Monday, September 15, 2014

Why Outsourcing the College Search Process Costs More than Money.

As I began speaking with families at my club regarding the college search process, I wanted to get as much feedback as possible in order to make sure I was catering my presentations to meet the needs of the families. There were a lot of responses that helped me sculpt what I talked about so that I was covering the areas that families seemed to have the least amount of information on. There was one statement that I heard on a regular basis, and while I understood exactly where they were coming from, I felt it was a dangerous road they were going down to take that approach.

"My (daughter/son) is already so busy with everything else they're doing, there just really isn't enough time to do the legwork".

I've said it before and I'll say it again. My question is this: If we don't let realtors just give us information before we sign a mortgage, or car salesmen give us all the good specs of a car before buying it, why do we let colleges sell their schools to us? Why don't we do a better job of educating kids on how to think about what they want, both on and off the court - and make them find the right fit for them instead of going to the schools that sounds the best? Why do we think an outside party can do the search for us and actually have a good gauge on whether or not the student-athlete will connect with the school? They might be able to find common interests, but that doesn't replicate how the student-athlete will feel when they step on the campus, how they'll connect with staff/other students, or how comfortable they'll feel in general with the environment.

What's more valuable to a family: The investment of money in order to save time knowing you can find a school for the athlete to attend, or the investment of time in order to a) receive as much merit aid as the student-athlete's profile enables b) have peace of mind knowing that the people that TRULY have the athlete's best interests in mind were the ones that dotted their i's and crossed their t's to make sure they found the best fit?

When I was at Mercer, I was easily getting anywhere from 25-75 emails a day from recruits. I was working 80-100 hours a week, and even with that, there wasn't enough time to respond to all of them. Which ones were getting my attention? The emails that came from the player, NOT a parent, NOT a recruiting agency. The emails that showed an athlete that wanted to attend Mercer, not a student that wanted to just play volleyball. The emails that showed the athlete did a little legwork and researched my school, not the one that I looked at and said "They could change my name at the top and send this to 100 different schools. The ones that I felt had a genuine interest in the school, so that my time invested in getting to know them had a real chance of bringing them to our institution.

If I received a profile from a recruiting agency, I would look at it for about 30 seconds to see what the physical attributes were, which is something else people need to realize. Profiles are a good way of getting your name out there. It's also a good way to get written off by a coach if your physical attributes are well below what the norm is for the level you want to play, without them even getting to know what type of player you are, how you affect your teammates in a positive manner, or how you can play bigger than you are if you're good at tooling the block/have great timing. Every now and then, I'd run across a girl that touched 10'+, or a libero/setter that impressed me with film - but it was a handful of times in an entire season. I have yet to meet a collegiate coach that tells me they'd prefer a profile from a recruiting agency over a contact directly from the player.

For the 99% of players that are not going to get a college scholarship, it's that much more important to do the legwork yourself! There are plenty of athletes with great academics, talent as a player, and personality traits. They find a school that interests them, and they put their application/essay (for schools that have an essay requirement) in before speaking to the coach. They write about things that they feel are important with no true knowledge of the inner workings of the school. They potentially leave thousands of dollars per year of merit aid because their application is thrown in with the masses. This is called being a "Stealth Applicant"

If you were applying to work at a company and knew someone at the company, you would use that person as a source for insight on how to best go about the process, whether it be questions to ask, how to handle the interview, or gather information on what they're looking for in a new employee. So why wouldn't you utilize the coach as a resource before applying? I have heard of some coaches saying they don't get involved with that - I assure you those are not coaches that are competing for conference/national championships.

Recruiting is not just about coaches finding the best talent - it's about giving student-athletes an opportunity to belong to an environment where they will grow/thrive and be prepared for the real world - that includes helping them learn the process so they can unlock all merit aid they're eligible for. If they don't make an effort to provide that, you should look for someone who does!

That being said, if student-athletes took fifteen minutes a night to do the research/send out emails the right way, they could get even better results than what they're getting from these recruiting agencies. They would have be more comfortable knowing they're making an educated decision on where they're investing their time the next four years. They'll have a better relationship with the coach/understanding of what the school will provide them. On top of all that, if they do it right, they will know that they've utilized their grades/extracurricular activities to get themselves the best award possible. I hope to help people learn how to maximize their results as time-efficiently as possible in order to do this comfortably.

I will continue to write on various topics that I feel are important - if you have a subject that you'd like to see addressed, please don't hesitate to contact me at - also follow us on Facebook/Twitter!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why I Coach/The Most Important Piece of Advice for New Coaches

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing my Uncle Paul perform a concert in Waukegan, IL. I've seen him perform numerous times during my childhood while visiting him in Scottsdale, but this is the first time I was old enough to really appreciate it (although I was one of a handful of people in the crowd who couldn't tell you where they were when Pearl Harbor was bombed - let's just say when he performed on the same night as Garth Brooks and the Zac Brown Band only an hour away, it had no effect on anyone's ticket sales). I really enjoyed his music, but it was something he talked about in between songs that got me really thinking.

He told a story about the Dean of Music at UC-Berkeley addressing an incoming freshman class. The Dean asked to see a show of hands for anyone that was hoping to be an entertainer upon graduation, and the majority raised their hand. The Dean then said: "Upon graduating, I don't want you to think of yourselves as entertainers, I want you to think of yourself as caretakers, as doctors." He talked about how my grandparents always taught him to leave things a little better than he found them, and how that was what music was really intended for: To leave people a little better than they were beforehand.

I think coaching is very comparable to that. I think about the most influential coaches I've had the privilege of playing for. My father taught me how to be competitive in a respectful manner, taught me about attention to detail, taught me on a team that probably had more disparity between the top and bottom players about how everyone has an important role, and to make sure everyone respected that, even if theirs was bigger. Bob Vilsoet was the first volleyball coach I had (8 years after I started the sport) that really taught me how not to set ceilings for what I thought I was capable of, and to go for them with no fears or insecurities. Dave Hildebrandt at Newbury complimented that nicely by teaching me how to then work towards those goals, never settling for mediocrity or letting frustrations with things I couldn't control affect the things I could work on in order to get there.

All very different lessons, with one common bond: These weren't lessons for sports, these were lessons for life.

I stuck with my sport, but the reality is most athletes go on to other professions. I coached 170 athletes this summer for our sand program, and the reality is, a small percentage of them may decide they want to continue the sport in college. I enjoy the x's and o's and mechanical adjustments that coaching brings, but that's not what keeps me coming back year after year with the same passion: It's the things I can teach them that they can take everywhere they go.

I'm not teaching them how to win a volleyball game, I'm teaching them how to set a goal and the work it takes to achieve that goal. I don't teach them how to deal with bad refs, or other teams that play "dirty", I'm teaching them how to not let adversity created by external circumstances deter them from doing the things they can control internally. I'm not teaching them how to lose with grace, I'm teaching them that when life will throw them curveballs contradictory to their expectations and hopes (and it will), that it doesn't mean they are a failure, that they must learn from it and move forward, that just like there will be other matches, there will be other days.

It's a given that with repetition and instruction, they'll become better volleyball players - but if I'm not developing better human beings, I'm not doing my job.

I am so happy (although starting to feel older) now that former players whom I have the privilege to now call friends are starting to coach. I received a message from one of these players last week, asking about how to get his girls to move and be more aggressive in serve receive as they were having serious issues with it. I gave him some really basic drills that work for me, but it was the mindset of the drill that I felt had the biggest impact on him. I told him: "The reality is, if a passer is trying more to not make the mistake than they're going to try and make the play, they're not going to move well to the ball because they will be tentative/insecure with what they're doing. You've got to set up a culture in practice that it's OK to make mistakes - if you're not making mistakes, you're not growing. BUT, they have to be the right mistakes, the aggressive ones, the ones where the player is trying to make the play - then you can let the players know the adjustment they have to make and move on. You have to let the girls know the difference, and you have to support them in this - that's what they look for you to do."

His exact words: "Hmmm. I'm kind of a d*** coach. So that might be why too." (Before that sounds absolutely terrible, he explained that the head coach coddles so he tries to be the enforcer).

While it's not my style, I have no issues with coaches that are yellers, that crack the whip on their players, that are more Bob Knight than John Wooden. But know this: Bob Knight's players knew that he was the way he was because he knew those players could achieve great things, and his goal was to help them become the best they can be. Too often, I see coaches use his mannerism and their #1 goal is for the team to win. Players pick up on this - they know when a coach cares more about wins/losses than the people working towards them. And if they feel this way, there is almost no chance that they'll play/practice with the passion/enthusiasm that's required to help them reach their peak potential.

The irony is, if a coach is that concerned about wins and losses, they better get used to this. The great Pat Summitt once said regarding players: "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care", and that quote has stuck with me ever since I read it. Be competitive, push for greatness - but make sure when it's all said and done, you're leaving every player a little better than you found them.

Tomorrow, I'll be writing about why families doing the college search process vs. having a recruiting agency do it for them is incredibly important when looking for the best fit. Enjoy your Sunday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Things Every Parent/Young Athlete Should Know, Part 2 (Club)!

On Tuesday, I wrote a blog post (link) discussing some topics that relate to people looking to playing volleyball in college. Today, I'd like to discuss some things more focused on the short-term: The club season. I firmly believe many frustrations that people experience as club parents/players could be avoided if they had a true understanding of what to expect. When expectations aren't met and you're talking about a parent investing time/money into their child's development, of course they're going to speak up about it! Here are some things I've tried to relay to my parents/players of teams I've coached before we even step on the court for our first practice.

1) Clubs do not make Division I Athletes. Division I Athletes make Division I Athletes!

I can see Club Directors cringing upon reading that sentence, but I stand by it. True Story: I was on a driving range with a friend last summer on a Wednesday morning, and there were only two other men on the range with us. The following conversation took place:

Person 1: Yea, she just started gymnastics.
Person 2: Oh yea? How's she liking it?
Person 1: So far so good, although I just read an article about getting into for volleyball. She plays for . Full ride scholarship too. Gonna have to get my daughter to play volleyball.

Want to take a guess at how old his daughter was? FOUR.

We actually went over and just started talking with them a little bit. But in my opinion, this is the #1 misconception that parents have, which ultimately leads to why they're frustrated. Clubs market their "elite" athletes and where they're going to schools (and if there are scholarships, you better believe they're mentioning it). Parents/players see these advertisements and think if they go to these clubs, that's what will happen to them. And it couldn't be further from the truth.

Let's go back to that player that they had mentioned as I actually knew the background. That parent read an article and thought "Player goes to this club, player gets scholarship, so club helps player get the scholarship". What the parent doesn't know is that this girl was a VERY athletic, 6'2, and actually left her prior club to drive multiple hours each way to make it to practices to be on this team she was on. I'm not saying that certain clubs won't develop players better than others, but clubs will not turn Division I athletes into non-Division I athletes, and turn non-scholarship athletes into scholarship athletes.

At my club, our top 18's team practiced 3 times a week for 3 hours. That's 9 hours of instruction out of 168. I can train them exactly as we trained our girls when I coached at Mercer, but the reality is, if they sit on the couch all the time when they get home, if they're not taking care of their diet, if they aren't sleeping enough, and if they aren't of a specific physical ability, it will not turn them into something that they aren't. And the numbers don't lie: 99% of girls don't get to play Division I Athletics.

So when you're looking at clubs, don't get caught up in how many national championships they have -  that rarely has any true indication on how the club will treat your daughter if she isn't ducking to get through the doorway or one of the top athletes in the program.

If you're asking "So how do we find a good club?"....

2) If you really want to feel confident that your athlete will get a good experience, try to get feedback from parents/players on the regional teams for that club.

I was 5'5 and 95 pounds when I was in high school. I worked as hard as I could at my craft - every conditioning drill, every practice, every match. I wasn't a naturally talented kid, but I wanted it so bad - and I remember being in the shadow of the guys that were taller, jumped higher, and hit harder. It wasn't a good feeling (although it kept me hungry and I'm probably better off for it), but I ended up having the privilege to play in college and play competitively as an adult.

So when I see these clubs look at players solely at their potential for bringing them national titles and somewhat overlooking kids that may not be as tall/fast but have the drive, it hits a sore spot with me. I'm surprised it doesn't bother more people to be honest. I joined my club because I can look parents in the eye and tell them whether your child is a star 18 year old or a 14 year old that's just starting the sport out, they will get a coach that will care about them and give them an education of the game. Unfortunately, this isn't the case across the board with clubs. I've heard of kids from other clubs that were on "elite" teams, got injured, and when they played on a lower team for the same club got a completely different experience. I've seen firsthand regional teams with coaches that look younger than the players, who stand on the sideline with clipboard in hand and basically just watch their team stand on the court. I've seen A LOT of very basic adjustments not being made by coaches of regional teams of these same programs that will boast about the accolades of their top teams. The list goes on and on.

If you know parents of other athletes from a club that aren't on the premier teams, get feedback from them - because those are the ones that will paint a more accurate picture of what playing for the club is like. Clubs are always going to market/promote their "flagship" teams, and from a business perspective it'd be crazy if they didn't. However, if you were going to fly coach on an airline you had no experience for, you wouldn't ask someone flying first-class about how the experience will be. That analogy is more accurate than we may want to admit!

Let's talk a little bit about once you're in the club.

3) If your athlete does not get on the team they want, don't tell them they were robbed,  tell them to work harder and let the results speak for themselves.

Our club has over 300 athletes. We hold 3 tryouts dates for 3 hours each. Typically, a dozen or more coaches are walking around evaluating players on every skill set, and then we compare notes. The process is exhausting, but we go above and beyond to make sure we get things as accurate as they should be in regards to putting players in an environment that best suits where they need to be.

That being said, there are always a small handful that are going to slip through the cracks, that we look back and and say "in hindsight, maybe they could have gone up/down a team" - but in my experience, it has never been the parents/players who come to me or other coaches and openly say they feel that way. It's the kids that put their heads down and grind at every practice, working at their craft, not worrying about the things they can't control and instead focus on making themselves a little better every time they step on the court.

The moment your athlete comes home disgruntled at what team they are on and you tell them that they were robbed, you immediately set the table for a season of focusing on "I shouldn't be on this team" instead of "I didn't get what I wanted, so I'm going to work incredibly hard this season to make sure I never have to feel this way again". I was cut twice from basketball, and truth be told, I was incredibly lazy - while it was one of the hardest lessons I learned, it was definitely the most valuable and changed the way I approached playing volleyball. "Experience is what you get when you didn't get what you want" - when your child comes home upset, simply tell them that they have a long career ahead of them, and to keep working hard. It may take years in some cases, but I've never met a kid that truly worked as hard as they could that regretted it (and they almost always got the results they wanted as well!)

4) You are not paying for your child's playing time - you are paying for your child's education/development of their skill-set, and that's done in practice.

I feel if this was broadcasted to parents from Day 1 at all clubs, A LOT of issues would be avoided. I hear parents all the time tell me "we're paying a lot of money, I don't want to see my daughter sitting on the bench". I realize why parents get upset if they only see their players at tournaments - it comes off as them paying thousands of dollars to have their kid watch the sport.

I tell my parents before we start: I do not and will not guarantee playing time. What I do guarantee is that at practice (where we spend much more time than we do at tournaments anyways), every single player will get my attention, and they will be better physical/mental players than they were when they started. They will have a better understanding of what they're doing and why they're supposed to do it. I will help them with improving their mechanics as well as knowing where they should be on the court and what they should be looking for on the other side of the net. That education comes at practice, and that's where you will reap the benefits of your hard work come tryouts/college.

Truth be told, some players may be destined to start on the sidelines if they're a little behind the curve physically - and before you get protective of your child, recognize that from 6th-8th grade, I was the lone bench member of my grade school volleyball team as we only had 7 kids. It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me, because I learned not to let the things I couldn't control (my coach's decision to have me sit next to her because they felt it was best for the team) affect the things I could (How I practiced, how I supported my teammates on the sideline, being mentally prepared to enter the game when my opportunity came). As I moved up in my volleyball career, I almost always started on the bench for my new team, but because I knew that with hard work and persistence, I could work my way into the starting rotation, even if it took a full season to get there.

Typically, players use club as a way to a) make their high school team b) prepare them to play in college. So tell me: How does entitling a player to playing in games simulate anything they'll see in either of those two environments? Parents: If you want to see your athlete on the floor more, don't blame the coach. Don't go to the director to complain. Have your athlete email/call the coach and ask for an evaluation on where they're at, as well as feedback on what they need to do differently in order to see the court more. This will a) avoid conflict b) give you constructive criticism on where your athlete needs to improve - and this is probably some of the most valuable information you can get as the athlete progresses!

5) Being on a team with 12 kids is not detrimental to your child's development - in many cases it may be beneficial.

Another thing I hear a lot of parents/players talk about is the frustration of being on a team with a lot of kids. If the fourth point isn't understood, then this one almost always accompanies it. "How is my athlete supposed to improve if they're on the sidelines every tournament?"

Players spend 2-3 times as much time on the practice court as they do playing matches in tournaments by my math. I've coached teams with 7-9 kids and teams with 11-12. While I may be able to give more individual attention to athletes with lesser numbers, I can give my players MUCH better preparation with more kids, because I can set up more game-like scenarios for them. I can give them more 6-on-6 situations, which will better prepare them for matches. I can keep my players more accountable, as they SHOULD always be aware of the fact that even if they're starting now, there's always someone that wants their spot, and they should never take it for granted. It is sometimes detrimental to the player if they realize they have no threat to losing playing time - it can make them complacent/lazy, because they don't have something to work for. The more competitive I can make my practices, the more I will get out of my players, and having a roster of 11-12 allows me to do that. Also, it allows teams to stay competitive even when you're not at full strength - I have never coached a club team that didn't deal with a) injuries b) players missing practices/tournaments for other sports c) vacations d) family emergencies. When you have a small roster and have no backup at certain positions, it can literally make or break you to have those players at tournaments. Having a deeper team gives you some cushion for all the above circumstances.

For the parents of players 7-12 on the depth chart, think of it this way: Every practice, your athlete will be playing against competition that will push them hard, that will challenge them to raise the bar for themselves every drill, that will prevent them from setting a ceiling for themselves and getting comfortable. THAT is more valuable than automatic playing time, and it will toughen your child up and prepare them for the challenges that will face them come tryouts for high school or going to compete at the collegiate level.

On my next blog, I'll discuss the college recruiting process. As always, if you have any questions/comments, contact me at - I'm scheduling visits to clubs/schools and would love to speak to the families at your school/club!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Things Every Parent/Young Athlete Should Know, Part 1 (College)!

As tryouts for club season creep up on us, I have been thinking a lot about the last year and a half I've been at Top Flight. When I coached college, I would hear terrible stories about the experiences coaches would have with "Helicopter Parents" - however, once I got to Top Flight, I found that a) there weren't as many situations as I thought there would be b) while many of them were different in nature, they all started with the same concept: "I DON'T UNDERSTAND..." Below is a list of things that came up a lot in my college seminars/meetings that I think all parents/players need to know as they're beginning their search process.

1) Club should NOT be looked at as an investment for Athletic Scholarship money.

Of all the things I've been told clubs do to sell their programs to families, I think this one is the most damaging. If every school in the country used every scholarship slot that was available (which isn't the case due to lower budgets at some schools), 1.4% of athletes would have the opportunity to get an athletic scholarship. Many of those athletes are what I've called "Genetic Outliers" - the reality is, there are some athletes that work as hard as they can and have a great skill-set, but if they aren't a certain height or can only jump-touch high enough, college coaches will typically take the freak athlete that they can redshirt and train to be a better player. To give you a reference point, when I coached at Mercer University, our LOWEST jump touch was 9'4 and that was one of our Liberos!

2) Should an athlete want to get the athletic scholarship, they should realize they'll work for every penny of it.

People glorify the Athletic Scholarship without realizing the responsibility that's going to come with it. 6am weights, go to class, individual practice, team practice, going to the trainer to take care of the body, film study sessions, making up classes when you have away trips.. While this may not like to hear this, the idea that there's a true student-athlete balance at that level is a stretch.

I've sat with so many players that tell me they want to play Division I... until I tell them the workload that comes with it. The reality is, it's completely normal to hear of what the expectations are for that level of volleyball and to decide that maybe it's not for you. Consider this statistic: Of all the players that participate in Division I volleyball, 0.3% of them actually go overseas and make their living playing professionally!

Talent aside, I tell athletes: If you can't look yourself in the mirror and say you truly enjoy the challenge of giving every workout your all and enjoy that grind every single day, then you probably won't enjoy playing Division I volleyball (and that's completely normal/acceptable).

3) Division III Athletics does not have to be "low-level".

I ask players that come to me saying they want to play Division I "Why do you want Division I instead of Division III?" and almost always I get a variation of "I just feel Division III is too low". I follow up by asking if they've ever seen Division III volleyball, and most of the time they say no! It's very easy to get caught up in things other people say, but make sure to do your own research and come to your own conclusions! In the Chicago suburbs, we have a wonderful example of what a Division III program can be in Elmhurst College. I have always appreciated the attention to detail the coaching staff has incorporated in that program - the kids move like a well-oiled machine. Their system is as complex as Division I, and it shows as they're nationally-ranked every year and always in the hunt for a National Championship. What's the difference between their program and Division I programs? It isn't the skill-set, it's the physical attributes of the players. Middles are 5'10-6'0 instead of 6'2+. Outsides/Opposites are typically 5'8-5'11 instead of 5'10+. You may have superior athletes lacking a little on the fundamentals side, or vice versa. The quality of ball is great - it's just played a little closer to the ground in regards to the attack/block! Before ruling out Division III, either go see a game in person or webcast some of the top teams in the country, then make your decision.

4) Just because Division III does not offer Athletic Scholarships does not mean that athletes cannot utilize playing a sport to help find more merit aid.

This is one of if not the biggest reason I felt the urge to create Progression Volleyball Consulting. Truth be told, if someone has the talent to play Division I, they will be found - the amount of time coaches put into the recruiting grind is staggering, and with the internet, it's never been easier to watch more players with less time and find all the diamonds in the rough. However, what about the other 98% of kids?

I had a 3.5 GPA in high school. I was a member of the National Honors Society. I was part of various clubs and played sports at my school. However, I didn't get a lot of scholarship money for how well-rounded I looked on paper? Why? Because I was a STEALTH APPLICANT.

Stealth Applicants are people that apply to a school without interacting with someone on campus. It could be an admissions counselor, someone from registrar, OR, it can be a coach. Truth be told, there are a lot of intelligent, well-rounded kids looking to go to college. By not contacting anyone at the school, they had no idea if I was truly interested in attending, or if I was just applying to a bunch of schools. Any person that had the same grades I had but actually developed a relationship with someone at that school was going to get a better look, just like having someone at a company that can help you get your foot in the door for an interview.

As an athlete, this is a HUGE advantage for you. When I transferred to my institution to play Division III sports, you better believe I was able to get more $ than I would have as a stealth applicant. Let me clarify that statement before whistle blowers misinterpret it:Being an athlete does not get you money you aren't eligible for/don't deserve - being an athlete helps you promote yourself to get EVERYTHING you deserve. A coach can look at your profile and help you sculpt it in a manner that speaks loudest to the institution as they know what the school values better than you do. And that is something that every single athlete should utilize when looking at schools!

5) If you play Club Volleyball and have a love/passion for the game, there is an opportunity to play in college somewhere!

One of the most enjoyable experiences for me is to see the look in a player's eye when I tell them they're capable of playing college volleyball when they truly didn't think the opportunity was there. Truth be told, if a player has a basic skill-set and a work ethic, there are schools out there that would appreciate their services!

I mentioned Elmhurst College above - there are also schools on the other end of the spectrum. I've seen schools pulling kids from their basketball/soccer teams to fill their volleyball rosters - perhaps their coach from the year before left and didn't recruit, perhaps the academic standards / financial obligations are higher than the norm and make it difficult to recruit. There are many Division III/Junior College programs that offer a great education but are a little more raw in the athletic department - an athlete has to make sure it meets both their on/off the court wants, but if a player TRULY wants to play and has played organized volleyball throughout high school, I firmly believe there is a school out there for them. It just takes a little legwork/research to find them!

The key word in #5 is "Opportunity". Players have to recognize that the school may not meet ALL of their wants. I went to a school that to this day still doesn't have a gym on campus. There were only 1,000 students that attended. We had to raise funds and work concessions for a local Division I school in the off-season to keep the program afloat. But we were a hungry group of individuals excited for the opportunity to play the sport we loved, and it was an experience I'd do all over again in a heartbeat. Players will need to weigh their desire to play vs. everything else that does (and should) matter to them when choosing an institution.

That was a lot of information regarding the college level! Tomorrow, I'll discuss things that are in relation more to an athlete's club experience. Should anyone have any questions/topics they'd like to see more information on, please contact me at . Have a good Tuesday!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Progression Volleyball Consulting

When I was a senior in high school, I remember visiting my guidance counselor. From 1st grade forward, I always was ahead of the curve in math, able to compute numbers in my head faster than most people my age. Everyone told me how I'd be some math guru somewhere, and I had come to accept that. My conversation with my counselor went almost word-for-word like this:

Counselor: What would you like to do?
Me: Well, I'm good at math and I'd like to make money.
Counselor: Actuarial Sciences is currently the #2 profession in the country - it deals with insurance and risk assessment.
Me: Sounds good! What schools offer it?
Counselor: Illinois State has a great program - the person that heads the department is world-renowned in the field.
Me: Cool!

I visited Illinois State on a beautiful spring day, went on a tour where they told us all the incredible things the school had to offer me, and made my decision to go there. 3.5 GPA, National Honors Society, Illinois State Scholar, affiliated with clubs/sports - I thought I was going to thrive when I went there.

A year later, I had a 1.48 GPA and found myself sitting with my parents and telling them I didn't want to go back. This was not because I was a bad student - Truth be told, I didn't go out and party myself out of the college - it simply wasn't the right learning environment for me and I felt completely overwhelmed by the culture. That's not a shot at the school - I had many friends that thrived there. While everything I learned about the school sounded great when I went on the tour, it didn't line up with my core wants/needs as a student.

I proceeded to go to Harper Community College and had a great experience there, then transferred to Newbury College, where I thrived, finishing with a 3.84 GPA. I don't regret my path, but I do wonder about how it could have been made smoother. What I wish my counselor would have said was "You say you're good at math, but do you have a passion for it?", or "Actuarial Sciences is one of the most lucrative jobs in the country, but the workload it takes to study and pass the tests can be strenuous, take months of studying, and will require more focus/effort than anything you've probably done up to this point. Are you willing to make the commitment?".

I wish he would have asked me about what I wanted to do with my life, what purpose I wanted to feel for whatever job I ended up taking. Not because I would have necessarily have had answers, but because I would have had to think about it and get the gears turning then, instead of having the reality check that I had no idea about what I wanted to do with my life at Illinois State. That was a lesson well learned, but it accounted for $13,000 in loans.

As I moved my way up the collegiate coaching ranks, I began to realize that I wasn't the only one that had this experience. From Junior College to Division III to Division I, there was a lot of selling being done by the schools, and the majority of kids were just letting the schools tell them why they should go there, instead of asking questions and thinking about what THEY wanted from college. Yet most people are shocked when I tell them 1/3 of students transfer from their original institution. My question is this: If we don't let realtors just give us information before we sign a mortgage, or car salesmen give us all the good specs of a car before buying it, why do we let colleges sell their schools to us? Why don't we do a better job of educating kids on how to think about what they want, both on and off the court - and make them find the right fit for them instead of going to the schools that sounds the best?

I've been at my juniors club for a year and a half, and they allowed me to sit with all the families and educate them on the process. The feedback has been so positive - Almost every meeting parents/players are telling me how they had no idea about a lot of the things we discuss, as well as how much more comfortable they are with the process. I help them take their wants/needs and tell them how to search for schools that fit them - with the internet, it's never been easier!

What troubled me was when I started hearing from my families about recruiting agencies contacting them as young as sophomore year, telling them if they hadn't started contacting coaches that "they were way behind". Of course, these agencies would be willing to catch them up - for a fee. These companies are charging anywhere from $700 up to $2,500, and all they're really doing are things that the families could do on their own if they had the knowledge.

With the cooperation of my club (which I'm incredibly thankful for), I've started my Progression Volleyball Consulting with the intention of helping high school athletes find the college that will help them grow to be the best person they can be, the school that gives them the student-athlete balance that they want - all at a fraction of the price that these recruiting agencies are charging. I hope to de-bunk the myths that I feel have been placed by various groups, that players HAVE to play Division I to get financial assistance, that the schools should be recruiting players, instead of players setting the expectations they want and looking for the school that fits that criteria. For the amount of time and money that an athlete invests, they should go somewhere that appreciates them, not just somewhere that will take them in. With 1,500 schools, I have no doubt with the proper research, athletes are capable of finding that place.

I plan on speaking at schools/clubs to talk about the difference between all the options athletes have (NCAA/NJCAA/NAIA/Club/Intramurals), how to start the college search process, and how to separate yourself from the pack when contacting coaches/institutions. I plan on educating families on free resources they can use online to further educate themselves on how to look for schools. I will give athletes and their families an honest one-on-one evaluation on where I feel their athlete has the best opportunity to get the experience they want, as well as edit/create their highlight videos. Again, all at a fraction of the cost of what recruiting agencies are charging families. My goal is to have people not find any college that will take them, but find a school that they feel gives the individual the best chance to reach their full potential both as a student as well as an athlete

I've made the company's Facebook/Twitter pages public this morning, and a website is already in the works. I look forward to speaking at schools/clubs to give them information, as well as hosting seminars and working with families one-on-one. I am based out of Chicago but plan on traveling to anywhere in the country that has schools/clubs interested - if you or someone you know may be interested in what I'm doing, please contact me at

I look forward to helping kids all over the country in their quest to finding the right fit for them! Feel free to contact me with any questions/comments you may have.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Advice Regarding Tryouts

It's been awhile since I've written - with our sand program doubling in size this season, I've been extremely busy keeping the ship afloat - but we had an incredible season and I'm proud of the progress our girls made this summer! As sand season ends, it's already time for tryouts for many of our players - I spent some time towards the end of the program talking with our athletes about how to approach tryouts, and figured I'd put some of it in writing to share with whoever may be interested in reading it.

Many of my players admitted they were nervous about tryouts - some factors included the potential of making mistakes, not knowing what competition they'll be up against, fears about not making the team. I told them that the only thing they should be focused on is Controlling the Controllables - I use this phrase all the time with them. Truth be told, they WILL make mistakes. They WILL have competition at their positions. And there is the ugly possibility that they don't have a guarantee of making their squad. However, these are all things that will cloud their mind and negatively affect their ability to focus at completing the task at hand. They also WILL make good plays. They've put a lot of time/effort in to fine-tune their skills this summer and will be competition for others. And they are capable of making the team. The key is focusing on the process and not the results.

I always like to tell my players the three things coaches look for at tryouts, which I heard from Gold Medalist Pat Powers at a camp I helped run a few years back. 1) Does the player have talent? This one is a given, but I tell my players to focus on the things they do well  - visualize all the good serves they've had - the passes they've sent directly to the target, the setting/hitting they've done with proper mechanics - they've invested a large part of their club season/sand season fine-tuning their game, and should be focused on what they do well and go into tryouts determined to showcase it! 2) Are they coachable? EVERYONE at tryouts will miss serves, hit out of bounds, shank passes. If a coach talks to you, make eye contact and pay attention to what they're saying. If you're struggling with a drill, instead of getting frustrated, go to the coach and ask if they see anything you can do differently. We don't expect perfection, but if I have two kids making mistakes and one is actively looking for ways to fix them and another is just losing confidence and getting agitated, I feel like I have a better chance of helping the first player in progressing over the next 2-3 months. 3) Do you make your teammates better/worse?

The third point is a huge one and one I don't think we think of enough as players. The reality is, we all have bad physical days from time to time - and sometimes, it'll happen on the day of a tryout. However, one thing we ALWAYS control is how we interact with those on the court with us. If a kid makes a mistake, and sees 4-5 kids glaring at them afterwards, it's only going to make them even more nervous the next time the ball comes to them and odds are they'll be more prone to making the same mistake again. However, if a teammate comes over and tells them they'll get the next one, sometimes that can be the boost they need to keep their focus and determination to make the play the next time the opportunity presents itself. If I see a player at a tryout constantly being positive to those around them, that's something that could help them make the team if they're on the bubble from a physical ability point of view.

There are other little things players should always do. Run everywhere, don't walk. Be the person that shags the most ball. Be the person that's first to the coach when they say to bring it in. Be the first one to the water fountain and the first one back. Move faster than everyone else from spot to spot in drills. We can't always control our ability that day, but we do control our effort. Coaches notice. STAY IN THE PRESENT - don't let a bad rep turn into a bad drill, don't let a bad drill turn into a bad tryout. If you make a mistake, don't dwell on the result: Think "why?" "How do I correct it?" and then go make the next play. If you have a bad string, don't lose confidence - you can always bounce back with the next play, and coaches recognize persistence. Be positive and give your best effort at all times! I always liked the quote "If I don't have to coach effort I can focus on coaching volleyball" - you can have all the talent in the world, but if you're giving off the impression that you don't care or that you're not going to be willing to dedicate yourself to the team during the season, they may take someone that they feel has more long-term promise due to their work-ethic/passion for the game.

The last piece of advice I'd give is BE TEAM-FIRST. If a coach asks what position you play, I always tell my sand players to say "I've always played x, but I played sand this summer and worked on a little bit of everything - I'd play whatever the team needs". If I have a player that only plays one position and I'm already loaded in that spot, it makes it hard to find a spot for that team. However - that line a) makes you more valuable to your team as you can serve various roles that the team may need b) shows an attitude that recognizes that it's about the team, not the individual.

To conclude, BE CONFIDENT! We can't control the results, only the process. I have yet to meet a player that plays better when they're more concerned with not making mistakes than they are making the play. Don't think about making the team vs. not making the team - think of tryouts as an opportunity to show your work ethic, your passion, your best effort - if you give those three things at tryouts, when it's all said and done you'll be able to look yourself in the mirror with no regret.

I wish you all good luck!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

As Juniors Move Forward, Are We Moving Backwards? Greed is NOT Good.

In about a month, my club's sand season will be underway. We had 80 athletes last season, and this year we look to have doubled that. I've been lucky enough to increase our staff with some good coaches, and I'm optimistic that we'll have an even better year than we did in 2013.

I believe the level of education the girls get from us is pretty high - Many of our drills have come from Olympians like Stein Metzger, Jeff Nygaard, and Pat Powers. We also take drills from the FIVB which we went over at the USAV clinic held last year. Our coaches do a great job of giving the girls individual attention, and to top it all off, we're able to do it at a fraction of the cost of the indoor season.

I recently was approached by a friend who has gotten connected with people on the West Coast - he told me that he wanted to talk about bringing in some USAV High Performance coaches to work with our kids for a weekend. We are definitely interested in doing something like this, and I spoke with one of the Olympians who had a pretty reasonable price for his weekend. Switch back to this conversation with my friend, and when I asked about cost, his answer was:

"$125.00 per kid at 100-150 kids. And 4 or 5 coaches to help out."


Let me do the math for you all at home. One weekend, Friday night coaching clinic, one day of coaching, and one day of "like a round robin tournament of some sort where they would go around coaching them through it" (his words, not mine), for roughly $12,000-19,000.

If your name isn't Karch, Misty, or Kerri, those numbers are offensive (and I'd raise an eyebrow at those 3 too after briefly considering it). Let's do some more math here. Let's say I had a staff of 8 coaches, all paid 25/hour to coach ($200/hour). Let's even say it costs us $100/hour for the courts we use. $20 dollars per player for uniforms, and each duo gets 2 tournaments for the summer (about $60/team) With 100 kids, for the same price USAV is charging, I could provide TWENTY-FIVE HOURS of education, two tournaments, and a uniform. You tell me, which one will the kids benefit more from?

The names of the HP coaches mean something to me: I guarantee you 99% of juniors beach players have no idea who those people are. I'm sure they have some great things to teach, but I refuse to believe that any coach will teach more in a day then we could teach in 5 weeks of two 2.5 hour sessions.

This comes a couple weeks after I hear from multiple sources that the AVP has told the top 24 players that they are not allowed to play in non-AVP domestic events - keep in mind, the AVP is only running 7 of their own this season. I realize that they're trying to eliminate the NVL from their competition, but is this really what's best for the players? especially when anyone outside of the top 24 (and some within) are lucky to break even after a season of ball?


I feel like the people that are pulling the strings are like an aged former professional NBA/NFL athlete that can't tighten the reigns and admit that the checks aren't coming in like they did when they were in their prime (AKA the 80's/mid 90's). We want that same glorious lifestyle those players had, even though you look at the spectators during those years compared to the empty bleachers we have now and realize we currently don't have the following to justify that. Yet, all the conversation I hear/read about now is about the same subjects: Tours butting heads wanting the lion's share of the market, and players being restricted on what they can/can't do in the process. Sadly, because players don't have a lot of financial options, so when the people that are cutting them the checks tell them they can't play other events, what choice do they have? I'd be willing to bet if you asked many of them off-the-record if they felt that what's being done is best for the growth of the game, they'd say no.

The tours right now are being GREEDY. We have probably never had such a boom in the juniors beach scene nationwide, and instead of looking at this as a true opportunity to grow the game, get the player visibility increased, and generate interest in this younger group to attend professional events, we have a huge multi-tour game of tug-of-war, with everyone trying to dominate the market for juniors tournaments.  I think the people that are up top have the business knowledge to do it the right way: I also think they all have the business knowledge to recognize if they dominate the juniors market for tournaments, where they charge $50-60 per team, compared to what they'd make by charging $5-10 per spectator to watch their professionals, that will line their pockets more - regardless of what that does for the health of our game.

And that's what saddens me about all of this. If the powers that be actually gave a s*** about the sport instead of making money, now is as good of a time as we've EVER had to make this sport relevant again. Webcasting has never been easier. Certain people up top have more financial resources than we've ever had to play with before. Juniors is skyrocketing, and the NCAA adding sand as a sport has only helped that cause. The time is NOW to make a change - to truly GROW THE GAME. I just hope that one day, someone with enough power to make the change sees that too.