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Tag Archive for collegiate recruitment

Coaching Log – August 4, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season.

Preseason is underway!

We started our preseason training on Monday, after doing compliance and team meetings on Sunday. Technically, this isn’t preseason, actually. Rather, it’s pre-trip training. The NCAA allows 10 days of practice before an overseas trip. We leave on the 12th, so starting on Monday gave us 10 days plus two days off before we leave.

Today is actually one of those days off. We’ll take the second one on Tuesday. We’re hosting a high school tournament of sorts that day, which I get more into below.

We’ve done four days of split sessions. In the mornings we’ve done group sessions. Three of the players are attending Summer classes, each at different times. That mandated splitting things up in the morning, but we did full-team sessions in the afternoon. Morning sessions were no more than 90 minutes, while the afternoon ones went two hours.

For the first couple of days we had two focal points for the morning sessions. The first group comprised the middles and setters. They were largely about getting the timing of the middle attacks down, though that included a fair bit of work on footwork and movement patterns. We also worked on blocking. The second group was made up of the pin hitters and defensive specialists. They focused a lot on ball control and out-of-system play.

The afternoon sessions were of a different sort. For one, they featured a lot of competition. I’ll speak more on that in a moment. As you might expect, they were also our chance to see what the team looked like playing together in different ways so we could see where we needed to prioritize our work.

Some of what we did was cooperative, especially early in the sessions as part of ball-control oriented warm-ups. The competitive stuff was often less than 6 v 6. That allowed us to look at different elements of play.

On Wednesday and Thursday we turned our attention mainly to the defensive side of play. Our morning groups focused a lot on offense vs. defense, working through the structure of our play. We then carried that over into more full-team action in the afternoons. It definitely paid dividends.

Thursday was a tough one for the players. They were very obviously feeling the effects of the three previous days. As a result, we made things a bit lower intensity in the morning sessions. In the afternoon we kept things slower by playing regular games. This was the first time doing so – and playing on our main center court – so it let us see things in new ways.

Competition leader board

I mentioned doing a lot of competition in our team sessions this week. A big focus for us this year is really developing a winning mentality and generally competing harder. In support of that, we decided to keep track of wins among the players. By that I mean every time a player is part of the winning group in a competitive exercise, be it a point based game or a goal-oriented activity, they get a tick mark next to their name on our white board. We want to see who the winners are, and to incentivize a winning mentality.

Admittedly, it’s not always easy to keep track of winners and losers. We have three MBs and oftentimes we have them rotate around so they don’t get overly fatigued. This is especially so in the faster paced games. Unfortunately, that means they aren’t part of any single team. I think we’ve decided to keep track of how many points are won by the team they are currently in and see who has the most at the end.

Missing one

We actually haven’t had our full squad up to this point. Our transfer RS is away this week on a family trip. We knew about it when we signed her. It’s not the greatest situation in the world, but there you have it. She’ll be back with us on Sunday or Monday and we’re including her in the team meeting type stuff remotely.

Speaking event

Saturday was the speaking event I’ve been working on putting together for the last couple of months. We had a number of no-shows, so the attendance could have been higher, but it was still a very positive event. The city’s mayor attended with his family. The university’s president had some very positive words to say about the work we’re doing, as did the Athletic Director. Danielle Scott’s speech was very well received, and she was featured in an interview on local TV.

High school event

As I noted briefly above, next week we host an event for local area high school teams. They come to our gym to play their first matches of the year. This is the second time running the event. Last year it was a 1-day affair featuring I believe 8 teams. This year we have I think 14 teams and the event is spread out over two days.

Recruiting

We got some good news on Tuesday. Our #1 OH target for 2018 verbally committed. That makes it two of our top choices. The other was a setter. Unfortunately, a couple weeks ago one recruit let us know she will go elsewhere, but we soldier on.

Coaching Log – June 12, 2017

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2017-18 season. The log is something I started doing back in 2013. It was part of the requirements for my Volleyball England Level 3 certification, and I’ve kept it up ever since. I like how keeping the log allows me to put into words the stuff I’m thinking about over the course of the year. Hopefully, it’s also something useful for readers. Maybe you can gain some insights into coaching at the NCAA Division II level – or just college coaching in general.

New-look court

First thing I should say is the floor of our gym has been redone.

While it certainly looks sharp, and the new central logo is and improvement over the last, I can’t help be disappointed at how basketball clearly dominates volleyball. Same old story, eh?

The assistant women’s basketball coach actually asked me at one point what it would take to make our secondary gym the main one for volleyball. It’s an interesting idea, but not realistic, unfortunately. It lacks the proper dimensions for us to run two full courts for practice – or competition. Just not enough service area when we go with two. Ceiling is too low as well.

Anyway, on with the real stuff.

The team

Just last week we finalized our 2017 roster. After Spring semester grades came out we had to let one player go, one of our liberos from last season. She just wasn’t keeping to the academic standards required. Another player was unsure if she was going to continue because of concerns about the time commitment. Last week she confirmed she’s going to stick it out.

We also had a big addition. I mean that literally and figuratively.

We spent a lot of time during the Spring trying to find an experienced right side player. We have a freshman lefty coming in, but she’s returning from an ACL injury suffered last Summer. As a result, we can’t know for sure what she’s going to bring to the table. One of last year’s starting OHs can play on the right. Our other starting OH is a big question mark because of injury issues, though, and behind them will be a sophomore and a couple incoming freshmen. So we wanted to add another attacking option. Ideally, that would be a MB/OPP type player as we only have three middles on the books. We did look at some OHs as well, however.

What we ended up with is a 6’4″ lefty OPP who played MB in high school. She’s an interesting story. She’s a local who was recruited to a Division I school in Florida. Things didn’t work out for her, though. She was a medical red shirt as a freshman, then barely played as a sophomore. That was the 2015 season. She left school after that year and came back to town. She decided in the Spring to attend MSU, and we found out through the volleyball grapevine. You don’t get 6’4″ lefties walking through the door everyday, so we jumped at the chance to bring her into the team.

It wasn’t easy, though. She had some serious doubts. Seems like her prior college experience left her feeling less than enthusiastic about combining athletics and academics. We really had to demonstrate how much we are committed to our players doing well in their classes and how we’d support her in doing so. Apparently, we did a good job of it!

Of course, she hasn’t played any meaningful volleyball in a while. On top of that, she can’t start training with us a week in because of a previously scheduled family trip. That means she may take a while to get where she’s fully contributing. Still, you can’t teach size. Just having her block to go against in practice can’t help but make our hitters better.

So the final roster count for the new season is 17, up a couple from last year. We’ll have 9 returning players, 3 transfers, and 5 freshmen.

Recruiting

We haven’t done any additional recruiting trips. Right now we have some offers out to 2018 prospects. We’ll see how that falls out in the weeks to come.

Buenos Aires planning

It’s been a very active few weeks setting things up for the trip to Argentina. Lots of details to sort out, like passports and immunizations. I’ve been in regular contact with the guy in B.A. making the arrangements. Most of it is settled, but we have to wait a bit longer to finalize our competition schedule. We can’t do that until the Argentine club’s get their league schedules, which is probably in July. Right now we’re looking at playing maybe three of them. We could also play some U19 national team competition as well.

Of course I’ll provide the full rundown once everything is settled.

Fundraising and other support

The fundraising effort for the trip is ongoing. Last week we confirmed a speaking event for July 29th. The speaker is going to be 5-time Olympian Danielle Scott. Now we must sort out all the logistics and generate the revenue. In the latter case, that means selling tables and trying to get donations and/or sponsors to underwrite the cost. We hope to net $15-$20k.

We also have permission to run a raffle. The planned prize will be a sizeable travel voucher. The original thought was to raffle off places on our trip, but the time frame is too short. Instead, it will just be a general gift certificate for use whenever. We will probably do the drawing our first home weekend, so there’s time to sell tickets once school starts. That means at least some of the money comes in after the trip, but that’s fine. A lot of the payments will be by credit card anyway.

Then there’s the direct donations. We’ve received several thousand that way, most of which has been matched through our Development office. We also raised a bit through our May clinic series.

The head coach and I met with our VP of student affairs, who’s looking into ways we can get some on-campus support. We can’t plan on a great deal given the news of recent budget cuts, but every bit helps. We also talked about the team and the trip at a local Rotary Club meeting last week.

Other fun stuff

College coaching isn’t all glamorous stuff like planning trips and raising money. We also get to do things like clean out closets and organize our office. It’s amazing how much junk can accumulate over time. There was a department inventory last week. In preparing for it we found out we have four old cameras, only one of which is actually part of the inventory!

Coaching Log – April 17, 2017

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2016-17.

This, the fourth week of our non-traditional season, was a short one as Thursday and Friday were school Easter Break holidays.

Monday and Wednesday were indoor sessions. The head coach was away getting ready to have her first child, so I ran both. Our focus this week was on the things we highlight during our video session the prior week. Namely, we want to continue relentless defense and improve our seam play. We also want more discipline in our individual blocking so we can better play around it. In large part that means line blockers not reaching out toward the pins.

Both days of practice were heavily game-play oriented, especially small-sided games. We did a serve and pass game focused on the servers attacking seams. We played different types of 3s, and we played 5 v 5 and 4 v 5 variations of different sorts. My feedback concentrated on our focus points throughout.

On Tuesday we were on the sand once more. The head coach’s sister ran both the small groups as a guest coach. She coaches beach at both the college and club level in Southern California. Much of the focus was on shots. Mainly that came from game play.

Away from the court there was lots of admin work to do. Our other assistant was hustling to get recruit visits scheduled while we still have the opportunity for them to work out with the team during practice. I spent much of my time on the Argentina trip planning.

We spent the weekend recruiting at the Lone Star national qualifying tournament. That’s our biggest one of the year. It was two days of bouncing around from court to court to court evaluating dozens of different players. Our focus was 2018, though we did look at a handful of 2019s.

Coaching Log – August 12, 2016

This is the first entry in my volleyball coaching log for the 2016-17 school year at Midwestern State University. The players officially report tomorrow, though they have all been around for most of the last week. Many of them were here most or all of the Summer, during which time they worked with our strength coach.

My last log entry came back at the beginning of May, shortly after we finished Spring practices. The end of our time in the gym did not mean the end of the work, though! In this post I will share with you some of what I’ve been doing over the last three months. I figure it might be of interest to those who don’t have college coaching experience.

From here on out I’ll probably just do weekly log entries. Doing them daily would be a bit much. As with my Svedala log, I’ll think posting them on Monday after the weekend’s matches makes the most sense.

Recruiting

I mentioned in my last entry that we had six prospective recruits on campus during our last week of Spring practices, and that one of them in the 2017 class committed. Three others committed in the weeks following. These are verbal commitments. Nothing official can be done until November.

My only recruiting trip during the last three or so months was to the North Texas regional bid qualifiers in the Dallas area. We were still looking for a strong OH in the 2017 class, so I watched that group in the 17s qualifier. Then I spent a day looking at 2018s in the 16s qualifier to start ramping things up in that class.

We have a couple of players we’re talking with to round out the 2017 class. We’ve also had some issues develop with a couple of those who already committed.

Camps & Clinics

We ran three MSU-linked programs.

The first was what we called an academy program that was run with a fundraising focus (though the coaches working it were paid). Basically, it was a clinic series that went 1.5 hours a session, three nights a week for four weeks. It ended up being mainly attended by 11-14 year-olds.

We also ran two camps. They were both 3-day commuter deals (not overnight). The first was for pre-high school ages, with the second for high school players. We didn’t really have it initially in mind to make the latter a recruiting camp, but it kind of worked out that way. Our three incoming freshmen all attended, as did three of our four committed 2017 players, along with a handful of other potential recruits. That made for one pretty good court and one with a much lower standard. We’ve already started talking about how we might adjust things for next year.

Sitting Volleyball

It’s worth mentioning that we had several members of the USA sitting volleyball program at our first camp for the afternoon session of the first day. It was something I arranged with the North Texas region. They gave a demonstration, taught some skills, got the kids playing, and generally made it a great experience. We invited some of the area high schools and folks from outside the university (I called the local VA clinic).

Planning a foreign trip

Since we expect to have a strong incoming freshman class next year to go along with what should be a group of returning players capable of having a good season, we decided to try to do an overseas trip next Summer. Including the freshmen requires working around NCAA restrictions, but it looks doable.

As much as I am always up for a trip to Europe, that isn’t a realistic option for us. Too expensive, especially that time of year. Plus, the big time change is problematic when you’re talking about a trip that probably at least overlaps with our preseason – meaning it would be very close to the start of our season. Jet-lagged players would not be a good thing.

On top of that, we decided to take more of a training camp approach. By that I mean staying in one place rather than doing a tour. That reduces the amount of travel and bouncing around. Not only does that add a bunch of logistical stress, but it also means more fatigued players.

So what did we decide?

Since I have coaching friends with lots of contacts there, I suggested Buenos Aires. The head coach really likes that idea. If we can go and stay in one place and make arrangements with local clubs to train and compete, we don’t need a tour company. That will save a bunch of money.

I wrote up a proposal for the trip to go to the Athletic Director. In it I figured we would be looking at a cost of somewhere around $2000 per person. Now we need to get that fund raised!

Season prep

Of course, no Summer goes by in college volleyball that doesn’t include a lot of administrative work to get ready for the upcoming season. Our schedule was mostly set, but there were some little tweaks, and refs had to be confirmed. We had to arrange hotels and put in travel authorization requests. And we had to make sure the incoming players took care of all their academic and medical requirements.

A bit broader, we also did a lot of thinking and planning about things around the team. I’m talking about community outreach and developing support for the program. Of course, that’s an on-going thing. We did, though, need to put some plans in place for events and activities during the season.

High School kick-off event

The local area high schools started their competitive season on Tuesday. Some of the local area coaches are MSU alumnae, and the idea got put forward to host several matches in our gym as a fundraiser. We would get the gate receipts and concessions.

We ended up hosting a total of 11 matches between our two gyms. Two were freshmen, two were junior varsity, and the rest varsity. I think in total 10 schools attended.

It ended up being a long day, but it went quite well. There was some grumbling about ticket prices (which we didn’t even set), but it sounds like otherwise people really thought it was a good event – including the local media. There’s talk about making this an annual thing. And we managed to raise a chunk of money.

Thinking about the team

From a volleyball perspective, probably our biggest single effort went into evaluating and updating the team handbook. Part of that was going through what we want to do in terms of systems of play. We didn’t really need to make a lot of changes there.

The bigger thing was looking at the culture side of things. We did a lot of talking and planning in that area. Developing a championship culture at MSU is very much a work in progress. The head coach is only going into her second season here and it’s been a long time since the program had a winning record. Last year they went 0-16 in conference.

We saw a lot of growth in the Spring. The team will definitely be better this season. I believe they had 19 on the initial roster last year. There were only 16 on the season-ending roster, so already the process of weeding out those who didn’t fit with the new attitude had begun (2 quit, 1 cut). Since then, one graduated and six others won’t return.

That means we have nine returning players. Of that group two were on red shirts last year and one was sitting out a mandatory year following her transfer, so only six have played for the current head coach. Among that group only five played in more than half the team’s sets 2015.

We’re adding two former players back to the roster. One was a 2-year starter before leaving the team (she’s back as a grad student). The other was on the team in 2014, but not in 2015. A freshman JUCO transfer joined during the Spring. Plug in the three incoming freshmen and you’re up to 15.

Getting the picture as to why we think we need to dedicate a lot of focus on developing the right team culture?

By the way, continuing the culture development process is part of the motivation for the foreign trip mentioned above.

Journal book

The head coach had the team do some journaling last year, but wanted to make it better this time around. In the end, we decided to combine the team handbook with the journal. The new spiral bound book we put together includes a section on the team rules and stuff. It also features an area where the players can write things down related to team and personal goals, etc.

The bulk of the book, though, is pages for daily and weekly journal entries. There are also pages for writing down scouting report info and notes. I’m curious to see how it gets used.

Surrounded by people, but lonely

Just finished another weekend spent recruiting. This will probably be the last trip for 2016. Once more it took me to the Dallas area. This time it was for the North Texas region’s national bid tournaments.

For those who don’t know, each USA Volleyball region is allocated a certain number of bids to Nationals at the different levels of play. These are additional bids to the ones that teams can earn through the national qualifying tournaments. The one I was at a couple weeks ago is an example (in the case of the Open division, qualifiers are the only way to get a bid).

On Saturday I was at the 17s tournament to watch pool play to evaluate prospects for the 2017 class. We’ve got two verbal commitments (both played), but have at least one position to sort out. The event was hosted at the Dallas Skyline facility. Here’s a rather random picture I apparently took at some point. There are 5 courts in use (I think they can do 8 total) – sportcourt over concrete. The banners on the wall are from recent National’s medal finishes.

college volleyball recruiting

Sunday I shifted to the 16s tournament as they went through brackets. Six courts used in this case. With the 17s I actually had a specific list of players to evaluate. In the case of the 16s, though, I was just there to make note of interesting potential 2018 recruits. It’s too early to contact them (though not by much). It was more about getting them on our list for later. Some won’t be realistic for our level, and I generally marked them down as such.

Of course watching a bunch of 15-16 year-olds and trying to project what they will be like as players (and people) two years down the road – and even further to the end of their college career – is a serious challenge. That’s the real trick of recruiting.

By yourself in a crowd

It’s funny recruiting at a 16s tournament because no one is allowed to talk to you. NCAA rules prohibit you talking to prospects during an event regardless of age. In the older age groups you can at least chat with parents. Not so with the younger ones. There weren’t many other college coaches there recruiting – at least overtly.  Some may have been there as club team coaches. Either way, not much in the way of peer conversation either. Being new to the area, I don’t yet know the region’s Juniors coaches. I was recruiting on my own, so there wasn’t really anyone for me to chat with.

Of course you can’t go to any events like this without seeing “those” parents. I saw one father who looked like any error was causing him physical pain. I felt like walking over to him and saying something to the effect of, “It’s a game played by kids, not life or death.” Not sure that would have done any good, though.

Coaching Log – May 2, 2016

This is an entry in my Midwestern State volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

Monday
The main gym was still not put back after the banquet, so we were once more in the secondary one. There were still three players out due to injuries, but we had a recruit on campus (was supposed to be two, but the other got sick) as well as a former member of the team from a couple seasons ago.

We started off with a series of games with the team split in half. It was basically a progression of 1 v 1 and 1-touch to 2 v 2 and 2-touch to 3 v 3 and 3-touch. The players rotated each time they sent the ball over the net. We finished that sequence with 4 v 4 back row (fixed setters, other rotating out after hitting) where you could only score earned points.

After that we split them up to have one group working on defense and the other doing some technical serving work focused on toss and contact. From there we progressed to a serve receive offense drill where the attackers on the receiving team had to get at least 5 balls to a target zone in a given time period.

We finished up with 6 v 6 that was a wash type game. This one was all based on serve reception. Basically, a team had to win two reception rallies in a row to earn a point. If, however, they passed perfectly and got the kill on the first serve, they earned the point straight way without having to do the second ball. Winning a rally earned the right to receive serve.

Tuesday
We actually reverted back to small-group sessions for this day. In the first one we had our setter, a defender, and two middles. Each group worked on their own specific needs (setting, passing, and blocking respectively). The second group featured two defenders and two net players, so it was serving and passing for the former, and again blocking for the latter.

This was the first time in a while that we were able to really have the staff closely working with only 1-2 players at a time. Lots of feedback. My personal focus was on setting in the first group and serving in the second.

Wednesday
Back to the team training, though we continued along with Tuesday’s themes in that we dedicated a lot of focus on passing, blocking, and setting with regards to feedback. We did some breakout worth with blocking on one court and passing on the other. After that, we brought them together to work on things in a unified fashion, during which I continued to work with the setter – primarily on her positioning.

Thursday
We had two prospective recruits in the session with us. It ended up being a pretty intense, up-tempo practice. We started off with a sequence of small-sided games that eventually became a type of back court attack Winners 4s. We sandwiched rounds of servers vs. passers games around a narrow court version of Winners 4s with fixed setters and MBs.

The last part of the session was 6 v 6 play in a kind of modified version of 22 v 22. In this case we designated a position to be the point scoring hitter (e.g. MB). If that player got a kill on a first ball (receive ball or dug ball), the team automatically got the big point. Otherwise, the team winning the initial rally received down balls until either the designated scorer got a kill or they lost the rally. That means a team could receive multiple down balls.

The idea behind this game was to stimulate a couple of different things. Obviously, the first is getting the defending team to think about the degree to which they want to commit their block to the designated hitter. Another is the setter decision-making process in terms of knowing when to set that hitter and when they’d be better off going to someone else. Finally, it puts that hitter in a position of having to beat a team that knows they’re getting the ball.

Friday
We had a second pair of prospective recruits in this session. Again, game play was heavily featured. It started with a 4 v 4 back row game with fixed setters and rotating back court players. Again, servers vs passer games were mixed in to slow things down a bit.

The main feature was a variation on the game Baseball. In this case we retained the designated hitter idea from Thursday, with a twist. For the first time a team received free/down balls (meaning they won the serve receive rally) they could only score “runs” if the MB got a kill. Otherwise it was wash. The second time the designated hitter was the OPP, while the third was the OH.

Note that in this approach the OH probably will not be the designated hitter very often because in order for them to be the team would have had to win all three serve receive balls. That tends not to happen very much. So if you want the OHs getting the ball most, you’d want to put them first instead of the MBs.

Additional Notes
This was a busy week on the recruiting front with 6 prospects visiting campus following on from having spent last weekend evaluating players at the Lone Star qualifier tournament. We needed to squeeze them in because this was our final week of Spring training. Along the way we got our first commitment for the 2017 class.

Since we won’t be back in the gym until August, this will be the last of my updates for this academic year. I’ll start a new log for the 2016-17 cycle when we bring the players together once more for pre-season.

Coaching Log – Aug 7, 2015

This is an entry in my volleyball coaching log for 2015-16.

It’s less than a month to go before we start pre-season training at Svedala. The last week has been an interesting one.

Calendar
The club’s Sports Director posted the full season calendar for everyone to review (though it is subject to some changes still). Along with the league fixtures (see my previous entry on that subject), it includes most of the matches that will be part of what is being called the Öresundsligan. That translates to “Sound League” and includes Svedala, Engelholm, and Gislaved from Sweden along with Amager, Bröndby, and Holte from Denmark. We will count two of our Elitserie league matches each against the other Swedish teams toward the Öresundsligan, and will play each of the Danish teams home and away, which adds 6 matches to the competitive schedule. The Gran Prix, if we qualify, will be the second weekend of January. The final league match will be March 12th, with the playoffs following from there.

Our primary training schedule will be 6-8pm on Monday, 7-10pm on Tuesday, 7:30-10pm on Wednesday, and 5-8pm on Friday, with Thursdays off. We’ll have a couple of Saturday sessions during preseason, and we’ll lose some midweek sessions to matches at times along the way.

We’re looking at playing some preseason friendly matches at a tournament at Bröndby the last weekend of September. The specifics are still being sorted out, though. That’s a week ahead of our first league match, so a good time to get some competition mixed in.

Also on the calendar is a 2-day weekend team building activity the second week of preseason. This is something being arranged by the Sports Director. There is also a 30th anniversary dinner for the club we’ll be attending in October.

Getting to know the players
The young Swedish middle in the squad (who took 2nd in a U19 beach tournament last weekend) has expressed an interest in exploring opportunities in US collegiate volleyball. It’s a bit late in the cycle at this point, but I told her I’d help out with putting together a video, etc. We got together for some video editing last evening.

I met up with last year’s team captain early in the week and had a really good conversation. She’s decided to shift her focus to beach volleyball and to generally cut back her commitment, but expressed an interest in both taking part in training from time to time and in helping out on the coaching side of things. We talked about a lot of different subjects with respect to the club, the area, players, and more. She could be a good resource for me moving forward.

As I mentioned the other day, I went and watched a player-run training session. Only one of this year’s players was there, along with one of last season’s (she’s moving). The rest were from other teams in the club. In the process, I met one of the club’s youth team coaches.

Speaking of other coaches from the club, I also got a bit of a tour around Malmö from the club’s 2nd team coach, who also works with Juniors players. Malmö is the closest city to Svedala. It’s only about 20 minutes away. Unfortunately, we had a car issue and had to be towed back. 🙂

Filling out the squad
I was told that a player I liked for the remaining foreigner spot (OH) is both available and interested. Hopefully, that means we can sign her and get that part of things wrapped up. The last word I got is we’re close.

In terms of the Swedish players, there are still a few open questions. It looks like that could remain the case right into preseason. There’s at least one player I’ve been told is looking to come along to the early trainings and see how things go. It could be more than that. There’s also a couple of other players the club is talking with.

Away for three
That’s just about it for this initial spell in Sweden. On Sunday I head to Germany to spend almost three weeks with Bundesliga men’s team TV Bühl. That’s in southern Germany near Baden-Baden, and not far from the French city of Strasbourg and the Swiss border. You may recall that I spent about a week and a half with them last year at this time. I’m looking at it as a kind of coaching preseason before I get started with Svedala.

Volleyball Academy: Indoor or Beach?

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.

Agree? Disagree?

Inside College Volleyball

Quick note here. In this case “college” is being used in the American way, which generally means institutions of higher education (2 or 4 year) beyond secondary school. That would be beyond A-levels, to provide an English comparison.

Inside College Volleyball is a book I published back in 2011. I worked with a fellow coach by the name of Matt Sonnichsen. Matt authored most of the content while I did the editing and publishing. He’d been blogging for several years as The College Volleyball Coach. At that time he was coaching at a Division I university in the States, having been working in the field for 15 years. Prior to that, he was a player of some note:

  • 2 time NCAA Champion at UCLA
  • MVP of the National Championship his senior year.
  • 3 time All American setter
  • USA National Team setter
  • 2 years playing professional volleyball in Europe
  • 5 year touring member of the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour

Matt left coaching a few months after the book’s release and now consults volleyball families on the collegiate recruiting process. He continues to write regularly on his blog on recruiting subjects.

The book was developed as a collection of the best of Matt’s blog. It is structured in a useful way to discuss the recruiting process and to provide answers to some of the most commonly asked questions. There is some discussion of life as a collegiate volleyball player, and Matt shares some of his opinions (he has many strong ones!), but mainly it’s about recruitment.

College volleyball is well established in the US, but less so elsewhere. As a result, there is interest in playing volleyball at a university in the States among foreign athletes. The opportunities to do so are considerable (there are over 300 schools in women’s Division I alone), with the potential to get a scholarship. This may be a very worthwhile option for some of the better international Juniors players. (Note: men’s volleyball in the U.S. is much smaller than women’s, so the opportunities are more scarce – at least in terms of scholarships.)

Having coached BUCS volleyball in England, and NCAA Division I and Division II volleyball in the US, I can tell you there is definitely a major difference in the caliber of play. The Northumbria and Durham teams I saw play in the 2013-14 BUCS championships were at a comparable level, in large part thanks to having a number of former US collegiate players. Aside from those two teams, though, the caliber of play in BUCS is well below that seen in the States. I’d venture to say that many teams in Division II and probably the better ones from Division III (and the NAIA as well) would be a stiff challenge for the top UK sides.

No real surprise there. The US teams train and/or play up to 6 days a week for a 3-4 month season. In the upper divisions there is also a secondary “non-traditional” season. That about 6 weeks in the off-season when teams can train full-time. Players also do individual or small group sessions, and have strength & conditioning work just about year-round. All of this is after most of them spent four years or more playing/training 5 days a week for 3 months for their high school teams then going through a 5-6 month Juniors volleyball season where they may have been playing/training up to 3 days a week.

In other words, for the player looking to train and compete at a level higher than can be achieved in the UK, and with the desire to get a good education at the same time, attending university in the States is something very much worth considering. Meg Viggars, setter for Team GB, has recently gone that route. With US programs adding beach volleyball into the mix as well, there may be even more opportunities.

I’m always open to answering questions about US collegiate volleyball recruiting, but Inside College Volleyball is a good starting point for you and any of your players/parents interested in exploring that option. The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle formats. The reviews to-date have been very good.