September 24, 2009

Volleyball Recruiting Time Frame Question

Thank you for your wonderful site and helpful information. It has been very useful during my daughter's recruiting process. She is a junior in high school. I especially like your year-by-year recruiting plan. However, our experience has been a little different regarding timing and I'm hoping you can comment.

My daughter has gotten interest from various top-20 D1 programs and has been fortunate enough to have multiple scholarship offers on the table. A nice problem to have, but most of them seem to want responses NOW (early fall). I would like my daughter to have a little more maturity and luxury of time to analyze her choices. Is this the new reality for recruiting at this level of play? Is there any leeway to negotiate more time? Also, how does one get "intelligence" on the coaches to ascertain that it's the right match for my daughter? Vanessa

Vanessa, your daughter is in a unique position in relation to the majority of Prospective Student Athletes (PSA's). While everyone hears about players receiving scholarship offers early in their Junior year, and indeed for a number this may be late in their sophomore year, this tends to be the large exception, not the rule.

Yet, the questions and concerns which you have expressed, are applicable to everyone going through the recruiting process. The biggest point which I can make, is that the time frame should be dictated by the PSA and family, not by the college coaches.

A recent example of this time frame being determined by the PSA is Alex Klineman, now at Stanford. I can remember the zaniness when she was considered the number one recruit in her class, but she did not commit until very late in the process. Some folks said she would lose offers, others said she was making her last year in high school unnecessarily complicated, some thought she was just being a bit selfish with the attention, but the reality is she made her decision about her future on her time table. While your daughter may or may not be the top recruit in her class, she has the right to make her decision based on what is most comfortable for her.

In the recruiting process, all things being equal, it is the PSA who has the power of choice. When I say all things being equal, it is important to understand that each PSA and each school usually find their equilibrium with each other. This is why a mid-major school usually commits PSA's with mid-major abilities. This is why the elite level PSA's end up at elite level programs. Of course there is always the case of parents/players saying "I can't believe Mary got a scholarship to Elite State University" or coaches saying "I can't believe Elite State University gave a scholarship to Mary" - Again, most PSA's end up playing at the level which is best suited to their abilities.

To answer you questions (with comments of course):

1. New Reality - Yes, this is the reality for PSA's at your daughter's ability level, but it is not new. Elite level programs are very good about staying elite and to do this, they must consistently recruit elite level talent. Top 20 schools have top resources (full coaching staff, director of operations, full time secretary, graduate assistants, plenty of budget for recruiting, etc.), which creates for them the opportunity to see more athletes, more often, in more places. In a situation like your daughter's, these programs understand her type are key to their continued success and to this end, the elite programs will offer a scholarship early and press for acceptance to secure the never ending next wave a great players.

2. Leeway for Time - Absolutely yes. It is not really a negotiation, it is more a statement, "My daughter is not ready to make a commitment at this time. We don't anticipate making a decision until later in the winter/spring/summer." Again, the ability to set the time frame is your choosing. It may cost you an exclusive offer (i.e. a program may simultaneously offer a scholarship to another elite player), but I doubt schools will pull offers completely. And, if they do, were they really so high on your daughter? This is a game that programs play with PSA's and families - "If you don't commit by such and such a date, this unreal great scholarship to our unreal great school is going to be offered to this other unreal great player, who we have been stalling out because we really, really want you on our team and you know, if we offer our unreal great scholarship to this other unreal great player, she is for sure going to take the offer and you are going to feel terrible because you just lost the opportunity to play for our unreal great school, program, coach, assistant coach, manager, trainer, SID, bus driver, etc."

This is too big of decision to make when not comfortable and not having done extensive research about all topics involved. I would suggest this accelerated time frame and college program/club peer pressure to commit yesterday has led to the drastic increase in Student-Athletes requesting releases to transfer and programs not renewing scholarships.

3. Researching college coaches - Well, rather soon I think there will be an app from the Apple website on this! The answer to your question is the question itself - You go get the intelligence by doing research. It is not very hard to do; but I suggest you stay off the message boards because too much of what I read is just silliness with regards to opinions on coaches. Talk to club coaches in your region which may have had players play for that coach, talk to parents in your region which have had players play for that coach, talk to current/former players who played against that coach. Try to find other families who went through the process with this program or coach. It is important to use the history, information and connections of your club program to put you into contact with those having this "intelligence".

Also, be smart on your campus visits. On your unofficial visit, ask questions of the staff and current players. This can be done subtlety and the key is to listen between the lines. For instance, if you casually ask a current player (away from the coach) about playing for them, listen for the reply. If the player says, he/she is pretty intense, but it is OK because it makes us stronger (red flags should be waving in your head) or if the player says, she/he is a good coach who they really like playing for (then this should be a positive). Also, ask the coach their style - They should provide an answer which is simple and clear. If they preface or cage their reply in certain ways, then this should be cause for concern (" gotta be tough to play for me").

Another way to evaluate a program is to watch a team practice. In practice you will learn much more about a coach than any game. The game is the end result, not the process. A PSA will spend much more time in the process with a coach than the end result. There are only 32 dates of competition (per NCAA rules and including the spring season), but there are also 132 days of the Traditional (Fall) and Non-Traditional (Spring) season and this does not include the 8 hour weeks of training between the Fall and Spring season!

Coaches are human, sometimes all too human, so making an evaluation on a match or two is not really the best indicator of a coach or program. There are days when a coach is feeling great or in a bad mood, days when they slept well on the road and days when they just did not get a good night's rest, some matches have a lot of mental/historical baggage because of things the players may not know, while other matches are just straight forward competitions - each of these things can alter a coach's behavior to certain degrees during the heat of competition.

One thing which I believe a lot of folks forget, is coaches don't have the physical release during matches like players do. It is so much easier being a player because of this physical release. Coaches are dealing with the same adrenaline, competitive fire, energy and desire to win as the athletes, but we don't get the release via physical competition. This is one reason I sleep like a baby when we win and I have long nights of running through the cable channels when we lose.

During practices, a PSA is better able to see the true and consistent personality of a coach. Is the coach a teacher, a drill sergeant, negative, positive, engaged, reserved, do they interact with the players or just dictate, do they smile or frown, do they positively challenge or just go through the motions? Check out how the current players behave around the coach - Is their body language positive, do they make eye contact with the coach, do they acknowledge coaching? These are small ques about the temperament of a coach, along with a better overall picture of their actual coaching abilities.

To finish up this rather not short post - Vanessa, you set the time frame you feel is best for your daughter. The programs that stay current with her are the ones which are truly interested in her.

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