April 17, 2009

Height Challenged OH Question

Our age 14, 5'4 3/4 daughter has her sites on playing vb in college. She just finished playing on a 14's club team as an OH with about 75% accuracy. She has a very good serve (starting server), can pass and dig well, and makes some spectacular saves. She plays hard and has a lot of heart and passion for the game. Because of her height, or lack thereof, I doubt she will grow tall enough to really compete against other OH's, even if she can increase her vertical dramatically. Although OH is her favorite position, bottom line is she wants to play vb. Should she change her focus to setting or DS given that even a best case scenario for her height is 5'7-5'8, or continue to train for OH in hopes that she will grow, and/or increase her vertical to the point it will compensate? Any advice you can give is much appreciated.
Thank you!

This is a good question which many Volleyfolks may be facing - What course of action to pursue when the family gene pool lends itself more towards soccer than volleyball.

In answering Jeanie's question, there is a question that needs to be asked of Jeanie's daughter - What position do you like to play? I get nervous when players start switching positions, just in the hopes of obtaining a college volleyball spot. The move from OH to DS is not a big one, but from an attacking position to a setter is a big jump.

If Jeanie's daughter, let's call her 64.75 (get it?); if 64.75 loves the Outside Hitting position and wants to play the OH position in college, then she will need to set her sights on lower DI (with a big jump) or DII (with a medium big jump) because of her height. There are many 5'8" OH's who enjoy successful DII and lower DI careers. Being a good OH is so much more involved than just being tall - Attacking is just one component of bringing value to the team. An OH who has the all around talent to do everything well and be consistent, is many times the glue which bonds winning teams together and brings a sense of calm to the head coach (a very important characteristic!!!). Any coach will tell you that having that OH who can pass, play defense, block, is in the right spot at the right time and can do it every practice/match is golden - Sure, hitting a .350 clip for 4 kills a game is the stuff of legends, but not necessary at the low DI or DII level.

Now, if 64.75 possesses a Dorthy the Dinosaur vertical jump (rompa-ba-chomp), then maybe the OH position is not the best choice to get to the college level. In this case, the Libero/Defensive Specialist slot is 64.75's calling. Let me first throw out a word of caution - College volleyball coaches are not sprinting between courts at National Qualifiers to find DS's - many times, a current college DS is a college OH who passed nails but hit Nerfs. If you want a less visually illustrative example - math; 3 OH's and 1 Libero. That is the typical college 6 on the court - yes, a DS will sneak in there for a poor passing, but big banging OH, but you really should not count upon that.

Word of cation, chapter 2 - Don't jump over to the DS position before the 17's year in Club. The best thing to do now, for 64.75, is to keep playing OH. This way you are on the court for all rotations, you learn more by playing front row than by just playing back row, you will become a better defender because you will have a hitter's mentality when you are digging hitters and you will get more passing reps (first thing a coach says when the opposing team is passing well - DON'T SERVE THE LIBERO!!!). Plus, hitting is fun - If I could only play defense and pass when I was in high school or college, I would not have enjoyed it 1/10th as much - there is just something primal about hitting a ball very, very hard!!! Plus, how many DS's ever hit an opposing player in the face? This is one moment of volleyball satisfaction, no matter how unkind it is to say, which is elemental from grade school to the Olympic team!!!

To make the jump over to setting is really a challenge, and one I would not recommend unless you have someone with experience telling you 64.75 has the basic tools to eventually grow into a college level setter. In addition, do the math for college coaches - We recruit setters every 3 to 4 years; we recruit hitters every year. I have had many talented, experienced setters who have contacted me and wanted to come to my school, but I had no opening or opportunity for them. This is one position where I would only support a switch if 64.75 loved to set, is willing to put in a lot of time and parent's money (for camps, private training, etc.) to capture the year or so of lost training in preparation for the 15's year of club.

In your question you mentioned, "increasing the vertical to compensate". I don't know how viable of an option this would be. Lifting will help you jump higher, but 64.75 is only 14 and will be seriously scouted for college at the 17's year. This is still an immature physical age, and gonzo lifting may not reap the rewards you might expect. The muscles my not be developed to the point to 'digest' what lifting could provide. Also, the legs may not be developed enough to handle the increased physical stress. When I get letters from recruits who talk about some intense physical lifting or jump training program they will do, I cringe because I don't think a 16 or 17 year old's body should be doing these things. Either you can jump high or not - Lifting will add a few inches of jump but not a half a foot of jump.

My simple advice is to relax and enjoy playing volleyball, encourage 64.75 to play the position she likes the best and if that is the OH position, to focus on becoming very good in each skill set. If she is a good player with the ability (not the potential, but the straight up ability) to play college volleyball, then she will find a NCAA or JC program which provides the opportunity for a great collegiate experience, tall or not.