June 11, 2008

Club Volleyball Championship Play

The Club Volleyball Championship season is upon us. With the separation of a number of Club Volleyball teams into another group, we now have four events that can be classified as championship events. The AAU Championship in Orlando which begins first, followed by the Volleyball Festival in Reno and the USAV Volleyball Championships in Dallas, plus the JDVA Championship in Louisville (I can't remember the exact initials, but this is the breakaway group) run approximately the same time and conclude the Club Volleyball season.

In terms of how these championships are viewed by the College Volleyball Coaches, there is really no difference - we just want to recruit volleyball players. In a perfect world, these events would be held in Honolulu or Miami so I could go to the beach at the end of the wave (no pun intended). For College Coaches, I feel the championship events have lost a bit of the relevance in the recruiting process.

The 18's class has long been committed and College Coaches are making courtesy stops on the court to watch their incoming class (the non-flattering term is baby sitting). The 17's class is maybe 1/4 to 1/2 done with its commitments, and College Coaches know who they want to come to their schools. With this group, the coaches are trying to spend as much time as possible on each offered Prospective Student-Athlete's court. There is really not much evaluating going on with this group, it is just more 'face time' for the player and parents. The 16's group is probably where most of the scouting and building of the recruiting database is happening. One of the down sides of the very early recruiting commitment cycle is that many College Coaches are doing a best guess on a player's ability.

I have always found that there is a huge jump in the ability of college level PSA's from the 16's to the 17's club year. Of course, the Alex Klinemans and Beth Hodges of the volleyball world are an easy pick for a great future college player; but for the rest of the junior level players, this one year is the separation year. This is the physical development time frame of the players; where the future Division I college players separate themselves from everyone else. I will routinely mark a number of 16's level players for our recruiting database; players who I feel could have the ability to mature into a NCAA Division I volleyball player. Then, come the next club season, it is easy to see who has elevated their ability and who has leveled out.

The current recruiting trend of securing commitments from 16 year olds is a bit unnerving because College Coaches are making offers before I believe the physical and volleyball development of a PSA has entered the critical year. Unfortunately we are seeing a number of 'de-commits' and an even larger number of freshman year college transfers because of too early commitments. I have yet to offer a 16 year old and unless there is an absolute stallion of a player that is beating down my university's door, I don't plan on offering a PSA who just got their driver's license.

How does this relate to a current club player? Well, for simplicity's sake, we will skip over the 18's level and those 17's age that have accepted an offer or have a few offers on the table.

We must remember that this is the Championship season. This is the part of the year that goes into the record book and the culmination of a lot of time and energy. Can you remember how you did in the first tournament or the fourth or the Holiday Round-Up tourney? You will remember how you did at the Championship.

Focus is probably the number one piece of advice that I can provide. Now is the time for focus - on every match, on every game and on every play. This is the one tournament, when losing a tie breaker to go to the Gold Medal round, because you lost a points for versus points against calculation will really sting. Every play in important - Don't 'play' your way into the match - be prepared to play hard even before the first whistle.

Positive attitude is a key component to Championship success. If you stay positive with your body language, in your conversations with team mates and with your opponents, then good things will happen. I know that sounds a little cosmic feel good, but I have just seen it come true too many times to doubt good karma. Don't get negative if you are struggling in a match - that happens; focus on lifting up your teammates by not getting down on yourself. Don't become critical of a team mate who is having a terrible match - they are not doing it on purpose and if you give them the stink eye, that is just not going to help.

Remember good technique - Good technique is reliable and will not falter during a pressure situation. Don't get fancy, don't be lazy with things that you know should be done a certain way. Rally score volleyball games are won by those teams that make the least amount of mistakes, not those teams that make the most great plays. If you make sure that you are using good technique, then you will make less mistakes - you may not make as many great plays, but good technique will pave the way to team victory.

Invest emotionally - This is one area that I think American players are getting 'beat' by international players. A criticism of Club Volleyball has always been that maybe too many matches are being played. This means that since there is always another match coming up or by the end of a tournament, most players are fried, kids have a very short term emotional memory; the system conditions them not to emotionally invest in matches. International players of the same age, seldom, if ever, play more than one match a day - most 'tournaments' last a month. Because of this, international players take these opportunities very seriously from an emotional perspective. They sincerely celebrate the victories and they cry when they lose - they are emotionally invested. I believe that if you emotionally invest in a match, if you open yourself up to allow the match to be important, then you will play at a higher level. This will make the victory sweeter, but it will also make the loss hurt more.

Even though it is the Championship, that is no excuse not to enjoy what you are doing. Basically, you should be having fun. If you enjoy what you are doing, then you will do it better - this is just human nature. If I did not enjoy being a volleyball coach, they I would not be a very good volleyball coach.

Each of these things that I have listed above, will also make a significant positive impression upon those College Coaches that are evaluating you. Focus, technique, being positive and playing with emotion are all things that College Coaches look for when considering athletes for their program. The Championship is the absolute best place to illustrate to your future coach, that you are a great volleyball player.

Good luck and have fun!