychical health during one of the most important time in a young person’s life. On average, high school sports participants have better educational outcomes, are more engaged in their school and communities, gain valuable time management skills that can improve their ability to succeed after high school, and develop healthy behaviors such as proper diets and other life skills that have long lasting positive affects.
But perhaps the most important skills developed surround around the ability to learn to be a good teammate. Leadership skills also emerge at this age and students can learn the value of accountability and responsibility as part of a team. These building blocks can facilitate the transition into the workforce, no matter what occupation students plan to enter.
There is a sharp contrast across the country on how volleyball programs by gender are perceived at the high school level. There are girls programs in all 50 states and volleyball is clearly the #1 or #2 sport in most states for girls. Two states are absolutely dominant in participation for girls high school.
Texas and California contribute almost 22% of the overall population of girls high school players in the US. New Jersey ranks 17th out of the 50 states in player participation. Illinois has solid volleyball presence finishing third in # of players for the girls and second for the boys.
Volleyball has grown substantially in New Jersey over the past decade. For both teams and players, NJ participation numbers have been steadily increasing. For the girls last year, NJ teams increased by 5% with overall player participation increasing by 11%. Overall increases in the US where 4% and 1% respectively, so NJ was clearly ahead of the curve for the girls.
What is a bit surprising is volleyball is the #1 sport based on participation levels in most states. Twenty-six of 50 states have more girls playing volleyball than any other sport. Outdoor Track and Field is the only girls sport with more overall total participants nationwide. For NJ, volleyball is fifth in participation behind soccer, indoor and outdoor track, and basketball.
Now the movement by many students over this past decade is to specialize and play your main sport all-year round taking advantage of clubs and travel programs in the off-season versus developing your skills in multiple sports. To increase girls volleyball participation numbers in NJ, two factors would need to be influenced. Convincing winter and spring athletes to expand their horizons and explore volleyball as a fall option in lieu of club sports or focus on luring fall soccer participants, the largest group of girl athletes in any program, to change to volleyball. Both options are difficult sells.
There is also the emerging woman’s professional league starting in 2021 that may raise the awareness and excitement of women’s volleyball in the USA. It will be interesting to see if the Athlete’s Unlimited Volleyball US pro league can influence even higher participation levels from youth, high school, and college.
The boys on the other hand are a completely different dynamic. There are only 25 states that have boys high school volleyball. Half of the states do not participate or have other sports that schools focus on instead of volleyball.
California provides over one-third of the overall participation in the US. Texas, which leads in participation on the girls side, does not have any high school boys volleyball programs. So New Jersey slides in as the third highest in participation in the country and has a golden opportunity to continue to enhance its presence as a boys volleyball contributor to NCAA colleges and universities.
Despite its smaller size, NJ’s participation level overall is much greater than NY, PA and Florida with over 4,500 players at the high school level. Of course this pales in comparison to the 22,000 boys competing at the high school level in California but its three times more than Hawaii (a hotbed for VB talent) and five times larger than more local states like Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware (which have 39, 31, and 11 teams respectively). With the girls having more than 300 teams currently, NJP believes that many more boys programs will be popping up in the next few years as the sport continues to gain acceptance and notoriety in the Garden State.
The ultimate hope would be to drive the professional route in the United States as an option and lure for mens volleyball, leaving a path to the pros like the many other sports such as football, basketball, baseball, hockey and soccer. In the past, you needed to leave the country to play professionally at a high level with outstanding leagues existing in Poland, Russia, Italy, and Brazil.
Two professional league are currently formed for men in the United States. The first is the NVA which has 8 team from around the country. The best part of the NVA is there is a local team in New Jersey with many NJ based players rostered on the squad. Team Freedom plays out of SideOut Sports in Fairfield, NJ and has a quality assortment of talented players on the team including locals Bes Arslani of Wayne Valley (Kean University), Chris Vaughn from Medford (Stevens), Ron Dunn from Collingswood (Kean), Ed Jedzinak from Hillsborough (Kean), and Doug Dzema from Manalapan (Rutgers). The Head Coach is Carlo Edra from NJCU and the GM Justin Beaumont is from NJCU as well.
The Volleyball League of America (VLA) started in July 2020 and has five team from around the country including New York City. They also have teams from Chicago, Indiana, Southern California and Arizona. Check out there website for much more info on the league and their players.
The COVID effect for 2021 is already being proactively planned. The Municipal Auditorium in Nashville has already been identified as the “bubble” for the Ladies Athlete’s Unlimited League starting February 26, 2021 through April 4, 2021. Great article describing the preparation for the event by Mike Organ of the Tennessean at this LINK.
The effect of the COVID pandemic could have far reaching influence on participation from youth levels to Pro. What do you think? Let us know your thoughts and comments… No matter what, NJP feels the future of volleyball in the US and in NJ is very bright. Please join us as prophets for growth…
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