In three days, Gretchen Cash developed skills that she believes will benefit her for years.
Cash, who'll be an eighth grader in the fall at Notre Dame Academy, was among 38 high school and middle school girls of all ability levels who participated in the USA Volleyball High Performance Camp, a pilot developmental program Canyon Crest Academy hosted July 19-22 that attracted some of the nation's top coaches.
"'I'm a lot better at passing now," Cash said. "Before this camp, I was really bad."
Cash is a competitive club player who hopes to follow in the footsteps of her older sister Samantha, a junior national standout who'll be a Canyon Crest Academy senior.
Gretchen Cash cited developing a float serve and setting techniques among the other significant things she added to her volleyball repertoire.
"The coaches were really nice — you could tell they were experienced," she said.
"It was really fun. The only sad part was that it was over."
The camp featured Team USA and USC women's assistant coach John Xie, Northwestern University assistant women's coach Christie Landry and Encinitas Wave coach Tanner Kortman.
CCA coach Ariel Haas organized the clinic.
Some of the participants had no experience playing organized volleyball, said Haas, noting that the event was the first of its kind to introduce advanced level coaching to such a wide range of ability levels.
Haas said the camp emphasized the coaching philosophy of Team USA coaching guru Hugh McCutcheon, who stresses a "simpler is always better" philosophy, Haas said, noting that "techniques need to be repeatable" to be effective.
"I think all kids can get a lot out of learning from the best," Haas said. "Whether they're trying out for the freshman team or they're going to try out for the junior national team, they can all get better from these principles that were being taught."
In addition to teaching physical skills, Haas said the coaches introduced their players to advanced strategic volleyball philosophy, with coaches bandying about terms such as "reduce variance" and "manage risk" — buzzwords you'd expect to hear at an insurance seminar — to describe volleyball's equivalent of baseball's sabermetrics.
"There are a lot different ideas in volleyball," Haas said. "Every coach has their own idea of how to do things, but they can't always explain why they do those things, so for the kids to be exposed to scientifically proven, statistically driven reasoning behind why (you should) play volleyball in certain ways, gives these kids a solid foundation."
Haas said the purpose of introducing advanced coaching to players of varying ability was somewhat of an experiment, but he said he liked the results.
"Those kids grew by leaps and bounds," Haas said. "They learned how the game is supposed to be played, and they have a better foundation from which to learn and develop their games that will only benefit them when they get older."
The camp wasn't just a learning experience for the players.
Coaches discovered that players of different abilities sometimes grew frustrated playing against each other in practice, a revelation that flew in the face of research showing that players of all abilities actually develop faster amid a "heterogeneous" setting, Haas said.
The frustration gap was especially pronounced among the high school groups, Haas said.
"I think kids have a mentality of wanting to play against kids who are at their level," Haas said.
"The lesson learned from that was that even though the research says that," they're better off in a heterogeneous environment, "the next time we do the camp we'll probably want to split the kids up."
Haas acknowledged that it was not immediately known if and when there will be a "next time," noting that the future of the camp model, including whether to hold it again at CCA or expand it, is entirely up to USA Volleyball.
But he is hopeful the camp's success will sway USA Volleyball to pursue the program. He said coaches reported their finding from the camp to officials at American Athlete, a private company to which USA Volleyball contracted the camp's day-to-day operations.
"I think it would be great to do it, but who knows," Haas said.
"It's the first time ever this style of camp has been done, and we hope to continue to work with them and bring that level of coaching to San Diego."