March 16, 2009

Young For Year in School Volleyball Recruiting Question

I believe this question may affect a few Volleyfolks out there:

Hi: I have a very tall and up and coming volleyball player. She is very young for her grade in school, (11 years old in 7th grade). She will graduate high school at 16. Is this going to cause problems for the college recruiting process? If so, what do I need to do now as a parent to prepare for this? - Sandy

Thanks for your question. It is good to get a bit of a game plan together, even though she is only 11 - but, as you say, she is also in 7th grade. With the August birth dates, many Prospective Student Athletes (PSA) graduate at 17 years old and some will actually play part or all of their freshman year in college at age 17.

An issue which I would see for the recruiting process is not so much the 'end age' of graduation, but how old she will when she is being evaluated by college coaches at tournaments. Being a 16 year old Senior also means being 13 or 14 year Sophomore.

The current college recruiting protocol is to throw the recruiting net into the pools of sophomores to assemble the raw data base of PSA's. After coaches have marked anybody tall, talented and with an inkling of potentential, they will begin the serious talent evaluation process during the late 16's Club season/summer camps and early Club season of 17's (Juniors). Scholarships may be extended in the Junior summer (some programs are offering when PSA's finish teething in pre-school) into Junior year high school/Club season, with evaluations, adjustments, additional offers, etc., going on at all times.

A question facing your daughter and family is what age group to play her with, as she enters high school. You can either play her at her true age group or you can play her with her graduation age group (play her up).

Playing her with her true age group will allow her to develop in a friendlier physical environment and mature at a pace which is socially and mentally more comfortable (in theory) because she is around others of the same age.

Playing her up with her graduation year will allow her develop her skills faster (in theory), speed up her volleyball knowledge by being around others more experienced (in theory) and not have to make such a huge jump in skill levels from graduation date to playing in college. J

Jumping from 16 Club volleyball to freshman college volleyball would be daunting just because of the physical differences in the body between 16 and 19. When you factor in 2 extra years of repetitions, game experience, exposure to alternative training styles/systems, the chasm only gets wider

Unless your daughter is physically mature for her age (coordination, height, foot speed, arm swing, explosive movement, etc), it is really tough to play up 2 years in club volleyball. Some players can do it, but they tend not to be tall and have gained physical maturity earlier than their peers. If you want to see what the physical difference would be, just go to a big club tournament and watch the 17 Open age groups for a few matches, then go find the 15 Open age group (and please take a stick to beat away all the college coaches who should not be patrolling this part of the gym) - While some of the heights will be the same between the two groups, the physicallity will be far removed from each other.

All things being relative, this is also what the college coaches will see with their eyes. They will evaluate her right now, then they have to make some projections about her future. We do this with every PSA and each college coach/program has their own theory with the word POTENTIAL. What will be this player's college potential? Some coaches like to take chances on kids with a large potential upside in college, while others, like me, don't.

Whatever path you/your daughter decides to follow, you/she must communicate effectively with your Club personnel and college volleyball coaches. Either way, it must be communicated that she is a very young player playing up to her graduation year or she is playing with her age group even though she will graduate high school while in the 16 Junior Club age group.

The reality is, yes, this will cause problems in the recruiting process - 14 year old sophomores are not going to be as good (on average) as 16 year old sophomores. This issue can be projected each year forward, right through her college career. Depending on her birth date, she could well be a 19 year old Senior in college.

The variable is she physically mature for her age? All of will see a younger person at one time or another and make the comment, 'he/she seems very physically developed for their age' or 'I can't believe she/he is only 17 years old, they seem so much older'. If your daughter is in this category, then it can makes things a bit easier to manage.

Taking a strict volleyball development viewpoint, I feel you have two choices - Speed Up or Slow Down.

* Speed Up - Since she is only in 7th grade, she has 2.5 years before hitting the Sophomore in high school year (also the year college coaches assemble the database). This window of opportunity will allow you/her to emphasize her physical development. There are any number of fitness training programs which are geared toward developing athletes. Some call it speed work, or velocity training, or power core, or upside down something which sounds really cool training. What you are looking to do is encourage the development of her coordination to catch up with the height, along with improve her physical strength. Just like life, if you focus upon something, you can make it better.

This also means putting her up with her graduation year to play club, not her age year. Next year, following this train of thought, she should be playing 14's club. The sooner you make the jump in age groups, the better the long term result will be. It is not like 14 year old volleyball players have great coordination and fly through the air with huge vertical jumps. This gives a 3 year window for her body/mind to adept to this higher level of play, before being evaluated by college coaches.

* Slow Down - Two options. Options One - There is no law which says she must graduate high school and immediately enter college volleyball. With NCAA rules, you have 5 years to play 4 years, once your 'clock' starts. Your 'clock' starts when you begin full time at a college or compete with an organized team within the sport which you will play in college (this is how you get those 24 year old freshman in college playing football - they tried to play pro baseball, but since they did not play football after high school and did not go to college, their clock has not started. You may want to consider taking one year before going off to college and use that year playing 17's club volleyball.

I know this sounds a bit nontraditional, but it is an option. If she graduates high school and takes part time classes at a college in the fall, while working out and playing pick up volleyball/going to informal training sessions, she has not started her clock. You would need to wait until after the New Year before ramping up the Club season, because her clock would then start. The NCAA looks at calendar year as much as school year and she would have 5 years to play 4 starting in January. This would allow her to play 17's Club, while still taking part time (or full time since her clock started) classes. With College Volleyball being a Fall Semester sport, her 5th year would end at Christmas. The college of her future, may be able to redshirt her for the first semester of her clock, in which she was still playing club, thus allowing 4 more seasons of competition. Let me finish this suggestion by saying you would really want to visit directly with the NCAA (which is possible) to find out all the details - I have just hashed out a rough picture.

Option Two - Be very clear in the recruiting process that you expect your daughter to redshirt her first year in college to allow her to physically catch up. If coaches know going in that your daughter is very young for her year and that she/parents want her to redshirt the first year, then it make things simpler. Football redshirts most of their freshman athletes simply to allow them to physically close the gap with upperclassmen who have been lifting for 3+ years.

I am glad you are looking at this proactively, but I would caution you to keep this conversation away from your daughter - She is only 11 years old. Please, please and pretty please, do not put the cart ahead of the horse. All of this will work itself out and there is no rush to grow up.