October 17, 2011

Libero Goals for College Volleyball

Dear Coach,

My daughter is in 8th grade and is going in to her 4th year of club volleyball and is in her 4th year of school volleyball.  At her grade school she has made the A team the last 3 years.  There are currently 3 teams per grade and a very extensive tryout session.  On her club volleyball team she was on the 6th team out of 8.  Very discouraging.  She is a very good volleyball player, a hard worker and a lover of the game.  She has trained with a trainer for the last year to get her weight down, which she has done and to get her jumping skills up.  She has every thing going for her but her height.  She is 13 and 5'2.  She has not grown in the last year and probably wont.

Over the past 3 years I have spent alot of money, time and tears to help my daughter achieve her goal which is to someday play for Penn State.  It is exhausting and heart breaking to watch her work so hard and make a very low team at her club.  Her club, by the way, is one of the top in the country and many of the girls, most of who are very tall, have gone on to DI and DII schools. The training here is some of the best and I have been advised to keep her there as long as possible but with the competition and and her height issues I know it is a matter of time that she get cut. 

I guess my question is what chances are there for a short volleyball player to get a college scholarship and what is the competition? Is there hope for a shorty in volleyball or is this turning into a tall girls only game?

Thank you, C.S.

As I read your email, I see three questions; 1) Can your daughter someday play Volleyball for Penn State, 2) Can your daughter receive a Volleyball scholarship, 3) Is College Volleyball only for tall players?

Let's Ask the Magic 8 Ball:

1) Outlook Not So Good.

2) Signs Point to Yes.

3) My Reply is No.

OK - Hope that helped and please by my book!

Not funny, I know, but I am sitting in a hotel room in a city which is not my own, waiting to go play a match (which by the way is the worst time for a coach; the quiet time when there is not much else to do other than wait for the whistle) and I gotta entertain myself with something other than the Price is Right!

Magic 8 Ball Answers Explained (this product is a bit more at toy stores!):

1)  I think it is wonderful that your daughter's goal is to play Volleyball one day at Penn State, but the mountain will be steep to get to State College and the grade becomes almost vertical to receive a Volleyball scholarship.  This is just the mathematical equation of limited roster spots (17), scholarships (12), and the number of really good Volleyball PSA's who want to play at the best program in the country (mucho).  A positive is that PSU has 6 DS/Liberos listed on this year's roster, so they are accepting of talented players who are back row specialists, but I am comfortable saying that the majority of these players are walk on candidates. 

I would encourage your daughter to keep chasing this goal, to keep working towards this end result because it will only make her better because the motivation to play at Penn State will drive a PSA more than the motivation to play at Manatee College (yes, this is a made up school somewhere in Florida!).  You will need to recruit Penn State, as opposed to the other way around because of your daughter's position.  You recruit them until they say, please leave us alone!

But, as you are encouraging and supporting this almost out of reach goal, you need to set up a safety net for your PSA.  This is accomplished by making sure your recruiting outreach effort in the years to come are inclusive of many, many schools which look shiny to your daughter, and to have an explanation ready for that most likely day when your daughter comes to the realization she won't be able to go to Penn State; this will create an emotionally supportive exit for her not reaching a long term goal (i.e. Penn State was not accepting DS walk ons this year, the team was focused on recruiting OH's because of graduation losses, etc.).

2) Your daughter can receive a college scholarship as a result of her participation in Volleyball.  Once again, because of her position, she will need to keep an open mind about the category and region of possible college programs.  The more she opens her mind to the possibility of playing NCAA DI not at Penn State, DII, DIII, NAIA and Junior College, the better her odds of her Volleyball abilities being rewarded with some type of scholarship support.  As important as category of school is, the comfort to travel away from home will also open up scholarship avenues. 

As an example, I have a DS walk on with my team now who is receiving an out of state tuition and fee waiver and an academic scholarship, both as a result of her grades/test scores.  Her scholarship package is approximately $12,000 and she was able to receive this amount because she was comfortable leaving her home region to go to school.  A trend in College Volleyball is to pack the roster with DS/Libero walk ons (the DI model, which is inclusive of academic scholarships but still called Walk-On) or partial scholarship players (the DII or NAIA model).  If you ask a college coach, "Can you have too many good passers?"  The answer will be a incredulous "No!".  Coaches are always open to accepting players who can pass and play defense because the current format of College Volleyball allows for specialization and teams that pass very well are teams that win a lot.

To be in a position to enjoy these opportunities, you have to be talented and you have to be aggressive in your recruiting efforts.  College Coaches do not go to Club Volleyball events looking for good DS players; we go to Club Volleyball tournaments looking for that stud player who can average 5 kills per game or blocks everything in sight, but we will take the time to evaluate a DS/Libero who has contacted us about watching them play.

The competition is steep.  Your daughter is short and probably has understood that her avenue to College Volleyball is via a DS/Libero position, along with any number of other shorter players.  This avenue gets even more congested when the 5'8" to 5'10" outside hitters who are solid players but just not physical enough to make the jump to College Volleyball as an attacker, realize that they need to play the DS/Libero position to have a college opportunity.

It becomes a matter of what PSA is willing to keep constant effort to improve their abilities, and what PSA is willing to be vigilant in working the recruiting process to find that opportunity.

3)  The game of Volleyball and especially College Volleyball is becoming taller each year.  Some of these Big 10 and Pac 12 teams are just amazingly tall.  I had a retired women's basketball coach at our school swing by practice for a few minutes and comment that the Volleyball team was bigger than the women's basketball team (which was said with much surprise and consternation) and I replied that we were small for our conference and needed to get bigger.  If you focus only on the power school conferences, then it is easy to think that the game is becoming only for the tall people.  But, to burst that mental image, the current Penn State roster's DS/Liberos are all listed as 5'6"; taller than your daughter but not by much for the 4 time defending National Champion.

As you distance yourself from the elite of Division I, the height diminishes; everybody shrinks!  The talent is there, it is just that the Outsides are not all 6'2" and bounce the ball on the 3 meter line, the Middles don't reach their entire hand over the tape when standing at the net, etc.

Height is a prime consideration of the elite level teams, because they can always get athleticism and all their opponents are tall.  An old Volleyball saying is you can't teach height!  But, while the remaining categories of College Volleyball won't turn their back on a taller player, it is current talent which is a bit more of the focus.

I will close by saying the best thing you can do now, with your daughter in 8th grade is to keep things light and fun.  DO NOT WORRY about recruiting now or Penn State (other than your daughter's use of this as a motivational tool).  Just enjoy the fact she is not in high school (driving, dating, tattoos, lions, tigers and bears, oh my!), that she loves a something she can play for years and years, and she is still your little girl.


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