Lessons learned: the benefits of learning volleyball at a young age

Coach Erikka Dean-Gulbranson (second from right) poses with participants Story Bunn, Celeste Shenkman, and Summer Maclaren James at the girls' volleyball clinic on Aug. 7 at Malibu Bluffs Park. Photos by Emmanuel Luissi/TMT.

Community programs cover a broad spectrum of educational and recreational opportunities for people of all ages and interests. The Malibu Community Services Department offers various sports clinics year-round. On Sunday, Aug. 7, girls were introduced to volleyball.

The small group of girls aged 8 to 13 was led by coach and instructor Erikka Dean-Gulbranson and demonstrated exercises that highlighted the basics of volleyball. 

Dean-Gulbranson has spent over 28 years in youth programming and brought over 30 years of volleyball experience to the program.

Although she hoped the group would have been bigger, she explained that she was excited about the opportunity to introduce volleyball to a new group of girls.

“At first they’re a little nervous, it’s maybe a little bit scary, but by the end we’re laughing, we’re having fun and we’ve met new people,” Dean-Gulbranson said. “It’s a really cool experience.” 

The clinic began with a static stretch exercise followed by passing exercises that simulated getting a volleyball over the net. The girls began by throwing foam footballs over a net before transitioning to exercises where the girls learned the fundamentals of passing and setting with actual volleyballs. 

Next, Coach Dean-Gulbranson led the girls through exercises that pieced together what they had learned and taught the girls how to pass the ball among each other and send the ball back over the net. She also taught them about court positioning and proper form for hitting and passing a volleyball.

The girls eagerly took on the increasingly challenging exercises and improved in form under the coach’s guidance. 

Dean-Gulbranson said she hopes the clinic provided the motivation and encouragement for the girls to go on and pursue a place on their school’s volleyball teams.

Although she hoped the girls would go on to become more involved in volleyball, she also said that she hopes the clinic encourages the girls to continue to explore other sports and to take on physical challenges to continue to build their physical and emotional health.

She said introducing children to sports could be very important in a child’s development.

“It [sports] builds leadership, mentorship, teaches establishing boundaries, and helps kids gain confidence,” Dean-Gulbranson said. “Sports are hard, but when you pick up new skills you’ll feel really good about yourself.”

She said girls specifically would benefit from becoming involved in sports because it offers lessons in rules, organization, and discipline that carry over into their daily lives at an age where things are changing at home and at school.

She said that it also offers children who are transitioning into young adulthood the opportunity to gauge their physical health and start understanding what it means to be physically active and maintain good physical health. 

Dean-Gulbranson has worked with USA Volleyball and has taught volleyball all around the world. She was influenced by the sporting cultures of other countries. 

“Our country has been a little behind in athletics and sports overall,” Dean-Gulbranson said. “We use sports as recreation whereas other countries use it more socially and culturally.” 

She hopes to continue to cultivate a culture in the U.S. that encourages the youth to go outside, be active, and step out of their comfort zone.

“It’s okay to be challenged, it’s okay to try something that’s hard,” Dean-Gulbranson said. “You have to do something that’s hard and know you’re not great at it, but learn what you have to do to get better.” 

She also hopes parents help their children become involved in sports and open the door for their kids to experience something new.

“Even spending an hour outside doing something new, different, hard, and fun is giving them a life experience that they can carry with them,” Dean-Gulbranson said.

Malibu Community Services Recreation Assistant II Jasmine Garlington said sports clinics like these are important for the Malibu community because they provide families with opportunities to learn a variety of sports as well as take away lessons bigger than the sports themselves. 

She said sports teach lessons in team-building, cooperation and a sense of community. 

She said the department has a dedication in providing a variety of sports clinics so kids in the community could gain new experiences, learn new skills and possibly find something they love. 

“They’re [children] in early stages of learning what they’re passionate about, what they’re curious about,” Garlington said. “All these sports [programs] allow kids to explore what they like and what they may want to do.” 

She said the department has put a lot of hard work into making sports accessible to all kids in the Malibu community and encouraged girls to attend sports clinics.

“It makes me really happy to see. I played sports, so to see other young girls playing a sport and enjoying it and coming back to do it again,” Garlington said. “That’s my favorite part. It’s such a satisfaction to watch all these girls participating.”

Classes take place at city facilities as well as shared-use facilities. The department also offers after-school enrichment programs in coordination with the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu for children in kindergarten through fifth grade. School-aged children continue to develop social skills and explore their interests while participating in programs such as sports, music, acting, computer science, dance, and art. For more information on these programs please contact Bluffs Park at (310) 317-1364.