In this coaching log entry from early in my time as Svedala head coach I talked about ranking prospective player signings by position. I didn’t so much as give them a 1, 2, 3, … type ranking, though. There was a bit of that, but mainly it was about putting them in to groups based on what I perceived as their comparative value. Notice I didn’t say their playing ability. That is obviously part of the equation, but isn’t always the only thing. In some cases, that might not even be the most important element.

Let me explain. In Sweden only three foreign players are permitted on the court at one time (foreign meaning non-Swedish). That being the case, a club needs to get the absolute maximum value from each of those players. Generally speaking, that means getting three impact starters. If you bring in a foreign player who doesn’t start, then it’s a waste of money.

That is unless the player provides valued to the team/club in some other way(s), which can be the case. For example, the foreign players at Svedala (and other clubs) were expected to help coach at the club’s youth level. A foreign player may also act as a mentor to other players to help them in their development. They may be a leader on the team or really good for team chemistry. They may help the club in the community or in some other off-court function. If we were talking college volleyball, a player’s parents might donate money to the program (that may seem crass as a recruitment motive, but it happens).

My prospect ranking process
Returning to the discussion of ranking, I generally opt for a grouping approach whereby each group contains players of roughly equal perceived value. There might be some internal ranking by small degrees, but that’s about it. They are basically interchangeable.

Let’s call Group A the top one. For me, I look at this group as containing players any of which I would be happy to bring into the team. They may not all be at the same level in each of their key volleyball skills, but where a player lacks in one area comparatively they make up in another one.

The Group B players are generally not far behind those in Group A. They may just have one small short-coming on a comparative basis. For example, an OH in this group might be a little smaller or there may be questions about a specific aspect of a player’s game. Oftentimes that short-coming is something that can be corrected with a bit of work. An example of this could be a setter who likes to marvel at their sets rather than cover their hitter. There are ways we can fix that. 🙂

When you get to Group C the issues are starting to add up. For example, I put a setter in this category who looked to have quite good setting skills but appeared to be undisciplined in other parts of her game. That might have ordinarily just dropped her down to Group B, but she’s also from a country where the risk of cultural issues (with respect to living and playing in Sweden) are higher than for players from elsewhere might have had (language issues, struggles with the climate, etc.).

Group D is for those players who don’t really do much for me at all. In my context at Svedala they didn’t necessarily stand out as clear starters. In another context, maybe it’s height or athletic ability or something which limits a players developmental prospects for the level of play in question. Or attitude issues.

Then there are the straight “No’s” who for whatever reason just won’t work. They aren’t to the right competitive standard. There are academic short-comings. They can’t speak the language if there is a need for them to do so (like coaching demands).

Of course the trick in this whole process is trying to land as many of your Group A players as you can, while keeping the Group B players in the mix for those inevitable times when you lose out on all the Group As. You know you’re probably in for a challenging year if you have to dip down in to Group C. And if you have to go lower … my condolences.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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