July 12, 2010

She's Got the Look - Volleyball Image

First of all, Love Your Site......I have a rising freshman daughter that has 3 years of club under her belt. My daughter is a very hard worker can play Setter, DS and some hitting. The problem is that girls that look flashier but in the long run are not as good as a player as my daughter, get the attention. On her higher club last year all the girls looked alike... All a bit longer, leaner but not the skills in my opinion; but had the 'look'. Their hitters could jump a mile, but only get in 10 percent of the hits in, if that... Yes they all were tall but not very good on the back line. My daughter is 5'5". I would say she is a scrappy type player that makes players around her better. Would be a perfect 6-2 offense type of player.... Thanks for your input.... I guess just how would she shine in a better light? Gary

Thanks for the question and I also Love My Site, but I am understandably biased. You have illustrated a phenomenon which many college coaches suffer from and one which I was also prone to suffer from - The Look.

If you were to do a Google Search on the physique of a female college volleyball player, it would illustrate a long, lean body type with wide shoulders. This is what the body type of elite NCAA Division I Volleyball players look like. Just like elite level soccer/softball players 'look' a certain way, elite level athletes tend to have a certain visual.

While we are all trying to sign that Look, not every PSA who reflects the visual has the talent to match. All too often a college program will commit a player who visually looks like they should/could be good in College Volleyball. Us college coaches will make such comments like, "she is 6'1" and touches 9'10"" or "she is long and lean and should not put on too much weight when she gets here" or "she has a quick jump and hangs good" - These are all physical qualifications, but do not reflect talent. So much of recruiting a certain looking player, is the belief that the talent potential will be fulfilled once the player gets to college. Like, once they arrive in our gym, the magical powers we have as a college coach will ensure the talent development which 5 years of club coaching was not able to achieve.

I learned this lesson the hard way a number of years ago, when I committed the Look over the current talent. The player we committed looked exactly like an elite level player should look - Very long, very lean, wide shoulders, jumped high, moved well but could never get the talent to match the physique. The player who I did not commit, ended up going to conference school and was a very good college player, even though she did not have the Look - She was not quite as lean, not quite as long, did not move as smoothly, did not seem to have as much upside potential, even though she already had more established abilities. And as fate would have it, I had that poor decision painfully illustrated to me two times a year!

As a result of that experience, I focus on current talent for a number of reasons. 1) Potential may never arrive into reality, while talent is here and now, 2) If they are good now, they will not get worse in college, they will get better if by nothing other than being surrounded by and competing against other college level athletes, 3) Fool me twice, shame on me, 4) The majority of my recruiting competition may be focused on the Look, so the subtle talent is more available to my recruiting efforts.

Back to the question of Gary: The players with the Look will get the attention from college coaches, along with current club coaches - Again, this is how we have been visually conditioned to respond as volleyball coaches. What about the players who do not present the Look? The stockier outside hitter, the wider middle, the player who is not 6' tall and touches 10' on her approach - How do they try to garner the same coaching attention?

My suggestions:

1) Focus on developing your volleyball skills to their maximum abilities. You can't change your genetics, but you can control your abilities. You can always make your skill sets better; you can always improve your arm swing, your footwork, your passing, etc.

2) Keep yourself in very good physical condition. You can't control your DNA, but you can control your condition level. Being in shape and physically strong, presents a positive impression, even if you don't carry the Look. Good condition equals jumping higher, staying strong later into matches, physically having the base to keep good skill sets active in a longer matches.

3) Stay positive - This is one of the three areas which I evaluate for my potential recruits. Shake off bad plays, support your team mates, listen to your coaches, play with energy - These are all positive efforts.

For players who don't have the Look, you will be able to garner attention from college coaches and your club organization by being the best Volleyball player you can be - I believe that this is a combination of ability, physical effort and a positive attitude. Stand out because of what you are, not what you look like.


  1. Great advice...my daughter is an OH and has played Club now for just two years. She believes she's being discounted as she doesn't have the "look". Hers is indeed genetic - at 5'3" she's shorter, stockier and not at all cocky, but she's also quite strong and working hard on improving her skills. At tryouts the other moms and I noticed the ones with height and attitude and a bit of cockiness got all the attention. It didn't really matter if they weren't as good technically, the height and the attitude got them recognized. We will continue to focus on skill improvement, ball control, and attitude and see what happens!

    1. You just described my daughter's situation to a "T". Except that the "Look" bias is very much at work at our local Hs. All the tall,thin,never had to work at anything divas get to play varsity. The coach then can't quite seem to figure out why the team isn't working together....my daughter had a dream if playing college ds but we are to the point of chucking in the towel on volleyball..Sports should build up and not tear down. The "Look" is all the way down to middle school anymore. It's just a sad situation.


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