March 11, 2010

Late Developing Club Volleyball Players

Worth the read:

Hi Coach!

I love your blog, since there is some fascinating information about college volleyball
recruiting. My daughter is currently a high school junior. Compared to a lot of the girls that are discussed in the blog, she got an exceptionally late start in the sport. She played rec league basketball in elementary and middle school, and only discovered volleyball in her freshman year of high school. Her freshman team was exceptionally raw, since only two or three girls in her grade had even attended any camps (they were quickly pulled up to the JV team).

She found a low level club team after the high school season ended, and has made a
tremendous amount of progress over the last two years. She loves the sport. Her days as a basketball player ended the first day of practice for her sophomore season, when she came home and said that the tryouts reminded her how much she had grown to hate that game.

She's been 100% dedicated to volleyball since then.

Her skills fell a bit further behind some of her peers during her sophomore year, since she was still in the midst of her growth spurt while they had moved out of that awkward stage. But she's made a huge amount of progress during the last year -- started out on the JV team last fall, pulled up to varsity for the playoffs, and started by the second round of the playoffs.

It appears that her skills as a middle were finally beginning to catch up with her 6'2"+ body. She did not try out for one of the power teams that travel to the big tournaments, because we never really thought about her playing at that level and also because she will be away on one of the five weekends the power teams would play in regional tournaments. She did change to a club that offered a much more competitive situation than her old club this year, and ended up getting placed on the top club team in the 17U age bracket.

Unlike a lot of people who read your blog, we never thought about her playing in college until we saw her team competing in the 18U open qualifier for the region, against all the power teams that I mentioned earlier. The top tier of those teams were remarkable, and a parent from one club (which seems to take pride in the number of girls sent to colleges, since they list the colleges their players have committed to) told us that those girls had played together for four years or more.

We saw a lot of college coaches at that tournament, since there were 32 teams (mostly 18 powers) playing for seeding in the open division. My daughter's team played fine when they were not matched up against the most elite (eventual gold division) teams, and that's when the thought that she could play at the next level first crossed our mind. She's way behind the curve set out in your Junior year recruiting plan, but that also fits in with where she is on the growth curve.

Our daughter has been getting inundated with letters and emails from colleges on the
academic side, based on her PSAT scores. She's having a hard time, but the thought of
playing in college (whether it's for a D3, D2, or even low D1 school) might make the
selection of a school easier for her. Is it OK for us to ask any college coaches we may see at the open tournaments for their take on if she would be a fit for college, and at what level?

We could also ask the coach of our HS girls basketball team about that, since he is an
assistant volleyball coach at a local D2 school, if that won't cause any problems. That might be a bit awkward for her, since she had to break his heart by telling him that she was quitting basketball back in her sophomore year. (And he was so looking forward to having some height in the middle of the court!).

Sorry for the long-winded message. The basic question is whether there are many
opportunities for girls who do not develop their height and skills until sometime in their junior year. If you choose to answer this in the blog, you could use this simple summary rather than the detailed text.


Let me get to your specific questions first, then some thoughts about those players that mature a bit later than their peers.

1) Per NCAA rules, Coaches are not allowed to speak with Junior PSA's/Families over the phone or in person, the only exception being on the campus of the coach. You could ask, but a coach who follows the rule would make sure what year your daughter is, then politely defer based on the rules.

When you see College coaches talking to parents on the sidelines, they are (our they should be) visiting with the parents of players who have already committed and/or are Seniors in high school.

A disturbing trend for many coaches, are the few coaches who don't pay attention to this rule and engage in long conversations with Junior year families at tourneys. It is one thing when you bump into the parents of an athlete you are actively recruiting and say a courteous "Hello, good to see you", but quite another to start talking with Mom and Dad like you are hanging out at a baseball game not a club tourney.

2) I honestly have not heard of a volleyball assistant coach being an high school coach (in volleyball or another sport) - I am not as familiar with Division II rules, so please do not interpret this remark as something against NCAA rules. If he is on the high school campus as a member of the faculty or coaching staff, then you might as well ask his opinion as to where she might stand with regards to peer PSA's.

Don't worry about his feelings - He should know by now that tall, athletic female high school athletes like volleyball best!!! Not too much of a stretch, but high school volleyball coaches are just despised (exaggeration, but not much) by high school basketball coaches because so many players like playing high school and club volleyball more than being on the basketball court!

Each person has their own timing clock when it comes to their growth and athletic (or lack thereof) development. In my case, I made a large physical jump in my build from Freshman to Sophomore year, then another large jump in my skill development from Sophomore to Junior. Some PSA's clock will tick faster and they will look very developed to their peers, yet seem to 'flatten' out by their Junior/Senior year.

This is one reason I do not like going hard in the recruiting process when I take a look at the 16 year old age group. Of course, the next Tom or Hodge will stand out and stay out, those are the easy ones to recruit and only about 10 schools have a shot at those two. My experience has taught me that the 16 to 17 year is the separation year with club volleyball players.

As an example, a few years ago there was a Midwest 16's club volleyball team that looked like they had 9 kids that were all DI caliber recruits; each of the 9 'looked' good in their development and physicality and there were one or two, that stood out as the best of the 9. Yet, when I saw that same team, same group of players at the 17's age, now there were only about 3 players I thought were DI caliber and those one or two kids that grabbed my attention as best, were no longer standing apart from the others. The other six had flattened out in their development, while the top three kept getting better - their clock was still ticking.

I think that this is one of the reasons we seem to have so many college transfer examples now; coaches committed a PSA when she 'looked' good as a 16's or early 17's player, only to have everyone catch up or pass the committed PSA as they transitioned into 18's or freshman year of college. When the freshman year rolls through, the now college student-athlete is not happy because they were told as a recruit they were the greatest thing since knee pads and now they are not seeing the court or worse. Also, the college coach now has an athlete they know will not be anything more than a practice player for the next 4 years. This example, though sounding far fetched, happens many, many times each college volleyball season.

The late blooming athlete will always have a home for three reasons, 1) When they reach their late arriving abilities, these abilities are very good (not very good, is not very good, no matter how long it takes to be not very good!), 2) There are coaches like me who do not rush into the recruiting cycle and keep aware of players who come onto the 'scene' later, 3) Things change on college rosters (not always because of bad things) and scholarships can come open that catch the coach by surprise.

As I have written about, there are always opportunities for college scholarships and/or roster positions very late into the process, including spring of a PSA's senior year. The key is to be aware of exactly what the comfort zone of a PSA is, and keeping an open mind to all possibilities.

With your daughter carrying a very healthy gpa, and thus attracting lots of academic attention, it can make the picture a bit more busy. I suggest that, sooner than later, start to guide your daughter into thinking about what she wants to accomplish in college. The wonderful thing about college volleyball is you can achieve academic fulfillment and play at any level of competitive ability you desire. Stanford academically is great and so is Washington University - Division I or Division III, each with outstanding volleyball histories. To manage the situation effectively, help her express what she is thinking, and then start to sort out or group her options so she can manage them.

Hope this was of some help and enjoy the ride!

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