Have you ever wondered why parents support kids so strongly in sports like volleyball, yet are willing to cancel their weekly riding lesson?

Volleyball at Lower Grades

Volleyball, like other team sports such as soccer, is introduced on the community level, often Parks and Rec, at a young age. Sometimes the kids don’t even know what volleyball is, and their parents encourage participation. Every child makes the early grade team, and parents, sometimes with limited experience, volunteer to coach. A community business will donate T-shirts and maybe drinks for game days. Practices are scheduled rather loosely 3-4 times a week, depending on when the court is available. Players are expected to make practice because everyone needs to develop skills. Games dates are not known ahead of time but the season usually culminates in a tournament. This is a loose description of early grade volley ball.

This seems pretty normal but take a closer look at key points.

  • Team
  • Parents
    • parents encourage, transport, and coach kids. This is called parental buy-in.
  • Local business/community buy in
    • someone supports the team
  • Uniform with shirts
    • the kids have identity
  • Expectation/pressure
    • performance and participation pressure are applied
  • Competition dates
    • a goal

As Kids Get Older

After school sports evolve into teams with serious competition around eight grade, depending on where you live. Try-outs create a great deal of tension. The girls who make the team are expected to be at every practice and every game because the team depends on them. They also know other girls would like to have their spot on the team. The team proudly wears their school color uniforms. Teams practice everyday after school to prepare for tournaments where they might play for about 8 hours. Tournaments are grueling.

At School Team Level 

  • Tryout
    • appointed pressure time
  • Pressure to make the team
    • pressure to do their best in order to succeed
  • Pride in making the team or defeat in not making the team
    • making the team means something. It’s a status.
  • Pressure to make all of the practices in order to stay on the team
    • pressure for responsibility
  • School pride/uniforms
    • identity
  • School spirit
    • shooting to be the best
  • Tournaments
    • the goal

The Coach

The volleyball coach starts out in a strong position. Supply and demand make tryouts competitive. And competition makes it possible for the coach to lay down the law. The coach has no doubt that competition is desired and expected, and the goal is to win. Parents accept the coach’s leadership and expect the coach to work their child hard.

Interesting Observations.

  • Volleyball practice is everyday for the competitive team.
    • They don’t just have 1 volleyball lesson each week.
  • Being on the team is an honor, not a right.
    • The best players make the team.
  • In order to stay on the team or make the next team, players are expected to be at practice and at games
  • There are rules
  • There are expectations
  • Parents not only fall in line and support the program, they obey the coach.    Here is my disclaimer: There is an exception to every rule!

My take

  • Team sports have a great deal to do with parental buy-in.
  • Parents want their kids to be part of something.
    • Making the team means their child is accepted.
  • Parents want to fill their  kids’ lives full of constructive activity.
    • we live in a society where activity indicates quality of life.
  • Parents want coaches and sports to whip their kids into shape.
  • Parents know if their child misses too many practices, they can be replaced.


Volleyball kids have pressure from every direction. They are taught not to let anyone down- the team, down, the school, the coach, their parents,  and themselves. That’s a ton of pressure coming from a lot of directions.

And is there anything worse than a parent who played the sport themselves who decides to motivate their child?

How we wish would could gain the same kind of support for our riding lessons programs from  parents of students.

Is the Buy-in with Horses Different?

Frequently the buy in to horses is a slow build. It usually starts with someone taking lessons. The newbie rider doesn’t face the pressure of a season that lasts a few weeks, like volleyball, or soccer. The plan and goals for a rider evolve over time.

Compared to team sports, horses can be a loner sport. People learn at their own pace, especially if they only ride once a week. There is no hype about the team depending on each person’s participation.

Most of the time, positions in riding lesson programs are available and the instructor is flexible.

We have fewer participants.

Parents understand less because few of them have ridden horses

Instead of being directed by a coach and the rules, riders and parents are coaxed. Coaxing rarely builds a fire under anyone. And when clients aren’t coaxed, instructors are accused of being overbearing or choosing favorites.

What If

Just for the sake of conversation, what if there were a team? USPC provides opportunity for team competition. 

What if there is an end of the season championship goal, like in 4-H?

Or barn pride?

Or expectations and pressure?

What’s Your Opinion?

  • How do we create some of the same atmosphere for our riding programs that is found in sports like volleyball?
  • How do we develop parental buy-in?
  • Should we have higher expectations of students for attendance? How about for performance?
  • How do we foster pride in our program and spirit among our riders?
  • What kinds of goals can we give our riders?
  • What has worked for you?

Would you help riding instructors worldwide by sharing your ideas?

May your footing be terrific and all your transitions smooth.

Thanks for reading The Riding Instructor.

Barbara Ellin Fox



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Barbara Ellin Fox TheRidingInstructor
  • We were able to get school district approve an equestrian team (public middle and high school) and competed thru IEL inter scholastic equestrian league (thru which we could buy insurance). In high school it counted for PE hours and the team lettered ! Thanks to supportive administrators.

    • Hi Janine,
      Your comments are very encouraging for those of us who love to see riding as a team sport. It sounds like a fantastic barn. It would be terrific to get riding approved in more middle and high schools. I’d love to know more about how your barn got approval. I bet readers would like to know, too. Thanks for telling us about this good success. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Our barn had a show team with 2 required lessons per week. They were leveled lessons one session for newer riders, one as you moved up. This fostered a feeling of a team despite individual competing at shows. It created a very supportive group. The parents also often brought snacks or celebrated bdays after the Saturday lesson just like other team sports.
    Note this was a very accessible barn. While some owned or leased many rode school horses.

  • WE have a huge lesson program in MA. We used to have students migrate into the horse showing team and eventually purchase a nice horse and go for the big competitions. Today however, kids MUST be involved in school TEAM SPORTS in order for their application/resume for college is in order. Unfortunately, horses, including show, do not qualify as a TEAM SPORT. So, as much as the kids love their lessons and riding and even showing, Parents are shuttling one, two or three kids to TEAM sports activities, practices, games, etc…. immediately following their lessons. No more kids hanging around at the barn and having horses as their PASSION….just not enough time for that any more. Over the last few years we have had ladies 50+ years enjoying lessons, taking many lessons per week!!! They do not have an interest in showing, but, DO want to own their own horse, continue to take lessons on that horse, and enjoy social activities with the other Ladies (such as trail riding and maybe a one-day show). WE give the students/clients what THEY want (not what WE want them to want) and our barn is full and lesson schedule overloaded.

    • Hi Chris,
      Thanks for your very positive comments. I love reading a success story and also like that your students go for the team sports AND take their lessons. I’m a fan of US Pony Clubs and when I was an RS I wrote multiple recommendations on college applications for Pony Club member. Schools with equestrian programs like students with a Pony Club background and some offer scholarships. Pony Club has team competition although not a school sport. I recently learned a little bit about another organization. I say a little bit as I haven’t researched it very deeply. It is Interscholastic Equestrian Association https://www.rideiea.org. The are affiliated with NCEA, IHAS, USPC and other major organizations. I wonder if this might be a way to turn riding into a school team sport in some areas. At the very least, for the very horse crazy student who plans to attend a college with an equestrian program it would seem to be a good affiliation. Just a thought. Thanks for your comment. Barbara Ellin Fox

  • Brilliant piece of observation and analysis Barbara. I would add my quote from McTaggart “A horse schooled on the lines I have often outlined,……. becomes something much more than a ride. He is a live and friendly thing, a true companion in every sense of the word, whose intelligence has been developed and fear supressed to such an extent that he is almost human………” Another thought —- before I learned to fly an aeroplane I realised that learning would take a lot of time and a lot of money. I asked myself just what I was going to do with this Pilot’s License when I had it and if the answer to that question was not satisfactory there was no point in spending the time and money learning. Now I look at some young people being taught to ride and ask a similar question; just what are they going to do with this art, skill, knowledge when they have acquired it. Will they continue to ride in adulthood (assuming that the opportunities exist) or is learning just a passing entertainment?

    • Roger,
      You are so right and sadly so many people who take lessons will leave it all behind because it is an activity instead of a passion. They will never know what they miss. They will not have the pleasure of visiting the barn on a quiet evening and listening to their friend munch hay, nor will they know the good feeling of sore muscles after a hard day’s ride. Or the companionship…Sad. Thank you for your comment. Your friend, Barbara

  • Great post, Barbara! Both sports are excellent physical exercise and teach discipline. Riding is the only one that brings joy from hugging the animal you’re working with, higging a rubber ball, not so much : )

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