June 19, 2014

Small Town, Big Challenges!

Hi Coach,

My daughter, C, is a junior in a tiny high school (40 kids) in a fairly small town. She has played on her HS varsity team since 8th grade. Her school plays in Class B because of size and have no gym, yet they have managed to win their season, their district and make it to the state championships- for the first round anyway, if not win. She is 5'9", captain of her team, a real TEAM player and a sweet, sweet kid by everyone's account. She also won State OH of the Year for Class B, Player of the Year at school, and has good stats. She works hard, is a good hitter and athletic. She also has a GPA of 3.8.

Last year, as a sophomore, she decided she wanted to play college varsity and joined a club (all VB clubs are in a bigger town an hour away so it requires that much more time and dedication). She joined a club, was the new girl on the 2nd tier, national team and the coach insisted she play middle but hardly ever played her or the other new girl and, practically speaking, didn't coach or communicate with her. There was a lot of drama among the other girls and parents and C decided this club wasn't for her.

This year she joined a different club and loves her teammates. Again, she made the 2nd tier national team (happily). Again, the coach, despite being a likable although subdued person, has insisted that C play middle and ONLY middle- no OH, back row or serving. She doesn't mind this even though it's not her preference as she knows it's in her interest to become as versatile as possible. However, she is the only new girl and the ONLY player who does not get to play any OH, back row defense or serve even though we lose games because our back row is so slow. This means she hardly gets set to and I hardly have any footage that's interesting to watch that I can send to college coaches.

My daughter, having spoken to the coach once already without really getting an answer to her question, called her on the phone to ask what she could or should do to be able to play OH and defense even if just a little bit so coaches could have something to watch her do. The coach's only response was that she didn't let one of the other girls serve or do as much last year either (???). But she praised C, told her how much she was improving and filling a need the team has, etc.

I have broached the subject gently but directly, as has my husband, and we both get the same friendly brush-off. I finally called the club director to ask his advice. He agreed with me that C should have a bit more opportunity to play different positions and volunteered to talk to the coach (his offer, not my request). Nothing has changed so I doubt he has said anything (and I'm not sure but I think things seem a bit tenser now when I greet him at tournaments).

The club put out a survey and I commented that I thought it should be club policy to allow HS juniors interested in playing for college, to be allowed to play at least a couple of positions in a rotation, even if they're not on the top team.

Fortunately, we have been able to scrape together the resources to visit a few D3 schools that my daughter is really interested in.  The morning we left for our visits, we rented a community center gym, got her HS coach and a friend to help us create a last minute skills video (I tried to do this through the club but they never had courts or coaches available). We've been able to meet and spend the day with some of these coaches who really like my daughter and have invited her to their elite ID camps to work with her and see if she likes the college and the program (we're only looking at D3 schools because we like the balance of athletics and academics). All six college coaches we met, after watching footage of her could not understand why she isn't played more and used as an OH.

I am upset and frustrated by the way we have been treated by our club. They even took 3 girls on our team to an extra tourney so they could get recruited but never made any offer to help our family in any way. These girls aren't any better than my daughter but they have been with  the club longer and been playing outside (their strongest position) all season so they have been able to show to their advantage. I get that my daughter is no Destinee Hooker but she's a quick, scrappy, strong player with a good arm and a great attitude. When she does get set to she's able to make a kill at least 1/4 of the time (often just before she gets rotated out).

We've just finished our last tournament of the season and on the way home I asked my daughter if she would want to play club again for her senior year and her answer is she would only play club if she hadn't yet been recruited by a college coach.

Here is my question:

Would it do more good than harm or be completely useless to talk to the club directors (husband and wife)? I would like to respectfully declare to them that hobbling my daughter in the most significant season for college recruitment hurt her ability to reach and be seen by coaches and they should consider building better club policies and practices around this but, more importantly, if my daughter did play again next year, I will not, cannot invest all that money, time and energy, heart and soul for her to be a shadow on the wall. Yes, she did improve but largely due to extra curricular coaching that I paid other club coaches for (and could only get scheduled occasionally as they are more focused on developing the top tier players).

What would you do???


Thank you for your question.  Club volleyball can be a strange beast, because it is a strange dynamic of seniority, pay to play, pride and egos.

Based on your email, I would suggest the following:

1.  Expand your collegiate options to DII and NAIA.  Many, many DII/NAIA programs also highly value academics, and unlike DIII, their scholarships include athletic monies.  Remember, that DIII only can provide academic (and need based) scholarships.  Better to expand your outreach efforts now, so enable better choices next year.  I present an updated Recruiting Plan in Inside College Volleyball, and for maximum exposure, it is hard to beat the support of NCSA Athletic Recruiting!

2.  Hoping that there are more than 2 club teams in your region, when you go to tryouts for next year's teams, absolutely be clear that your daughter is trying out for Outside Hitter and will not play anything else.  Make it clear, but friendly, that this is because she will be playing Outside Hitter in college.  

3.  If no club can provide that promise, then don't play club.  Better to use that club money for private lessons to target specific skill development, and to use it for unofficial visits, than play out of position her senior year.

4.  Mentally flush away this year's club experience.  For whatever reason, your club directors were more concerned with returning players and other families than yours, which I have seen quite often in the club world (so don't think yours is an only situation).  It is spilt milk, you did everything correctly, your daughter was a good team mate, so take the high road and move on!

5.  Get back into the high school gym this summer and make some new skills video, which is not rushed - Actually, do it now while her skills are still fresh after club. Video will be key in your outreach efforts.

6.  Use this new video, and reach out to a bunch (I mean a lot, many, mucho, lots, etc) of schools - College coaches recruit talent.  If they think your daughter can help them, then they will recruit your daughter no mater her club situation.  Again, reach out to the D2 and NAIA schools, because a 5'9" athletic OH who can play back row will be attractive!

Good luck and hang in there!

Coach Sonnichsen

Dear Coach,

Thank you for your quick and succinct response. I really can't tell you how much it means to me to have someone with your experience and knowledge to help me process this. I've had more sleepless nights than I can count (going over what I should have said or done, worried about college deadlines, etc.) and am so relieved to feel like I have permission to let it go and just move forward.

I have shown my daughter your email and I know she feels more supported by having read it. I'll let you know how it goes and what sort of program she ends up in. My biggest hope is that she'll find a coach and a team somewhere that foster mutual appreciation, respect, joy and growth- that's worth gold!!

With heartfelt appreciation,


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