November 3, 2009

Learning Disability and Volleyball Recruiting

I am the parent of a player who had a specific learning disability identified in the 3rd grade.

Since then, she has made great progress through hard work and excellent academic assistance at her schools.

She has an I.E.P. and there are accommodations associated with it that have proven to be very helpful.

She is currently a high school Junior . She began getting some letters from college programs during her 15s club season.

As she begins to respond to inquiries and initiate some of her own, at what point is it appropriate for the learning disability to be addressed?

Her grades are good. We know her ACT score will be important.

She'll be looking for a university that provides assistance for I.E.P. students.

How likely is it that knowledge of her "learning disability" will make her a less attractive recruit in the eyes of a college coach?

One could argue that perhaps college athletics may be the most non-discriminatory organization in the country in terms of considering Prospective Student Athletes. Being specific to college volleyball coaches, my general belief is that we are concerned with talent and attitude. With this in mind, my answer to your question is a learning disability would not be considered a negative when evaluating a PSA.

My concern would be the college/university which the coach represents. I say this because I had a poor experience with a former school I worked for with regards to academic support for student-athletes with a learning disability. In hindsight, I feel that the school did not provide the necessary support for my player to succeed academically considering the demands of being a student-athlete. While I stayed in the employ of this school, I was not comfortable recruiting any other student-athletes with academic challenges, not because of my belief in the player's desire to succeed, but rather my lack of belief in the school.

I guess you could say that there existed a negative, but this negative was not the result of the PSA, but rather the school. An analogy could be made about a school not offering a specific major which the PSA needs - For instance, this same school did not offer any degree programs within the Animal Sciences/Pre-Veterinary discipline so I was not able to recruit PSA's interested within these majors.

In terms of sharing the academic support needs of a PSA, I suggest this being done after a PSA makes the initial selection of colleges she might be considering. There are always selection parameters which dictate the first cull of schools (geographic location, size of school, history of program, etc.). As you move into more detailed examinations of potential schools and you have established an e-mail or telephone dialogue with coaches, then you should share your situation. It is important to know if the college coach is familiar with their school's resources and/or if the coach has any experience with supporting a learning disabled student-athlete.

Many schools are proactive about illustrating their support services for learning disabled students on their website. In addition, a number of athletic departments have academic support pages on their athletic websites which can provide information with regards to the support it's student athletes receive. One would hope that the academic services for learning disabled SA's would be augmented by the athletic department, much in the way that general academic support services are augmented for student athletes by the athletic department.

Academically speaking, it is a challenge to be a volleyball student-athlete because of so many issues. Our season is a one academic term season, many conferences are just way too spread out, the majority of teams don't enjoy the quickest available means of travel (unlike the Big 3 sports) so too many school days are missed, professors can be very unsupportive of SA's missing their classes even though it is for season travel and our players sometimes get punished by association with football (not a pillar of academic focus in the NCAA). These examples all pile up to increase the academic pressures which any serious student faces in college. If you arrive on campus as a SA with specific challenges and needs, the support needed to succeed should be established and comprehensive.

After a PSA has narrowed their acceptable list of schools, considering the presented academic support for their needs (among so many other things), the Unofficial or Official Visit must provide the clear illustration of what has been presented up to this point in the recruiting process. What is told and what is shown can be two drastically different situations from a school. If a coach talks up their great academic support, but the campus visit just topically touches upon this support, then red flags should be flying like it is May Day in the old USSR!

I sincerely believe that college volleyball coaches do not react negatively to any athlete who has a learning disability and if they chose not to pursue a PSA with such a challenge, it has to do only with the school's inability to provide acceptable support. The focus by the PSA and her family should not be on the coach (in terms of a learning disability challenge), but on the school and athletic department academic support services.

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