Could the Suzuki Method of Violin Instruction Work in Club Volleyball?

“This method is not education of the violin. It is education by the violin.”
— Shinichi Suzuki

The late Shinichi Suzuki developed the Suzuki Method of violin instruction that over 400,000 children use worldwide. The goal of Suzuki was not to teach children to be elite violinists. The ultimate goal was to use the learning process to develop the inherent talents for music that he believed all children possess.

Shinichi Suzuki

“Suzuki believed achieving a certain level of mastery on the violin was only an example—albeit powerful—of what all children could accomplish with proper guidance from an early age. The broad acceptance of the Suzuki Method in the U.S. community attests to a deep appeal. As one homeschool blogger writes, “the Suzuki Method trains her children to set realizable goals and work hard for them while improving their concentration and instilling habits of discipline that can be applied to other tasks.” WSJ

A similar sentiment of developing a positive work ethic and discipline might be applied to club volleyball. Although some are solely motivated to become skilled players and receive a college scholarship, most coaches and parents believe that discipline, teamwork, and hard work are worthy by-products of participation.

The Suzuki Method involves several vital components. I wanted to examine the integral parts of Suzuki’s approach to learning the violin and see if aspects might transfer to club volleyball.

The Suzuki Method encourages a mix of group and private lessons

A varied lesson plan allows Suzuki students to learn privately from an instructor. These private lessons are combined with small group classes where students will practice with other students of various ages. The feeling is the small group lessons provide camaraderie, along with challenging the young students to improve their skills to match their older counterparts. The different learning environments expose the students to various conditions and lesson styles that can considerably progress their skills.

For VB Clubs

The typical volleyball club trains almost exclusively as a team and has little interaction with other players outside of their immediate teammates. Any individual work is done outside the regular practice hours and often includes an additional cost. Most coaches value time spent in solo or small group sessions focusing on skill enhancement. However, how might a club director adapt this principle to a club environment? Could the club organize individual, small group, or positional “lessons” without tacking on an extra fee? If a format that includes private, small group, and team activities could be implemented, the result might be expedited skill development.

Suzuki students listen to a lot of music outside of formal lessons

Suzuki students learn through listening and must listen to hundreds of hours of music. Just as one learns to speak before learning to read/write, so does the Suzuki student learn to play and produce sounds on the instrument before reading music. Listening daily to the recordings is essential to appreciate the quality tone and develop an ear for quality play.

For VB Clubs

Along the same lines of developing an appreciation for the correct tone of a musical piece, can volleyball coaches incorporate, as an educational tool, having players study high-level players in both competitive and training environments? The coach can highlight the key aspects of play, providing players with a visual model of the best playing techniques. Similarly, having younger players watch high-level practice sessions can impact how a player or team trains.

Suzuki students prioritize the importance of repetition

Repetition will develop and hone the skills necessary to play with refined skills. Repetition also contributes to the memorization of pieces allowing them to play proficiently without reading music. Larger compositions are broken into smaller units to develop mastery. The ability to master music without needing to read music is similar to mastering volleyball skills without conscious thought.

For VB Clubs

Repetition is a critical component of developing volleyball skills. The goal of practice is to facilitate correct skill execution. The player must repeat the skill to the point where positive habits are formed. However, repetition by itself is not the goal. The repetition must challenge the player and be very specific. The coach must remember that the repetition must replicate game activities as much as possible. Drills with constraints to focus on specific aspects of skill or team play are in order.

Suzuki students use progressive music books to monitor their progress

The students using the Suzuki Method go through their lessons using a series of books/lessons organized with increasing complexity. The students take great pride in advancing through the books as a testament to their improving skills.

For VB Club

Generally, inside the club system, players advance to the next level without regard for skill development. The criteria for advancement are age, not skill. A more organized skill evaluation and improvement system would positively serve the athlete. Such a “grading” system will also give the club director good feedback if their methods foster improvement. Unfortunately, we tend to grade improvement on competitive results instead of skill development.

The Suzuki Method prioritizes parental involvement

Suzuki teachers and students aren’t the only ones involved in the child’s music education. The student, the teacher, and the parent work as a team in the development of the student. Parents attend lessons (when possible) and actively participate in the student’s home training (listening to recorded pieces with their child and encouraging at-home practice). The parents’ close involvement can breed support and foster deeper relationships between family members. The parent will also learn basic violin pieces they will play with their child.

For Club VB

Parental involvement is undoubtedly a hot point for club coaches. Often the club asks the parent to be invisible. On one level, this is understandable. However, is there potential for embracing parental involvement instead of constantly fighting a losing battle over-involved parents? Can time be budgeted to have parents go through some simple drill practices so they might appreciate the challenges of the sport? Have regular meetings with the director about the progress made by the athlete or team, and encourage a better understanding of the methods used in practice.

The Takeaway

Before I get taken to the woodshed by club coaches, understand I’m not making a case for volleyball replicating or incorporating the Suzuki Method in the club volleyball system. I wonder if there are components that could positively impact what a coach is attempting to accomplish. Club directors and coaches should always be “pushing the envelope” to pursue better teaching programs. Perhaps there are elements of the Suzuki program that would benefit club volleyball programs.