August 1, 2010

Early Volleyball Scholarship Offer Questions

I remember writing you when our daughter was in 8th grade after she received her first invite for an unofficial visit. Your website and words of wisdom gave us knowledge and the power to remain calm (well, most the time) thru a very fun, exciting and daunting process.

The hardest and most rewarding thing I learned from you was to ENJOY the process and trust things would work out as they should. I stopped getting (as) stressed at games, stopped asking “why did the coach do THAT?” and started saying “I loved watching you play…I’m so proud honey. So, where do you want to eat?” This led to her telling more about volleyball than I cared to know and more importantly resulted in fun, stress free weekends---a happy daughter means a happy mom!

Now a junior our daughter has offers ranging from top 30 D1 to programs ranked in the 400’s (ok, I know…that’s an exaggeration-you get the idea). So, how hard would it be for an elite athlete who has “the look” to pick a college (a well known school) and trust that the new coaches will indeed build the program over the next couple years?

I do realize that she’ll make a HUGE jump from playing club/high school volleyball to ANY college program regardless of ranking---just curious from your perspective how hard it would be for an athlete who is a gamer and likes to win (don’t we all?) potentially play on a team that may get pummeled in their conference? Also, how long do these offers REALLY last? We’ve been told that she’ll need to decide by December or many programs will move on to their next recruit.

In closing---you were right! Enjoy the process and slow down…… goes WAY too fast!

~A loyal fan

At last, August is here (named after Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, nephew of Julius Caesar and also known as Octavius - Wikipedia thanks!) and time to get some current words back onto the site!

First of all, I REALLY hope that parents will read and apply your comments about focusing on enjoying the time and experience, while not getting lost in all the details. If parents will create a relaxed, comfortable environment for their daughters to operate, I earnestly believe it will make the entire experience so much more positive for all. This may be VERY TOUGH for parents to read, especially with the cost of club volleyball, but ultimately the parents are not the coaches, are not the team mates, are not the referees, are not the college coaches, are not the opponents across the net - They are the family, and putting pressure on the their daughters, no matter how stressed they themselves may be, will not make anything better.

Thank you to A Loyal Fan for being such a loyal reader of the site - Crazy to think I have been writing this information and outlet for a number of years. Now to your question - The top choice for your daughter (as I read it) is a challenging situation; name brand school, in a tough conference, trying to build with new coaches. Offers made to sophomores will stay on the table for a spell - I would not panic to let the high school season go by, and allow yourselves to go watch some college volleyball. What college coaches are trying to do is lock up good sophomore/fall junior PSA's, before the zaniness of the next club season begins.

Please realize that you have the time to go see these new coaches in action with the program - Don't worry about how the team looks now, because they probably won't be competitive if it is a re-build, or worse yet, a clean up. A rebuild is not a bad thing necessarily - Just a situation where a recruiting class or two was weak, or the team had a couple of injuries to key players and they need to build everything back up when a coach had moved for any multitude of non-negative reasons. A clean up is a much different jump serve - Having to come in to clean up a program in shambles because of player and/or coach behavior, NCAA rules violations, team academic or citizenship issues and the coach was shown the door in a forceful manner can take some time to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

When you go see this potential program, focus upon how coach interacts with the players, and also how the players interact with the coach. Too many families get fooled by the coach - she/he/it is animated, or enthusiastic, or cheering them on, or intense, or whatever - the coach can just be sprinkling sugar on the problem and providing a false illusion of how they are with the team. We just had a player commit to our program and while talking, I was curious about what other schools she visited and she commented about how one well known/successful program in our region, the players absolutely did not like the coach (and I never picked up on it when I would see the team in matches). Coaches can be great about 'selling' something that is not real; they can sell any recruit that they are going to climb the rankings, that they are going to start winning, that they are building a great program, etc.....Some of the WORST head coaches I have known, were great recruiters.

Quick Tip - If a PSA goes on an Official or Unofficial Visit, and they don't spend time with the players, and I mean more than a quick hello, then this should be something to be VERY concerned about.

Also, spend some time viewing the players - Do they hold eye contact with the coach, do the accept direction, are they focused upon the match, do players interact with the coach in the appropriate manner. There should be respectful, positive interaction between coach and player - If you see players looking off into the distance, or rolling their eyes when the coach walks away, or being more focused about what is going on in the stands versus on the court, then this should raise questions. Your family needs to try and get a feel for the style of the coach, and to project your VolleyPSA into this future equation.

Another concern is, is this coach a New Head Coach or just the new Head Coach of this program. Women's College Volleyball hires many, many young coaches into the Head Coaching position which are no where near qualified to administer a NCAA Division I program. I just shake my head when I see nationally recognized schools hiring 26 year old assistant coaches as head coaches just because of where they were shagging coffee for a few years. Sometimes the athletic department will hit the jackpot and hire a young coach who is just great, but the reality is that being a first time head coach involves a steep learning curve.

I know from experience that it takes years to understand all the nuances of successfully running a program, that were not apparent when I was a top assistant. It is not easy to manage a NCAA Volleyball team, especially some Division I programs which have crazy travel schedules and unforeseen challenges of location, budget or facilities. If a coach is impatient, immature, lazy, emotionally unstable, etc., this can create a team environment which is very bad.

While it is not fair to label all New Head Coaches as not going to be successful, there is something to be said about Head Coaching experience - Now that I have been in the business, if I were to be involved on the other side of the recruiting equation, I would be more comfortable with a Head Coach who has been running a program for a few years, even if they were not winning everything under the sun, rather than a New Head Coach who is going to learn on the job (which is what ALL New Head Coaches do) while my child is there. Think about it, do you want the doctor who is just out of med school or the person who has been helping patients for a few years? That doc out of med school may be the next Robert Jarvik, or they may give you the wrong medicine because they have never seen your condition.

Take time to go see her top prospective schools in practice and matches - make some more unofficial visits, even if this makes the high school coach upset.

If the top school on the list for your daughter fills her academic desires (for the most part - we all seem to change majors in college), is in a location/geographic region she feels comfortable within, and is in a conference which appeals to her, then the final judgment comes down to the coaches - are they going to be successful and build, or are they just the next coach who won't get it done?

If she/family objectively believes (not hopes) that the new coach(s) will be successful based upon past accomplishments and current interaction, then move forward. If there is a little voice in your daughter's head, then listen to this 6th sense and stay open to new opportunities.


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