The athletes which are attending these combines are there to demonstrate their skill sets/abilities to college coaches. In a very real sense, it is a tryout for those coaches' college program. One thing which I have been struck by, is the lack of basic college volleyball required skill sets by attending players.
Please allow me to break down my combine observations by position....
- You must be able to run the slide; it is the primary attack option of college volleyball. A slide is a one foot'ed take off attack pattern near the right front antenna. In simple attack footwork drills (no ball or setter), easily half of the players cannot demonstrate a slide. If you can't hit a slide, you won't be playing college volleyball as a middle.
- 3 step blocking footwork to 'close' the block to the right front or left front. It is 3 steps only, not 4 or 6 or 18 stutter steps. Again, it is routine to see half the athletes not do this primary collegiate blocking footwork.
- Transition from the net to the load or attack zone; the load or attack zone is the 3 meter line in the center of the court. From this load/attack zone, a middle attacker can transition to attack any of the 4 primary attacks (front quick, back quick, 3 or C and slide). The transition from block landing to load/attack zone is a 3 step movement to the center of the 3 meter line. This transition ability is probably the least correctly demonstrated of the middle blocker footwork patterns, but a primary pattern for collegiate middle blockers. College coaches don't want to teach you this movement, they expect you to have it before you arrive to campus.
- Squaring your hips to the left front target - Wherever your hips face, the ball will tend to float in that direction. If your hips are open, the ball will be too far off the net and if you back set, the ball will be too tight to the net. Collegiate setters don't leave their hips open.
- Stopping your feet when setting - Doing a run through set on an average pass is not correct.
- Poor hand position - If you raise your hands late or drop your hands immediately after setting, this is not collegiate ability.
- Hitting the ball in the court - Combines can be an uncomfortable environment and the sets are coming from an unknown setter, you still need to hit the ball in the court. Blasting it into the net is a no go.
- Having basic passing skill sets - Even if you are not a primary passer, you should be able to pass your narrow zone. Combines tend to have very easy serving or free balls, so the drills don't turn into a popcorn machine. When OH's can't pass free balls in a combine, they are not going to be recruited.
- Not going to the ground after the ball is completely mind boggling to a college coach. Your whole volleyball existence is to keep the ball of the floor. Watching a ball hit two feet away from a Libero, who doesn't make a move for the ball is an instant "do not recruit" evaluation.
- Correct passing technique - The Libero and Defensive Specialists primary job is to pass the served ball - Talk to any collegiate coach and they want passers more than they want defenders because if team can't pass, it doesn't matter how well they dig the ball. L/DS should be stopped, with good balance when they pass the ball. The arm movement should be smooth and controlled, and they should communicate/call the ball on every single touch.
Collegiate volleyball is not easy, no matter what category or level a recruit aspires. When a college coach sees basic skill deficiencies from high school age athletes, they will rate these athletes low and not recruit them.
Families must understand that there are literally tens of thousands of volleyball players competing for a thousand opportunities - College coaches have the luxury of choice. If one player does not have the minimum skill sets, the college coach will just move on to the next player; they are not interested in teaching basic collegiate level skill sets.
Playing club volleyball is not enough to develop skill sets to a collegiate level; club is a great platform but it is not the guarantee - It is the responsibility of the family/athlete to ensure they are garnering the correct techniques which will result in being recruited to play college volleyball. This means applying what the club coach is telling you. If for some reason your club program is lacking, then it is still your responsibility to figure out those collegiate level skills and it is not hard to do - GO WATCH COLLEGE VOLLEYBALL.
If you want to play college volleyball, go watch college volleyball with the eye of a player, not a fan. Coaches are always watching volleyball with a coach's eye. Doesn't matter if the coach is a Golden in Greenwood, they will be evaluating the players in the NCAA Division I National Championship. As a player, you need to watch how the collegiate players play - If you want to be a middle, watch how the collegiate middles move, how they attack, what does their armswing look like, how is their transition footwork, etc.
Be the player at the combine that has the skill sets necessary to get recruited, rather than the player who is lacking in the basic techniques.