October 8, 2015

College Volleyball Recruiting and the Libero - Question #2894

Dear Coach Sonnichsen,
Thank you so much for your website, you have really provided some great info for those of us going through this crazy process.  I was reading the post from the parent that was asking about their D$/L dilemma with the recruiting process.  

Our daughter is also a Libero / DS in the graduating class of 2017.  We have always heard what you indicated that Libero / DS positions are always late in the commitment process.  We began the process this past March and were at first blown away by the over 30 DI reply's that we got from our daughters video.  We took the direction of the initial emails which was the standard, "this is the only email we can send until September 1st of her Junior year, please keep us up to date on your progress, we look forward to getting to know you better ".  Several of the schools provided cell phone numbers for her and instructed her that she could contact them but they couldn't call her.  When my daughter started making calls to those schools, with the exception of 2, there was a lot of awkwardness involved by the coaches.  

We did get several emails from Big 12, Big 10, SEC, USA and ACC schools that had already committed to the Libero / DS position for 2017.  Several of these schools asked if she would be interested in walking on, however all were out of state schools.  We did leave the door open to a couple of the schools just because of the quality of the programs.  Now that the September 1st date has come and gone 3 more schools have indicated the same thing that they have already committed to the position, 2 of those schools also asked her about the possibility of walking on.  

How should we evaluate this logically as parents, the probability of us being willing to pay for 4 years of out of state tuition is not very high (unless there is a trick to avoiding it).  Some of these coaches have used some adjectives in their sentences like, impressive recruit, impact player at her position, one coach even asked if he could pass her name to some other school coaches.  Do we take any of this serious or is it a lot of smoke? 
As parents we have tried to be realistic with our daughters ability knowing there are 1000's of girls all competing for the same spots.  What is a clear sign that we can take from an email or conversation that lets us know that she even has a real shot at a DI school?

Thank you for the compliments on the website, and I hope that you may have taken time to read Inside College Volleyball.

Your email and questions will help many other families which are trying to understand today's recruiting culture, most especially within the NCAA Division I ranks.

When I present Recruiting Education Talks for NCSA Athletic Recruiting, one of my key points is that 'supply has exceeded demand'.  With the growth and professionalization of Club Volleyball (full time positions, volleyball only facilities, huge 3 day national level tournaments, 2 governing bodies, etc.), the number of collegiate level recruits has exceeded the college volleyball scholarships available each year.

As per your email, the Libero/Defensive Specialist is arguably the clearest example of this status, but the Setters and average sized Outside Hitters are also falling into this category.  In addition, your email illustrated the current recruiting protocols employed by NCAA DI programs - They send out early emails/letters to a large group of prospective recruits, with flowery language and invitations to call.  But, the reality of the recruiting is apparent with the awkward conversations and responses indicating that the scholarship for the graduation year has already been committed.  College coaches throw a large net, just to make sure a big fish does not get away, but there are only so many big fish.

If a NCAA Division I coach wants your daughter on the team, then they will offer a scholarship.  Everything else you hear or read, is either a recruiting white lie (because your daughter was not the big fish in the net) or an effort to get another free player on the roster which might eventually help the program.

Specific to L/DS's, a number of DI schools will employ the 'walk onto scholarship' method; have a couple of L/DS's walk on each year, and the best one may get a scholarship by the Junior or Senior year.  Of course, should a stud incoming Freshman be available, then those walk on players will be out of luck, because the "program needs this player".

Families of those Lovely Liberos must take a hard look at just how important is playing NCAA Division I? And honestly, the better word may be 'practicing' Division I - Do the math, a couple of walk on L/DS's means there are 6 players collegiately trained back row players ahead of you and they will play first.  

For some players/families, the status of saying "I play for State University" is worth walking on and accepting the large time commitment incumbent to being a NCAA Division I volleyball player.  There are many positives; preferential enrollment, academic support, social support system on campus, physical health and access to elite facilities, resume building, etc.

Yet, there is a great world outside of NCAA Division I volleyball.  As I have written and spoke about often, I personally believe that the 'best' opportunity for collegiate volleyball is NCAA Division II.  NCAA DII packages their scholarships (athletic, academic, merit and need based) which will often approach a 'full scholarship' (especially if the player has a good academic record).  DII does not mandate the huge time commitment - The season is shorter, mandatory summer school for team/player training has not arrived, holiday periods off, less travel, etc.  You can have a balanced collegiate experience because your entire existence is not mandated by the volleyball program.  And, because of the today's business like DI environment, the pressure to win is not as great in DII which often results in more player roster stability.

Back to the back row…….If walking on to a NCAA Division I program is not financially or emotionally comfortable for the family, then open the door to NCAA Division II, NAIA and Junior College programs.  They will be able to provide a better opportunity than what is currently being presented at the DI level.


October 5, 2015

Unofficial Visits and College Volleyball Recruiting


Hi!  Daughter is a junior and just getting letters of interest.  One college has been communicating regularly and invited her to visit.  She is all excited and ready to go... I am telling her to wait and see who she speaks with and is interested.   This college is across the country and it is a big expense...  How important is a college visit to get an offer.   I would be more willing to go look if I knew they were serious about her.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts on this!!!

With college volleyball recruiting, the unofficial visit is the key visit in today's world, as opposed to the old school Official Visit. The challenge is determining which unofficial visits to take, because families have unlimited visits but they must pay the bill.  College coaches/programs have no hesitation to invite a player, because it costs them nothing and it allows them to better populate their recruiting reach.

The key to any visit is clear communication; communication between family members and communication with the college coach.

Before any thought of a visit occurs, the family must be clear as to their recruiting comfort zone.  Look at GAAS - Geography, Athletics, Academics, Social - If everyone is in agreement on GAAS, then that school is a possibility.

Before traveling to a school, the family must be direct with the college coach - You don't want to travel to a school, unless there is a clear understanding of where your daughter stands in the recruiting process.  Family must get over any discomfort they feel asking about their daughter's standing - Remember….this is a business for college coaches, don't worry about their feelings.  

- If the college coach tells you that your PSA is their #1 recruit, then your next question should be the timing of a scholarship offer - If she is #1, then they should offer if they are being truthful. I would be comfortable with going on an unofficial visit if they said she was #1 recruit.

- If your daughter is #2, then still ask about their scholarship offer timing; after their answer, you would need to look at cost of visit.  If they are drivable or cheap flight for 2, then I would go.  If it is expensive, then I would wait a bit longer.

- If they hesitate or don't give you clear answer, then I would not go on an invited visit unless it is just a local/regional school and only go on the visit if you feel it would be a good comparison school to others.

Families must move away from the mentality that they 'have' to go on a visit to 'get' an offer - The offer may well be presented during the visit, but that offer or no offer of a scholarship, should be known during the visit.  While your visit is important for college coaches, it is the last 'check' on a player when considering an offer.  For families, the visit is critical because you have so much to process.  Let the PSA go in wide eyed and all excited, but the parents absolutely must be the adults in the room, casting a critical eye on all that is seen and listening with concern to all that is said.

Bottom line is ASK the college coaches where your PSA stands and what their scholarship plans on.  It is your money, it is your time and it is your daughter.