Bump, set, spike your way through summer

With a few eyes barely peeking over the volleyball net set low to the ground, children learned to bump, set and serve during the VolleyKidz clinic in Concord.

The program designed for children ages 5-10, is modeled after the USA Junior Volleyball VolleyTots program.

During VolleyKidz sessions held in the Sportscenter Fitness and Athletic Club, participants learn fundamentals of volleyball using a small foam ball and also improve locomotor skills, said Leah Bennett, clinic founder.

"I hope they have fun, that's always my No. 1 goal," said Bennett. "When you see them hit that first ball over the net, that's absolutely the pay off."

Players participated in line drills, an agility course and a volleyball game with a beach ball at the end of a recent practice.

The first session consisted of about 13 participants each day, but Bennett said she hopes the program continues to grow. However, she said she likes to keep the 1-to-5 coach-to-player ratio.

"They are learning dexterity and balance and making it fun, so it's a win-win," said Christy McDufford, who has two children participating in the clinic.

Tami Darwin, 37, said she brought her daughter Cassidy, 4, to the clinic because she "likes the variety of sport experiences."

"It's great for her to meet new friends, and I'm hoping she'll learn to try new things and gain new skills," said Darwin.

Darwin has been playing volleyball for 11 years, so she hopes the experience will allow her daughter to gain confidence in the sport and hold her own in a pick-up game in the backyard.

Cassidy ended the July 13 practice with a smile and said her favorite part of the clinic was the agility course. She said she definitely wanted to come back.

Christina Brooks, 29, said her two children, Joshua, 8, and Averie, 5, enjoyed the first day of the clinic so much that they begged her to let them come back the second day.

"We are home-schooled, so we try to get as much social interaction as possible," said Brooks.

Daughter Averie said she had most fun hitting the ball during practice, while Joshua said he enjoyed playing a volleyball game.

VolleyKidz is taught by head clinicians Bennett and Judy Campbell, and clinicians Judi Blas and her 11-year-old daughter Vanessa Blas.

Bennett is the director of volleyball and the physical education/wellness teacher at Mountain Island Charter School in Mount Holly. Bennett also coaches girls' junior club volleyball for the Carolina Storm, a local volleyball club. She was a two-time All-American at Louisiana State University and member of the U.S. Volleyball National Team.

The program has two remaining sessions, and clinics are available to Sportscenter members and to the general public. Registration is required. Sportscenter members pay $60 per session, while non-members cost $70 per session.