I recently had an exchange with a volleyball dad. He was looking for some advice regarding his daughter, who at 16 is an England international at the U19 level and has aspirations to play collegiately in the States. She’d been accepted to attend one of the academies next school year, but was then invited to become part of the England sand volleyball training program run by a former beach pro in a similar academy sort of situation. My advice was sought on the decision with regards to the impact on recruitment prospects. Below are the thoughts I shared with this father, but I’d be interested to hear other views.
So the question is to attend the indoor academy and train with other members of the England youth national team mix or go the beach route to train under a former professional and with other England beach internationals. The player in question is an outside hitter, though capable of hitting anywhere on the net. She’s approximately 5’10”, with a good jump and long reach (slender build). She both hits and blocks well and generally has good ball skills. This past season she had some back issues, but otherwise I’m not aware of any injuries. If she goes the beach academy route, part of the deal would be that she’d continue playing indoor ball in the National Volleyball League.
Now generally speaking I almost always encourage my indoor players to get out and play beach or grass doubles. It’s a great way for them to improve their abilities and have a different kind of volleyball experience. That’s not the same as making a choice between training full-time as a beach player vs. as an indoor player, though.
If this girl played another position, like middle blocker or perhaps setter, I may feel differently, but in this case I think going the beach academy route makes a lot of sense. As a prospective college OH she’s going to be expected to have solid skills all around – not highly specialized ones as would be the case in other positions. Beach volleyball will help her continue developing those skills. I also think training in the sand will cut down on some of the pounding her body would take as a full-time indoor player, which could have long-term benefits.
From the recruiting perspective, the math is fairly simple. There are WAY more indoor programs and scholarship opportunities, and that won’t be changing any time soon (if ever). As such, focusing on the indoor side in the recruitment process offers more opportunities, especially given the way the NCAA counts volleyball scholarships (an indoor scholarship athlete can play sand without issue, but a sand scholarship athlete cannot play indoors unless being counted toward the indoor scholarship limits). That said, being a dual-surface player would make one quite attractive to schools where players are part of both the indoor and sand teams (rather than the teams being run separately).
All things taken together – working on her all-around game, the opportunity to train under a former beach pro, still getting to play indoor competitively – I think going the beach academy route in this case makes a lot of sense. That’s what I told the father.