Tag Archive for volleyball recruiting

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 – April 3, 2017

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

Spring Break has come and gone. We’re now into the “non-traditional season” where we are back to 20 hours per week.

Recruiting

I mentioned in my last update that we are looking to bring in one more transfer player for next season in MB/OPP role. That remains an on-going process, but we may have found someone for the position. Hopefully, more will follow on that shortly.

Looking at the 2018 class, we had another setter in to practice with the team on Friday. With only three more weeks left in our Spring season, we are trying to get in as many good prospects (in all positions) as we can so we can see then in the context of our team.

Team Training

We did not practice on Monday because of the 2-days-off rule given that we were playing on Saturday. Tuesday and Thursday we continued with the sand training – smaller groups doing drills one day, then doubles competition the other. Friday we had a recruit in practice with us, so we dedicated much of the session to working through line-ups and rotations ahead of the next day’s competition.

Wednesday I actually ran the session. The head coach is due to have her baby in the next week or so, and wanted to use the lack of having a recruit working in with us to get the team used to me directing things for when it’s likely to happen later.

My practice plan

I developed the primary structure of the practice plan for that session as well. The focus was to continue the work we’re doing in the beach training in terms of defensive tenacity, reading, and ball-handling.

We started with 3-person over-the-net pepper as a ball-control warm-up. In this version each group has to get 7 consecutive pass-set-X sequences, with only one “wash” allowed. A wash was a rep where they either just kept the ball in play or didn’t execute well enough on their X. They had to do down ball, push-tip, roll shot, and back row attack as their X. So, basically they had four sets of 7 sequences to complete. There was an 8 minute time limit.

After pepper we gave them five minutes of target serving, which we haven’t done in a while. The targets were deep 1 and deep 5. I told them their goal was 7 serves to their favored zone and 4 to the other.

We then played a Servers vs. Passers game. This is one we started using in the Fall. The servers earned points by hitting seams (between players or sideline), but lost them for serves in the net. The passers earn points by good passes. Each round the servers served 5 balls (misses did not count). When a round was complete, passers and servers changed places. They combined their serving and passing scores for an aggregate. We went through twice.

Next up was Player Winners. We did this half court, so had two games going on side-by-side. After each round, the players with the most points on Court B moved up to Court A, and those with the fewest on A moved down to B. Rounds were five minutes long. We played a total of four rounds. The last one ended when one person reached five points.

The last part of practice was 5-on-5 play. We played 5-point games, alternating between 3-up, 2-back and 2-up, 3-back. This was to give our middles a break and to let them play a bit of defense.

Tournament

We hosted a 6-team tournament on Saturday. It featured a trio of area junior colleges along with two other Division II teams along with ourselves. One of the latter was fellow Lone Star Conference member West Texas. We did not end up playing them, though. Instead, we played two of the JUCOs and the other Division II team. It was a schedule that saw us play progressively tougher matches, which was a good challenge. The format was 50-minute rounds. That generally worked out to two full 25-point games and part of a third.

As you do in Spring tournaments, we used multiple line-ups in our matches. There were three of them we rotated among. One was a straight up 5-1. Another was a modified 5-1 where our taller setter played front row and our shorter one played back row. The other was a 6-2 in which our taller setter played OPP when she was front row. This allowed us to mix things up with our three pin hitters, one of whom also played as libero. And of course our one MB had to play full time. We set up an on-off-on-off-on schedule to help keep from running her down.

Overall, it was a pretty good day. Naturally, there’s a list of stuff that we could have done better – some bigger, some smaller. Given our current active roster, there were always going to be some soft spots in our play. We were much better in defense than was the case back during season, though, and generally scrapier in all aspects. Those have been big focus points this term, so it was good to see that playing out against other teams.

It’s worth noting that one of the common themes in the player’s comments after the tournament was communication. They said it was really good on the court. I think this comes from all the non-structured situations we put them in over these last however many weeks. They haven’t had a lot of defined roles and positions. As a result, they were forced to work things out amongst themselves.

Coaching Log – March 27, 2017

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

Spring Break has come and gone. We’re now into the “non-traditional season” where we are back to 20 hours per week.

Roster

We had a returning player quit at the beginning of the week, dropping our current active roster to 10. That’s not counting our grad student going only part-time this semester so she will be eligible in the Fall. The departure was unusual in that you don’t often see 2-year starters leave in the middle of Spring, but in the grand scheme of things we were not totally surprised. She said she basically doesn’t love it anymore.

We did get the commitment from the 2017 middle prospect I mentioned in my last update.That gets us up to five incoming freshmen, plus a transfer for the Fall. Obviously, that also helps pick up the slack from our latest departure. The head coach was thinking to bring in one more pin hitting transfer. Now that might be more of a MB/RS type player.

In other news, our top OH from last season finally got a diagnosis on her knee problems. The result is surgery, though not the sort expected to keep her from being ready for the Fall if everything works out.

Schedule

The player who quit was one of our two Middles, which put us in a bind. Our original plan was to play tournaments on March 25, April 1st, and April 22nd. We couldn’t see how that was going to work with just one MB and thin ranks on the pins as well. There aren’t really any rules about line-ups and stuff in the Spring, so our remaining middle can just stay permanently in, but that’s a lot to ask – especially when you add in travel. As a result, we decided to pull out of the first and third tournaments. We’re keeping the one for April 1st, though, as that’s the one we’re hosting. We’ll find a way to make it work – probably by spacing out when we play to give our one MB a break.

Our base plan for the five weeks of our Spring season is to practice Monday through Friday. If we have something on Saturday (like our home tournament) we take one day off to abide by the 2-days-off rule. The team also does strength and conditioning work three days per week.

Team Training

This week we did indoor team practices on Monday and Friday, with beach sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Wednesday was off. Originally that was because we planned to play in a tournament on Saturday. When we had to cancel that, we scheduled some morning community service hours. So we still needed to give the team the midweek day off.

The beach sessions were of two different sorts. On Tuesday we broke the team into two groups of 5. They did a lot of ball-handling oriented work in the sand for about 90 minutes. On Thursday we just had them play beach doubles. We set up a schedule where most teams played three games to 21, with one team playing four. It was extremely windy, so the players faced real weather challenges aside from having to adapt to the difference surface, the smaller court, etc.

Because we are bringing in so many new players (6-7) in the Fall, we aren’t doing any real team play type work at this point. The focus instead is on ball-handling, improved reading and reacting on defense, and generally becoming more tenacious. The beach sessions are aimed at working in those areas, and we’re taking the same sort of attitude with what we do indoors. That means doing a lot of things like team pepper, serving and passing, and small-sided games.

Coaching Log – March 10, 2017

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

Spring Break is upon us! We just finished the first half of the semester and our period of 8 hours a week. When the players return from Break on the 20th we will begin our “non-traditional season”. That means like in the Fall we will be allowed 20 hours per week. In other words, more like the regular season. The one major difference is that we are required to give the players two days off per week. That will last five weeks.

Team Training

This week the players did their second round of testing, following the one from early in the term. They repeated the broad jump, standing jump, approach jump, and timed mile tests. There were good improvements on the run, but most of the jump measures were pretty similar to the prior results. That bothered the players some, but our strength coach told them it wasn’t a big deal. We did talk, though, about doing more work on jump technique. Some players are not as explosive as they can be.

As noted before, we had a weekly schedule that mixed small group and full team sessions. In the last two weeks, though, we tweaked that a bit. Last week we did a 90 minute team session and only 30 minute small group sessions. This week we only had a 2 hour team session, partly as a function of recruiting plans (see below).

Yes, cutting down on small group work limited the more individualized training. We felt, though, that big picture we need to work some team stuff out. The biggest part of that is playing mentality – in particular in defense.

I am happy to report that we have seen some really good defense in recent team sessions. We make plays now that we did not make in the Fall. Part of that is a personnel thing. The transfer DS added this semester is extremely active and aggressive. That mentality seems to have helped raise everyone’s defensive intensity. This is a good thing. 🙂

Recruiting

I only made one recruiting trip since my last update. That was to Dallas for one of the regional qualifier tournaments. I had 28 prospects on my list, about half of whom we did not see previously. As before, these are mainly 2018 players. There were a couple of 2019s mixed in, though, playing up an age group. Our other assistant looked at some 2019s that day as well to build that list.

We brought a handful of prospective recruits to campus over the last few weeks. Some of them are 2018s, but we still need to fill out the 2017 team. With that in mind we also brought in a potential transfer OH and a MB in the 2017 class. All the visits went pretty well. The transfer OH committed to come. We’re waiting for a final decision from the MB, but the prospects are good.

We’ll do more 2018 visits after the Break and still want to get another transfer pin hitter for the Fall. I think my next recruiting event is the 3-day Lone Star tournament in April.

Argentina Trip

The fund raising efforts for the trip are underway. The team – including in the incoming freshman – reached out to friends and family. There wasn’t a ton of success, but at least the process is underway. On Wednesday afternoon we had a meeting to allow the players to talk through plans for events they can run to raise money. We also talked strategy for more direct donation seeking as that is very likely to be the major source of funds.

I connected with our contact in Argentina to get the planning ball rolling on that end. Someone also suggested the other day that we reach out to the university in Buenos Aires. Why we didn’t think of that before, I don’t know. In any case, I got the email address for the coach there and sent him a note. Our levels of play are likely quite different. That will make it hard to play or train together. Still, there is probably some way we can connect. Certainly that sort of thing looks good to the folks here on our campus.

Statistical analysis in volleyball recruiting

An article about Daryl Morey, the General Manager of the Houston Rockets in the NBA got me thinking about Moneyball for Volleyball. Should I trademark that phrase?

Using statistics in player evaluation

For those who don’t know, the “Moneyball” concept is where a sports organization uses statistical metrics to evaluate potential signings. This is in contrast to the old school eyeball analysis of scouts. The term Moneyball comes from the Michael Lewis book of that title about how baseball’s Oakland A’s used statistical methods to evaluate players and built a highly competitive roster with limited resources. There is also a movie based on the the book staring Brad Pitt. I recommend the book. It provides a bit more insight.

Before going on too far, I should say the Morey article got my attention because of it’s link to behavioral economics. My PhD work was in a closely related field. The article’s focus is largely on the interview process teams use. It’s a long one, so give yourself a block of time to read it.

Anyway, back to the Moneyball idea. Statistics have long been part of volleyball. In recent years it’s gotten a lot more focus thanks to improved applications and data. Joe Trinsey, who works with the USA women’s team, is one of the leaders in that regard. Have a listen to the Coach Your Brains Out podcast he’s on (Part 1, Part 2) for a bit of what he’s looked at.

That stuff is all about analyzing our players and teams. And there’s also the scouting element. How are we most effective? What is the other team’s weakness? That sort of stuff.

Stats in volleyball recruiting

What we don’t see much, if anything, about is using stats in the recruiting process. I have no doubt they get used by professional coaches. When I evaluated American players to sign for Svedala I definitely looked at their college stats, though I don’t know how far others take it. One day maybe I will get Mark to talk about it on a Volleyball Coaching Wizards podcast.

But what about college recruiting?

How many college coaches evaluate recruit statistics? My guess is few, if any. I say that in part because of how much time they spend watching video and attending Juniors tournaments. That’s basically the definition of old school scouting as described in Moneyball. The question, though, is whether they could actually go with analytics. I think most will argue that they can’t.

Why? Lack of useful data.

Issues with statistical data in volleyball recruiting

Yes, it is true that lots of high school teams keep stats these days. And much of that information is public. Juniors clubs, though, don’t really publish that information. That’s assuming they even collect it in the first place. My guess is most don’t in any comprehensive fashion. Though a few probably do.

Even if a high school or Juniors team does collect and publish stats, there is the question of reliability. Who is recording the stats and do they know what they’re doing? Even at the college and professional level there are issues regarding the quality and accuracy of the stats we get. Imagine a bunch of junior varsity kids taking them!

Finally, there is the question of comparability. What can you ascertain from a given player’s high school stats? What do they really say about that player? We want to gauge how a player will do at our level. I think, however, most college coaches don’t know how high school and/or Juniors translate. Juniors stats are probably a bit better as college coaches very often understand levels of play across the clubs.It can be a lot harder with high school stats. Unless you recruit in a very small area, you struggle to know the caliber of the schools your recruits play against, and more importantly how that compares to a recruit from a different part of the country.

One exception

The exception to the above is transfer prospects. Since those are college players, it is easier to draw a comparison. True, at the junior college level you often have the same statistics issues as you have in high school in terms of quality. It is easier there, though, to know the relative level of play the stats come from. And of course a player transferring within your own level of four-year school play is even more straightforward.

I would say the junior college to four-year college transfer process is most akin to the college-to-professional evaluation process. It provides an opportunity to make better use of statistics.

Are we doing enough?

Those are, I suspect, the reasons college coaches would put forward as to why they don’t use stats in recruiting. Are they valid reasons, though? Should high school and/or Juniors stats get more use? Or should we perhaps base things most heavily on something like the VPI developed by the AVCA?

I am not suggesting we shift completely to an analytic approach. I think most, if not all of us, agree that there is a personality element which must be considered. After all, we’re talking about a sport where one individual’s success is highly dependent on the performance of their teammates. Still, it does seem like some work on what statistics are predictive of success at the next level is worth doing.

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.

How do I help players play abroad?

I recently had an email from an avid reader of the blog on the subject of professional volleyball. It was basically a 2-part question and I want to tackle part of it here. Basically, this person is coaching in Canada and is curious how Canadian players can take their game overseas. Specifically:

“… what can you tell me about possibility of Canadian players playing in Sweden or Europe. What should they expect ? Any details?”

First of all, let me say that I looked at number of Canadian players while we were in the process of trying to secure our three foreigners for the current season. I remember there was at least one who I thought would be a good addition to the squad. She committed somewhere else, though. I believe at least one Canadian female player is in Sweden this year (2015-16). There could be more on the men’s side.

The professional volleyball player hiring process struck me as being something quite similar in a lot of ways to the college recruiting process. At least from my end it was, anyway. By that I mean I spent a lot of time looking at video and researching players. I tried to assess each one who came to my attention, and to rate them in comparison to others in their position. Obviously, there isn’t the academic consideration, but you’re still trying to find a good ability, potential, and personality fit for the squad.

Get an agent

In the professional case, though, the vast majority of the players we hear about come to us via player agents. As much as I’ve heard my fair share of stories about a “get them signed and forget about them” approach which seems to often be the case among agencies, the reality of the situation is that they are probably a requirement.

Think about it from this perspective. There are dozens of countries where someone could potentially go to play volleyball professionally. Unlike the case of college volleyball, they don’t all speak the same language and getting contact information for the coach or manager isn’t always easy. On top of that, clubs have a wide variety of resources and ever changing player needs. These sorts of things are really hard for anyone just coming out of college volleyball to know.

The fact of the matter is that agents and agencies have the knowledge and experience to direct players toward countries and clubs where they are reasonable prospects. That’s how they get paid, so behooves them to stay up on the “market” from that perspective. They are constantly asking the clubs “What do you need?” and “What can you pay?”. Of course that doesn’t prevent them from trying to push a player for a higher salary, but that’s a whole other subject.

This isn’t to say a player couldn’t represent themselves. To do so, though, they would probably have to be very targeted and do a lot of research. One of my players said she’s been told by others she’s spoken with on the subject that many (most) players drop their agent after a couple of years because either they’re happy where they are or feel like they’ve developed the knowledge and contacts they need to do things themselves.

Expectations

In terms of what to expect, that’s a tricky thing to answer – in part because I’m still relatively new to it myself. Also, though, from what I’ve heard conditions and player treatment can vary considerably.

Generally speaking, a player contract will have their accommodation provided by the club, along with at least one set of flights to/from there. Beyond that, it becomes situational. There could be a vehicle provided. Some meals may be part of the deal. A ticket home for the holidays could be on offer, and other things as well.

Then there’s the question of player treatment. In some places players will be sent home for one of any number of reasons (performance, club finances, etc.) while in other places that sort of thing doesn’t really happen except in the case of major injury. Some places players get paid on time with no issues, while in other places that can be a dicey thing. Quality of living arrangements can be varied as well.

From what I’ve been told, the Scandinavian countries are generally seen as a good stepping-stone for those thinking of a professional volleyball career. The clubs are stable and the cultural transition for players from the US and Canada is fairly easy. Of course the trade-off is that the pay scales are lower. For those looking to get a feel for what life as a pro would be like, though, it seems like a reasonable first step.

Recommendations

What I would recommend to coaches who have players with overseas aspirations is that they do a few things:

  • Research the player agents and agencies so you can point players in the right direction.
  • Put players in touch with others with experience playing abroad (and talk with them yourself)
  • Develop overseas coaching contacts so you can at least gain your own understanding of the landscape and maybe feed players through directly in some cases.

Hope that helps. I would love to get some comments and insights from others with experience in professional volleyball and the process.