June 17, 2010

Club Volleyball Championship Advice

Just a comment, you should re run your article about the season ending club tournaments and how to prepare, behave, etc. I remember it was quite good and many of your readers haven't found it in your archives!


Great request - I have pulled the original article from the archives and updated. Hope it help!

The Club Volleyball Championship season is upon us. A couple of years ago, a group of Club Volleyball programs splintered away from USA Volleyball to form another venue for play. This was originally called the JVDA (Junior Volleyball Directors Association) and had its own championship event. Now the JDVA is called the JVA (Junior Volleyball Association) and is managed by the AVCA (DON'T GET ME STARTED IN THIS ONE!!!), along with melding its championship into the AAU Championships. The AAU Championship in Orlando which begins first, followed by the Volleyball Festival in Pheonix and the USAV Volleyball Championships in Reno.

These three events are the conclusion to the Club Volleyball season. It is an interesting mix of teams which have blurred regional lines as of late. In the old days, the Volleyball Festival was supported by the west coast volleyball clubs, the USA Volleyball Championships tended to be the midwest teams and the AAU's captured a random group of clubs. Now, you can see every region in each event, which I think is a good thing. I believe Club teams should pick the "championship" which their club members would enjoy the most. The events are so blended and dynamic, I don't know if I could say one Championship is stronger than another.

In terms of how these championships are viewed by the College Volleyball Coaches, there is really no difference - we just want to recruit volleyball players. In a perfect world, these events would be held in Honolulu or San Juan so I could go to the beach at the end of the wave (no pun intended). For College Coaches, I feel the championship events have lost a bit of the relevance in the recruiting process.

The 18's class has long been committed and College Coaches are making courtesy stops on the court to watch their incoming class (the non-flattering term is baby sitting). The 17's class is easily 1/2 to 3/4 done with its commitments, and College Coaches know who they want to come to their schools. With this group, the coaches are mimicking the same game plan with the 18's and maybe spending some last minute efforts to secure a late commitment (crazy to think it is late) from a player. There is really not much evaluating going on with this group, it is just more 'face time' for the player and parents. The 16's group is probably where most of the scouting and building of the recruiting database is happening, but with the acellerated pace of recruiting, all too many 16's are committed. The 16's class is where a lot of face time is being spent by coaches, trying to follow up on Unofficial Visits or trying to convince a PSA to come to campus to visit.

One of the down sides of the very early recruiting commitment cycle is that many College Coaches are doing a best guess on a player's ability. Because of this concern, a number of mid level programs have slowed down their pursuit of 16 year old Club players to get a better evaluation of skills.

I have always found that there is a huge jump in the ability of college level PSA's from the 16's to the 17's club year. Of course, the Alex Klinemans and Beth Hodges of the volleyball world are an easy pick for a great future college player; but for the rest of the junior level players, this one year is the separation year. This is the physical development time frame of the players; where the future Division I college players separate themselves from everyone else. I will routinely mark a number of 16's level players for our recruiting database; players who I feel could have the ability to mature into a NCAA Division I volleyball player. Then, come the next club season, it is easy to see who has elevated their ability and who has leveled out. Unfortunately the accelerated time frame of recruiting compresses the window for coaches to try and see this jump, I find that more and more coaches are trying to wait a bit to see what abilities develops.

The current recruiting trend of securing commitments from 16 year olds is a bit unnerving because College Coaches are making offers before I believe the physical and volleyball development of a PSA has entered the critical year. Unfortunately we are seeing a number of 'de-commits' and an even larger number of freshman year college transfers because of too early commitments. I just offered my first scholarship to a 16 year old and for my comfort level, it was the total package of current volleyball ability, height and athleticism, along with maturity and an family alumni status. I may be too reserved, but it took the total package for me to extend a scholarship very early in the process.

How does this relate to a current club player? Well, for simplicity's sake, we will skip over the 18's level and those 17's age that have accepted an offer or have a few offers on the table; these suggestions are for those 16 and 17 club age players still considering their future. By the way, you 15 year old VolleyPSA's.....just play, don't pay ANY attention to those minions of logo embroidered shirts wandering the sidelines.

We must remember that this is the Championship season. This is the part of the year that goes into the record book and the culmination of a lot of time and energy. Can you remember how you did in the first tournament or the fourth or the Holiday Round-Up tourney? You will remember how you did at the Championship.

Focus is probably the number one piece of advice that I can provide. Now is the time for focus - on every match, on every game and on every play. This is the one tournament, when losing a tie breaker to go to the Gold Medal round, because you lost a points for versus points tie break calculation will really sting. Every play is important - Don't 'play' your way into the match - be prepared to play hard even before the first whistle. You can have an off or bad match when you start high school, not the Championship.

Positive attitude is a key component to Championship success. If you stay positive with your body language, in your conversations with team mates and with your opponents, then good things will happen. I know that sounds a little cosmic feel good, but I have just seen it come true too many times to doubt good karma. Don't get negative if you are struggling in a match - that happens; focus on lifting up your teammates by not getting down on yourself. Don't become critical of a team mate who is having a terrible match - they are not doing it on purpose and if you give them the stink eye, that is just not going to help.

Remember good technique - Good technique is reliable and will not falter during a pressure situation. Don't get fancy, don't be lazy with things that you know should be done a certain way. Rally score volleyball games are won by those teams that make the least amount of mistakes, not those teams that make the most great plays. If you make sure that you are using good technique, then you will make less mistakes - you may not make as many great plays, but good technique will pave the way to team victory.

Invest emotionally - This is one area that I think American players are getting 'beat' by international players. A criticism of Club Volleyball has always been that maybe too many matches are being played. This means that since there is always another match coming up or by the end of a tournament, most players are fried, kids have a very short term emotional memory; the system conditions them not to emotionally invest in matches. International players of the same age, seldom, if ever, play more than one match a day - most 'tournaments' last a month. Because of this, international players take these opportunities very seriously from an emotional perspective. They sincerely celebrate the victories and they cry when they lose - they are emotionally invested. I believe that if you emotionally invest in a match, if you open yourself up to allow the match to be important, then you will play at a higher level. This will make the victory sweeter, but it will also make the loss hurt more.

Even though it is the Championship, that is no excuse not to enjoy what you are doing. Basically, you should be having fun. If you enjoy what you are doing, then you will do it better - this is just human nature. If I did not enjoy being a volleyball coach, they I would not be a very good volleyball coach.

Each of these things that I have listed above, will also make a significant positive impression upon those College Coaches that are evaluating you. Focus, technique, being positive and playing with emotion are all things that College Coaches look for when considering athletes for their program. The Championship is the absolute best place to illustrate to your future coach, that you are a great volleyball player.

Good luck and have fun!

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