September 22, 2009

Don't Call It A Comeback!

My daughter, a Junior, is a left-handed right-side hitter. For 14's and 15's club seasons she played on a top 5 team in a very competitive region. During her 15's club season she received several letters of interest from DI schools. Last fall, as a Sophomore, she made the Varsity team for her 5-A high school, racking up the 2nd highest kill ratio of the Varsity hitters. Then in November we were surprised when she did not make the 16's team for the same club (she didn't have a back-up plan for such a scenario; messages from the coach were that she was "part of the core team") . She was offered a position on the club's 2nd team and was assured by the coaches that her visibility to college recruiters would be the same ("recruiters don't care, or even know, if it's the 1st or 2nd team"). She ultimately chose to stay with the club she'd been with with specific goals in mind: 1) get lots of playing time, 2) still have the visibility and recruiting resources from the club, 3) hope to make a top team for 17's when it really matters.

But 2nd teams play in Club division (not Open). Knowing she would not be on a court that would attract recruiters, she proactively sent out letters to schools she has interest in, included her schedule and invited them to come watch her play. Unfortunately, at Denver Crossroads, 16's Club played the weekend before 16's Open (no visibility there; coaches aren't going to travel two weekends in a row). Even more unfortunately, a week later she suffered a grade 3 sprain playing during school off-season. So for Lone Star she sat on the bench with a boot on. I noticed a few recruiters make the long trek up the stairs and peek onto her court, but not many. Her 3rd qualifier was to be in Minneapolis but still injured, she did not make that trip. No visibility for the entire club season.

I'd sure like to hear your thoughts on how best to market a player not on an Open court (from what I could tell, her invitations didn't prompt recruiters to leave the crowded Open courts). And would also appreciate advice on how to recover from playing Club level ball (other than managing the tryout process better; we've learned that lesson!). Thanks! Christine

I would hazard a guess that the situation which Christine is trying to manage could/would occur to a number of other families. Whether it is a result of injury, club philosophy, new players coming onto a team, current players not progressing along a certain line skill wise, economics, random acts of bad luck; sometimes things just do not go a certain way during a club season. The key is to take an honest look at what happened, ascertain exactly where a Prospective Student Athlete (PSA) stands in the framework of recruiting, and then move forward in the most positive and productive way possible.

To this end - What Happened? Club level 16's team limited exposure to college coaches and injury resulted in zero exposure later in season.

It is just a matter of fact that Club level PSA's (versus Open level PSA's) do not receive the amount of 'coverage' from college programs. Part of it is too many teams to see within a short duration of time (specific to the National Qualifiers or really big tournaments - Remember Open is a small group and Club is huge), the NQ layouts can be very large and even with those handy dandy palm devices, trying to get from one side to the other of a convention center (while doing the river dance past grandma, getting stopped by so and so to chat, bumping into someone else you have not seen in two years, coffee smells good, etc.) is not easy or quick, limited staff (not all programs have two coaches on site and a third who is helping coach the 17's purple team, and thus can be walking around also), many NQ's have the Club level playing p.m. on Day One and a.m. on Day Two, which translates into coaches getting Gym Head late on Day One (this is a condition where all players start to blend into one, like some bad Star Trek episode) and too many coaches, especially single assistant coaches, having Hangover Head on Day Two - Getting to the gym early to scout the Club wave on Day Two seldom overwhelms the need for Advil and more sleep.

The situation where NQ's are splitting same age groups into two separate weekends just does not make sense and is a disservice to the families paying a lot of money. I would avoid such instances at all costs, especially at the 16's level.

As for the occurrence of an injury, this type of bad luck scenario happens and affects many players. There really is nothing anyone can do other than focus on rehabilitation, do not come back too soon (it may be better to sit an extra week or two, rather than come back too early and present a visual to a college coach which is not your best abilities), then when healthy, game plan about how to re-capture those exposure moments which have passed.

Current status in the the crazy world of Recruiting? Overall, I would say not bad. I know it is not great, but it could be worse.

Since the PSA was receiving introductory letters from Division I programs as a 15's player, this is a positive situation - It is no guarantee of great things, because too many DI coaches swing through the 15's waves and just tag any and all players which look to have a glimmer of potential - For many programs it is better to be safe and mark too many, than be 'late' on a PSA by not writing them as soon as possible. But, it does reflect the general idea that she has attractive skill levels or potential to college coaches.

If a college program keeps detailed notes in their recruiting database, the PSA's entry would read something along the lines of "saw at Northern Lights as a 15, severe ankle sprain mid 16 season, need to see again....". Injuries happen and with the sports medicine being very good these days, not being able to see PSA's during a certain stretch of the club season happens, but coaches tend not to worry too much because we can see them later or early next club season.

How to move forward? First of all, I would suggest you search through the site for the Recruiting Plan label where I detail out a year by year plan of attack for the traditional college volleyball PSA. By traditional, I mean the PSA's that are not among the Top 20 in the country and enjoy overt attention from college coaches and more scholarship offers than pizza coupons.

Second, I would generate a good skills tape from the high school season (either splicing skills together or having a filming day or two to capture the skills) and load this up into YouTube or another video hosting service, then send out an e-mail to any and all programs of interest (be open to travelling and different conferences) with your bio attached and the link to your video. At this stage, you are just trying to get back to current in the recruiting databases of the college programs before they engage in their 17's age group efforts. Don't worry, even if there are stories of so many kids committing fall of their Junior year, there are PLENTY of scholarships left with any number of quality programs. Right now you are literally trying to bait the college coaches (I like this analogy since we all swim around these Qualifiers like schools of mullet) to come see you play in the upcoming club season. Do not worry about sending out too many e-mails or update or videos - too much is better than not enough.

Third, decide the 17's level which is most appropriate. I phrase it this way because last club season was a wash, so it is important to be exact in what you need from this club season. For instance, while the natural urge is to jump on with an Open level team, getting on the court to demonstrate your abilities is the most important factor. If a PSA is on an Open level team, but only gets seen in warm-ups or precious few matches, this may not be the best level. It would be better to be on a Club level team, play all the time and trust your marketing/communication skills to get your information out to college coaches. Some Juniors teams are very democratic about playing time, while others are purely about garnering wins by playing the top seven players for almost all matches during NQ's (receiving significant playing time at some small regional tourney, where there are just a couple of coaches does not really count).

Fourth, be patient. I know this must be hard to read/hear, but there is lots of time left in this process. In a perfect world, the PSA would have been seen early and often, and not have suffered a severe ankle sprain. But there are so many positive instances still ahead of you - the 17's year of club is still the most important year for recruiting; college coaches understand the physical and skill differences between the 16's and 17's age groups are huge, thus many college coaches (myself included) want to see how a player progresses during this critical 12 to 15 month time frame. There are many great tourneys and matches still ahead, and many great programs will see her play!

Honestly, if you had to burn a year of club, then the 16's year is probably the one to adios. Earlier years are so important for skill development and physical coordination, while the 17's and 18's years are critical for the next level of abilities in terms of physical maturation and preparing for college level athletics!

Good luck and please, please, please enjoy this time in your daughter's (and family's) life - College volleyball is not worth the stress of what you folks have probably gone through. My experience is that PSA's usually end up playing where they should, no matter the path which takes them to their future home.

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