In the fall of your Junior year, your focus should be two fold - 1) Maximizing the training and competition opportunities available during the high school season, 2) Developing a Holiday game plan for jump starting the New Year recruiting cycle.
During your high school season, you have the chance to get better. If you are like most college bound players, you probably are one of the better players on your team and might have just finished a competitive club season with a bit more current coaching instruction. Even though you may have developed beyond the parameters of your high school team, you need to maximize the opportunity of being in the gym each day and touching a volleyball. Our sport is not like golf or tennis, where you can get good training in a solo or one on one environment - in volleyball, you need to be with other players to get better. Don't waste this time by just coasting on your current talent during practice and matches - PUSH yourself to eliminate mistakes, become better with advanced skills, focus on being the best possible volleyball player. This is how you get ready for a very important junior club volleyball season.
Your Holiday game plan - these are the steps necessary to prepare for the upcoming season, both club and recruiting seasons: 1) Make Skills tape, 2) List all the schools that have sent you a questionnaire and rank them, 2) Develop a list of new schools you wish to contact, 3) Send out Skills tape and updated recruiting information to current and potential schools, 4) Be active with e-mails and letters.
Numbers 1, 2, and 3 should all be done by December 1st - by this date you should be aware of your junior team and your schedule. Number 4 is on going and it is important to stay active in the process. Remember, if you are a good outside hitter, the college coach is actively engaged with 10 of you. While you don't have to be an e-mail buddy with college coaches, you should stay in touch every week or so.
This December time period is important, because the Division I programs are about to enter a restricted recruiting period (Quiet and Dead), and are also going to take some time off for the Holidays. If you can get your information into them in early December, it allows programs to plan on seeing you after the Holidays are over in an early Juniors tournament. For Division II programs, the recruiting period is much more open, and these programs will come see you play earlier if they know about you.
As you select your club team, be conscience of what type of team - regional or national. National teams get seen by more college coaches than regional teams and from further away colleges. Your Junior year is the showcase year - this is where you want to be seen by as many coaches as possible and as often as possible by these coaches.
By your Junior year, you have physically matured closer to a typical college volleyball build, than during your Sophomore year and your skills have either advanced or leveled out. These are the things that college coaches get paid to evaluate. Sometimes this evaluation is done over a few tournaments and sometimes a coach will only be able to see you play one time. While we don't want to put any undue pressure upon athletes, we need to see what type of a volleyball player you are - because of this, it is very important that you are prepared and focused for each match. You never know what college program is watching you.
The first part of the club season will have a big rush of college coaches at allowed tournaments (January 1st for Division II schools and Martin Luther King Day for Division I) - this is because coaches want to get an early look at all those Sophomores they saw last spring, and many programs may not have completed recruiting for the Senior class. This leads to hordes of college coaches and lots of 'buzz' at early events. Play hard, but don't read too much into coaches being at your court or not being at your court - just play volleyball.
As the club season starts to move into March, then you (better yet, your parents) should be a bit more aware of who is watching you and who is not. This is because you may wish to explore taking an Unofficial Visit to a campus or two. You may really want to go to State U., but if they have not seen you play in person, then you are probably not in the top 3 for them.
By March, the majority of schools have set their top PSA's for each position and are interested in having them make time to come for an Unofficial Visit. You need to know what schools are serious, just ask them where you rank, because you don't have weekends to waste. If you are interested in a school and they have seriously recruited you, and you have the invitation to make an Unofficial Visit - you need to make the visit.
If I have done my job evaluating the PSA's, then my top 3 players are all very close in abilities - that way if I don't get my #1 player, my #2 player is just as good. The last thing that I want to do is lose my #2 player to another school, if my #1 player is not ready to make a visit. This line of reasoning, common in all recruiting levels, is why it is important for PSA's to be active in the recruiting process.
The time frame for verbal commitments continues to speed up, yet mid-way through the club season tends to be the start of numerous commitments. The college coaches have made their rankings and extended offers, and if the PSA's have visited campus, they may be comfortable with accepting. This is why it is so important that your recruiting game plan be put into action before the Holidays, because before you know it, the spring is here and so are big decisions.
As you move through the spring and into the summer, you need to evaluate your situation. How many of the schools you are interested in are still recruiting you? You find this out by calling or e-mailing the coach to find out - if the coach hedges or stays away from a definitive answer, then you have your answer. If you feel you have numerous programs still seriously recruiting you, then you should feel good.
If you don't feel good, then re-evaluate your potential schools. Maybe it is time to look schools in different conferences, different size schools, maybe Division II, III or JC/NAIA schools. Once you make this determination, then immediately send out the skills tape and recruiting information - get your name out to new schools now.
Even though it may seem like scholarships are flying off the shelves, there are plenty of quality schools and programs still looking for good volleyball players. Keep an open mind to possibilities - I have been around college volleyball long enough to learn that most things work out for the best.