October 23, 2008

Playing other sports after Signing the NLI?

A good question that I would think many families could ask:

My daughter is a high school senior, and has verballed to a college to play vb there next year. She will sign during the early signing period. My question is: she has played club vb in the past, should she play again this year? Not to showcase her talents (she already did that) but more to stay in shape and get ready for college ball by keeping her hands on the ball. She plays bb in the winter for her high school and runs track in the spring. Or is this a question we should ask the coach of the school she will sign with? I know some coaches worry about kids getting hurt. I was just wondering how most coaches would answer this question. Mary

This is a common question that college coaches receive after a player signs the National Letter of Intent (NLI). Remember that the NLI is the contractual agreement between the host institution and the player; this contract allows for both parties to have some measure of comfort about the future.

In reality, the incoming Prospective Student-Athlete (PSA) becomes part of the program when she signs the NLI. The school has said no to other PSA's and committed to the player. With this, the player is put into future consideration about her role with the college volleyball team. College coaches like to and try to plan a few years out to determine the recruiting pattern and team position make-up. We don't really like to have this pattern interrupted by things that are controllable.

So many things in college sports can be uncontrollable for college volleyball coaches - budgets, administrative policies and changes, conference affiliations, referee's, did football or basketball sneeze and need a $10,000.00 tissue?

But, the one thing that does have a measure of control for coaches, is what the players are doing. College athletes are very regimented in what they are allowed to do by college programs - You rarely find volleyball players on the ski slopes, gymnasts hanging out at the all you can eat buffet, basketball players on scuba diving trips, etc. I believe that part of the desire to micromanage players may be a reaction to so many critical things that college volleyball coaches have no control over.

In answering the questions:

1. Should she play club - YES, YES and YES. I would be beyond disturbed if one of my incoming scholarship players did not play club. The jump from high school age volleyball to college age volleyball is huge - by skipping your senior year of club, you will almost assuredly sit as a freshman; not as punishment, but you will be one year behind because you did not play club volleyball for one season.

2. Should she play Basketball or run Track? NO, NO and NO. Again, she has signed her NLI and should be preparing for college volleyball. For college volleyball coaches, the term 'Basketball Senior Year' is Latin for 'big knee injury about to happen'. The wonderful thing about volleyball is the net separating the teams - of course injuries will happen, but you don't have players actively jumping on top of each other's feet on every play like in basketball. Just think about the bodies flying around, players taking charges, kids throwing elbows and pounding to the ground after loose balls. This question just sends shivers down college volleyball coaches spines.

As for Track, most college coaches would be concerned about the time conflict with elite level club volleyball. Yes, we understand the value of the work-outs and the physical training, but club volleyball allows the incoming PSA to play the game and fine tune some skills that would be specific to a new playing role in college. Also, running track could mean high stress impactive training on a PSA's body - Just like gym floors, some track surfaces are soft and some are hard. College volleyball will have enough physical pounding to last a lifetime, so coming in a bit beat up as a freshman is not a good formula.

I suggest you view the spring-summer of your daughter's Senior year as college prep 101. The fun and casual athletic existence will end with the ending of her high school season. After the Holidays, it is time to start preparing for life as an elite level college volleyball player. Families and players may think they have lots of time, that college play is 4 to 5 years long and to just take it slowly - while this is partially true, this 4 or 5 year window goes very fast and will NEVER be repeated.

In preparing for college, to maximize her opportunity to have a tremendously successful athletic career, she needs to focus on being an elite level volleyball athlete - play the highest level of club possible against the best competition, take care of her physical self by working out and eating correctly, take care of her mental self by allowing for rest time and recover, etc.

I have been witness to a number of incoming freshman waste their first year in college by not preparing properly - I say 'waste' because this is what they told me as upper-class men; in hind sight, they understood that their freshman year was not good because they did not arrive ready to be NCAA Volleyball players.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!