August 25, 2014

Way, way too young College Volleyball Recruiting!

Good morning Coach,

I love your blog and read it regularly, those that I have recommended it to have also become immediate fans as well! A great wealth of knowledge.

My questions relate to younger athletes in two regards.  I am curious to know your take on some of our experiences as I am beginning to think this recruiting of middle schoolers borders on insanity.   My daughter is twelve and going into seventh grade.  She tried a few sports in elementary school, but once she picked up a volleyball there was no looking back.  After a couple seasons in rec, she began playing travel at nine and was placed on a U12 team.  As parents, we wanted to encourage her to follow her interests so we allow her to play as much as she wants.  She has gone to many camps, clinics, and privates.  She doesn’t want clothes for her birthday, she wants volleyball camps.  She is an extremely hard worker, and each of her coaches has sung the praises of what an amazing volleyball player she is, her positive attitude, and ‘she is the most coachable kid I’ve ever had.’  She has always been tall for her age, but at 12 she is 5’ 7” and wearing women’s size 10 shoes so I imagine she is going to grow into a respectable volleyball height as she matures.  She is an extremely aggressive competitor, and she plays to win.  She can effectively spot serve and prefers when coaches signal her serve, and has several 25-0 games under her belt.  Three of her coaches were D1 players at very impressive schools, and each has told us that she has what it takes to go all the way.  In addition, she is an A student.

Our troubles began last year and are exponentially growing as time passes.   While she earned a spot on an elite 13’s team this past year, upon the advice of previous coaches we trust and our own research we decided to keep her one more year at U12 elite so she was playing with her peers.  She was an amazing stand-out and it was such a thrill to watch her go through her paces during the season.  As you can imagine, the teams we competed against took notice.  She is used to having coaches from opposing teams compliment her at the handshake or say something flattering after the games.  We have told her to be polite and just say thank you.  This increasingly seems to be giving travel coaches the ‘green light’ to start the hard sell on joining their team.  In our area, there are many travel options.  Travel is big business.  Travel teams need winning teams to grow their business.  I can understand their motivation, but at some tournaments there can be two or three coaches that seem to buzz around every time we cross the tournament floor towards the ladies room!  At first it was very flattering, now it is becoming a nuisance.  Some coaches have the courtesy to see me directly, but others will approach her when I’m not around and that really, really concerns me.  She’s just a kid?!

You’ve said in your blog many times that the world of coaching is volatile and always changing—there is no telling when one of these coaches might pop up in her future.  How do we navigate these conversations without burning a bridge with a possible future coach?

Travel coaches aside, in my inexperience I though she just stood out among her peers.  We are now discovering the world of college coaches is also somewhat overwhelming.  She has gone to quite a few college camps.  We do it because in our area there are many excellent schools not so far away, she loves hitting up the bookstores, playing with older girls, and generally we have a terrific time together.  We’ve discovered that as they group kids by ability, she ends up in groups of much older girls. This past summer the college coaches have become increasingly interested in her and it is nothing for them to spend time with us one-on-one during lunch, offering campus tours, inviting us to their elite camps, introducing players, inviting us to season games, etc.  I have dropped her age into the conversation early to make sure they know we’re not a current recruit, but that seems to backfire—it only amps up their interest.  The next sentence is usually something like “your daughter is the kind of player we want in our program, we want her to get to know our school.”  Sounds innocent enough until she’s the only kid from camp invited to tour the locker room…

As a mom, I am trying really hard to keep this all in perspective and remember she is twelve.  She can’t decide what she wants for dinner, let alone think about where she’s going to college.  How do parents strike a balance between reality and the hard sell?  Meanwhile, it is also difficult not to wonder if all this hype has some merit.   Where do we draw the line?  We don’t want to hold her back or limit her chances in the future, but we also don’t want to burden her with undue stress.  Right now I know she is too naive to realize some people are just in it for the money, she is simply flattered by all the attention.  I am worried, though, that in the near future we will be put in a position where we will not know what is OK and who is officially crossing the line.  We don’t want to make a mistake that will cost her dearly in the long run.  Is it really true there are no rules for middle schoolers in terms of recruiting?  At what point do they become subject to all the rules?

Any guidance you can provide would be greatly appreciated.  I realize this should be a great problem to have, but it is very overwhelming at an age where I had assumed all I needed to know was when will be my turn to provide team snack.


Middle School Mom

Thank you for your email and it is situations such as yours which make me cringe.  It boggles my mind that college volleyball coaches feel it is OK to recruit 7th graders.  And the reality that club coaches are approaching her to 'recruit' for their clubs is disheartening. 

Situations such as this, just go to illustrate that parents must be actively involved in their athlete's lives.

This is a great comment from your question "....remember she is twelve.  She can’t decide what she wants for dinner, let alone think about where she’s going to college."

College recruiting, in every sport, has lost its balance and the governing bodies are just ignoring the problem as opposed to addressing it.  This leaves the parents, which can be woefully unprepared (through no fault of there own), to police this this process.

In terms of your daughter and her collegiate recruiting process, these are my suggestions:

1.  As she is only 12, the ENTIRE family needs to mentally flush away any thoughts or concerns about the recruiting process.  These are crazy times in collegiate athletes, with huge changes happening and going to occur over the next few years.  Your daughter will not go off to college for another 6 years, so to concern yourself now, is simply illogical.

2.  Because of college coaches aggressiveness and their management of the recruiting rules (or mismanagement), you must establish parameters.  Tell your club coaches that you and your daughter will not speak with any college coaches, that you will not accept any business cards or notes, that you don't want to 'hear' from any colleges via the club - Period, end of conversation.  

3.  At camps/clinics, when your daughter is approached by a college coach, she simply has to say "thank you, please talk with my parents" - Which is just common sense because SHE IS 12 YEARS OLD!!!

4.  When the college coach approaches you, you simply say "Thank you, but we are not engaging in the recruiting process at this time" - When they ask to talk with you, when they offer a campus tour, when they offer to show you the locker room, etc...."Thank you, but we are not engaging int he recruiting process at this time".  

You will not burn any bridges, you will not make a poor impression - You will protect your daughter because that is most important....all else falls away.

As for the club coaches:

1.  When your daughter is approached by a club coach/director, she simply has to say "Thank you, please talk to my parents".  Done.

2.  When the club coach/director approaches you, simply say "Thank you, and we will review our club situation at the end of the season but don't wish to discuss anything at this time".  Reviewing the club situation at the end of each club season, is what each family should be doing anyways.  Be polite but firm.

In closing, you don't have the catch the ball that the college and club coaches are throwing.  Families have more control over the process that they realize.  You have to define the parameters so you can enjoy this wonderful time within your daughter's athletic life.

Good luck!

1 comment:

  1. My daughter was in this same position. In regards to college coaches, she would very politely thank them and tell them directly that she was unsure of where she wanted to attend college and that she would see them next year at their camp. By the end of club volleyball, in eighth grade, she had narrowed her focus on two great colleges, one Big 10, the other MAC conference. Tenth grade high school and club was excrutiating, club in particular as it was not uncommon for five college coaches to be lined up watching for the first game. Although my daughter is extremely mature for her age, she started internalizing all of that pressure and would undermine her own self confidence with every mistake. I quickly realized that volleyball was becoming a job for her. I finally sat down with her and told her no matter what, you will play college ball. You are good enough to now make choices that other players might not have. Volleyball is what has gotten you here but where are you going to be the happiest? What fits best with your lifelong goals? What campus fits the best? As you go through this journey, it is easy to get caught up in the hype and think that any misstep in going to cost you but I have found that as long as your daughter has the skills, is mature, and polite there is no harm. They will be still be looking at her. This time goes by so fast. Both of you deserve to enjoy her playing, before you know it she will be off to college. My daughter will be verbally committing within the next two weeks, she's taking her time to truly think about what is important to her. In her words, "I'll be glad when this is over and I can just play ball."


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