June 2, 2010

College Volleyball - Transition from High School

Now is the time of the year when volleyball players from high school start getting excited/nervous/anxious about the transition to college and college volleyball. Each year I get the usual questions - When are we supposed to come to campus, What do we need to bring, Can my parents stay and watch, Is there a summer work out, Where is the nearest Starbucks, etc.

In a very real sense, college and college volleyball life is much simpler than what many players have experienced in high school and club. Life is strait-forward for most incoming Volleyball Student-Athletes; go to class, go to practice, study, go to sleep. That is it in its most basic form and you live on campus. Practice is just a walk away, the training room is always open to help you, the Freshman English class is a 3 minute hoof from the dorms, the cafeteria is open from dawn until after dark and your ever loving college volleyball coaches are available 24/7.

A few items I annually stress to incoming Volleyball Student-Athletes:

1. Be in better physical shape than you have ever been - As a freshman, you will be training and competing with the majority of your team mates already having 1 to 4 years of experience under their belts (spandex). They will have been lifting in great facilities with a strength and conditioning staff 'motivating' them, they will have been receiving first class medical treatment to alleviate/manage any aches and pains and they already understand the rigors of the college volleyball season.

When we have players bail out of the pre-season (walk-on SA's), it is because they were so out of shape, they could not keep up in practices - They were simply overwhelmed at the physical nature of NCAA Division I Volleyball. The better cardio condition you are, the easier it will be - I would say it is better to be 'fitter' than stronger.

Do the work out that the college volleyball program sends to you - it is not a suggestion, is it a requirement. You may not have the ability to get onto a weight rack and do three sets of power cleans per the schedule, but you can find a way to get into a gym and come close. Between club, high school and private gyms, you can find a place to fulfill your lifting obligation.

If you happen to live on an island or on a mountain top and there is nothing to lift but sand and snow, then you should be doing push ups, sit ups, body weight squats, sprints and limited distance running. Again, there is no excuse not to arrive to pre-season in shape.

Arriving to pre-season out of shape is such a triple whammy (remember the game show where the contestants screamed "NO WHAMMIES" before hitting the red button? It was like a giant slot machine with a bummer potential); 1) you will severely disappoint your coaches, 2) you will hurt your team's ability to win, 3) you will increase your odds of an injury.


2) Keep your 'touch' on the Volleyball. Keeping your touch on the ball means playing a time or two a week; don't play everyday because you will just open yourself up to burn out when October arrives and don't forget what a Volleyball looks like because trying to re-gain your touch during the first week or so of practice is the sure way to be sitting next to me during matches.

3) Make sure you are addressing any nagging injury questions or issues. Letting the coaches/trainers know you have been having issues with your shoulder on the 2nd day of practice is not acceptable; it is disrespectful. Just because a part of your body does not currently hurt, when it was causing you problems in May, does not necessarily mean it is healed, it just means it does not currently hurt. It drives me BONKERS when a player tells me of a physical issue in pre-season, which they did not address during the summer. The trainers will not call you in June to give you a check up - It is your responsibility to communicate any problems you have or are managing.

4) Eat and then LEAVE the cafeteria. One of the biggest challenges (no pun intended) that college volleyball programs face with their incoming athletes is weight gain. Pre-season cafeteria food is generally geared towards football players and massive amounts of carbohydrates; and it is all you can eat. You don't have Mom or Dad making a set amount of food and keeping an eye out on what you are eating in the cafeteria; maybe a coach or staff member is the Food Police with the Volleyball team, but that still does not mitigate the all you can eat format of college cafeterias. Let me be clear, this comment has nothing to do with aesthetics; this suggestion is purely a result of seeing incoming players gain significant weight during their first pre-season and season, and as a result, their effective abilities suffer and they open themselves up to repetitive stress injuries in their shins, knees, back and shoulder.

5) Volleyball is the only reason you have arrived early to campus and must be the entire focus of the time period before school starts. Another worry of college coaches is incoming athletes going a little nuts in the social department. It is understandable because many players are away from home for the first extended period of time, experiencing a taste of personal freedom and decision making, meeting new athletes from a variety of teams - This combination of stimuli has resulted in some poor social decisions by incoming SA's. I have witnessed this situation so many times that I regularly empower my upperclassmen to keep an eye out for our freshman. I don't want the upperclassmen to be the morals police, but I do want them to 'steer' the freshman towards good choices (which is more effective when your Seniors are not party animals themselves!).

6) Do not stress if everyone is better than you (the returners should be better than you) or if you are not doing as well as you did in club. No matter how great your club team was, no matter how many state titles you won at your high school, the speed and physicality of the college game will always be more. You can't replicate the speed of the game in college before you get there, because you are not yet in college. I always, always, always tell my incoming players that your ability to get on the court for matches will depend on how fast you acclimate to the speed of NCAA Division I Volleyball. Some players can do it in a week, some need a month and some take all year before they get there; I understand that each player has their own time frame but I know they will get there or I would not have recruited them to the greatest college volleyball program in the country or at least the greatest college volleyball coach in the country, or at least the person writing this website!

7) Since you arrive before school starts, there is plenty of time to iron out any issues with classes, books, permanent living situation, etc. Do not freak if everything outside of volleyball is not perfect or perfectly arranged - there is time to get it all lined up before the first day of classes!

In terms of transitioning from high school to college as a volleyball player, the most important item is to arrive in shape. And, this does not only apply to incoming freshman, it applies double to returners. Best example I can provide from my teams; two sophomores were competing for the same right side outside hitter position (best friends by the way). At the end of the spring season, 'Mary' had the position locked up and 'Beth' was sitting next to me. Over the summer 'Beth' worked out like a fiend and played enough volleyball to keep her touch. 'Mary' did not do her workouts, went on a long, long summer vacation/trip and did not touch a volleyball until pre-season in August. 'Mary' was the starter on the first day of practice, 'Beth' was the starter by the fourth day of practice and never relinquished the position - Both sophomores had very similar volleyball abilities/skills, but 'Beth' arrived ready to go and 'Mary' tried to practice her way into shape.

Should you be a player going off to college in a few months, I wish you the very best of luck in your transition and remember that one of your parents will have an extra $20.00 with them EVERY time they see you - Make sure you get it before they leave campus!

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