June 1, 2008

Juniors - Don't Panic. Seniors - Panic!!

With June upon us, unsigned Seniors need to be making some tough decisions and working very hard to secure a college roster position. Juniors still have plenty of time and do not need to get caught up in the false pressure of finding a school.

Seniors: Statistically speaking, all the Division I scholarship spots are gone - Yes, there may be just a couple left, but chasing them will be a poor use of time. Division II, while funded as a combination of athletic, academic and merit/need based scholarships is in the same position - the scholarship spots are gone. While I don't know as much about Division III, I would think with the academic slant of these member schools, the challenge would be to gain acceptance to the institutions because of the date. This late in the process, there are two avenues left - Scholarship and Non-scholarship.

If you must have a scholarship to attend college (this is a reality for many folks - the parents make too much to obtain need based scholarships, but not enough to pay for college), then Junior Colleges and NAIA schools must be your focus. Junior Colleges will continue to recruit right up to the beginning of their training and because of they way they are funded, many schools have substantial scholarship support available this late in the process. With NAIA schools, the funding tends to be a bit more scattered, as each school determines the value of volleyball and funds to that value. Some NAIA schools have been done recruiting for months, while others will stay active right through the summer.

With both JC's and NAIA schools, the key is to be aggressive in your efforts to promote yourself. You should be sending out e-mails to any and all JC's and NAIA schools that you feel could meet your needs. Go to www.njcaa.org and www.naia.org to get the complete list of schools that sponsor women's volleyball. Make sure that you either embed a playing clip or link to a playing/skills clip in your e-mail or you are able send our some video ASAP. There are still scholarship spots available with NAIA/JC programs and this must be where your efforts are directed, not at finding the needle in the haystack with a NCAA program. The great thing about JC's is that you still have the opportunity of going to the NCAA level and being prepared with two years of playing experience and academic units in the bank.

If you don't need scholarship support and want to play college volleyball at the NCAA level, then you would be looking at being a Walk-On student-athlete. For men's volleyball, a great number of players are walk-on student-athletes because the NCAA only allows 4 scholarships per team (which can be divided). If you are pursuing a walk-on position, you must make absolutely sure that your selection of a team is based on the school. Academics are going to take up the majority of your day and will provide the avenue that may well bring you the most fulfillment.

Being a walk-on can be tough because of the dynamics of NCAA athletics. By and large, you will just be a practice player and not someone who gets a bunch of playing time in practice. Most NCAA conferences have a limit on the number of players that can travel for matches (as do schools for non-league matches). In addition, the reality is that a scholarship player will be given the first chance in practice and match situations before a walk-on. As tough as this sounds, the program has made an investment in the scholarship player, thus wants to develop that player. A walk-on player is free and does not carry the pressure of a scholarship student-athlete. These real world examples should illustrate the importance of selecting your future home based on academics, not athletics.

That being said, the best way to secure a walk-on position this late in the recruiting cycle is very similar to if you were going after a scholarship: Contact attractive programs and get them your information along with a video tape/link. But, here is the main difference - Make sure they know immediately that you are looking to join the program as a walk-on. This statement immediately makes you attractive because you are cost free - if you are able to bring a strong academic background to the team, then you become even more attractive to the program. Many of the larger public state schools will be extremely selective in their walk-ons simply because they receive a lot of interest - I have been at schools where we had 10 quality volleyball players each year we said 'no' to just because we did not have any slots available. Just like when pursuing a scholarship, be aggressive in reaching out to those schools that fit your needs as a student.

There are tremendous advantages to being a walk-on student athlete; preferential enrollment, athlete only academic services, top flight strength and conditioning facilities, elite medical support and treatment, etc. The important thing is to go into a walk-on situation with your eyes wide open - you may not get a lot of repetitions in practice, you may not travel and you may not suit up for home matches, and you will be at the bottom on the totem pole. But, you do have your foot in the door and a great volleyball future could be yours for the making.

Juniors - Don't Panic. I understand that a few kids in your club have committed and that so and so from such and such a team got a scholarship and you are much, much better - I know these things because I hear and see them each year. Do not get caught up in the scholarship panic - there is time. Right now, the majority of college programs are in a bit of a slow period for a number of reasons - It is before Nationals and thus in the shoulder season of recruiting, most college budgets roll over June 1 or July 1, so the preceding months we have all been told by our AD's not to spend money, and many coaches may be rethinking their recruiting needs after spring season or having taken over a new position. Nationals (AAU or USAV) will allow coaches to re-evaluate the 09 class while finishing assembling the 10 database.

It is important to continue the dialogue with those programs which you have received contact from (which are a good fit for you), along with evaluating the need to contact a wider group of potential colleges. Hopefully you have been able to visit a few schools on your own this early summer or are planning to make visits after Nationals. While a number of scholarships have been accepted, I feel there are so many more that have not even been offered by this date. Stay active, ask direct questions and keep an open mind.

As a Junior, you are entering one of the greatest years of any ones life - The Senior Year of High School. Don't get too caught up in what you do not have control over and that is college coaches. Focus on what you can control - Your effort and intensity at Nationals, having a great learning experience at any volleyball camps you attend and gathering information about those schools that have shown an interest in you. Enjoy being a Senior in high school and all that brings with it - College will come soon enough.