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."

EXCUSE ME?

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?

And, as usual in my beach rants, WHY AREN'T WE MORE CONCERNED WITH GROWING THE PAID ATTENDANCE AT EVENTS?

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.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Making Illegal Recruiting Services More Transparent Does NOT Improve It - An Open Response to the AVCA Blog.

This morning, I was browsing my Facebook Newsfeed and saw that the AVCA posted a blog by Mitch Kallick, an assistant coach at a Division I institution. You can read it here. I'd like to start by saying I respect Mitch for coming out and saying what a lot of Division I coaches think. I also recognize that these coaches are working for Athletic Departments that rarely give them more than a one-year contract - their ability to provide for themselves and their family depends on them building a successful program, and in order to compete, they need to be in the recruiting game as aggressively as their peers. That being said, I respectfully disagree 100% with his proposal. 

Coach Kallick, I have a bit of experience on both ends of this: As a student, I went to a big state school, transferred to a community college, then found the right fit for me at a private institution, where I played Division III volleyball. I've also served as an assistant coach for women's volleyball at the Junior College, Division III, and Division I level. It took me all of one year at Division I to recognize that the culture of the sport was not for me - the very fact that you admit that when it comes to early recruiting, 'When you speak to college coaches regarding it, the response you hear most is, “Not a fan/hate it but we have to."', is an alarming statement. If the majority of coaches don't like it, then why are we not trying to change the system? More importantly, why is the answer to actually make it easier to do?


I now work for a juniors club full-time, and one of my main tasks is to sit with families and educate them on how to avoid my path of letting a college sell to me instead of really thinking about what I wanted from my college experience. I understand why coaches do what they do, but it doesn't change the fact that no one cares more about the athlete's best interests more than the athlete and their family. The thing that saddens me is how I feel as a society we HAVEN'T set up a culture where the athlete has to really think about what they want about their future - in a generation of instant gratification, we basically let schools spoon-feed us information on why their school is where we should go, with no true knowledge about the athlete to know if it's a good fit for them. The reality is, if player A has a specific physical skill-set that you want and will make a dramatic impact on your volleyball program, but wouldn't necessarily be a good fit for the student-life aspect of the school, and player B has the grades/personality that fit the school but does not have the ability you're looking for, you're going to talk to player A, because that's what you "have to do" for your program.


Knowing this, why do we think it's a good idea to let the coaches/programs dictate communication?


Don't get me wrong: This is on the groups at the earlier stages as well. High schools don't do as good of a job as they should in educating kids on how to do the college search (Which is sad, because with the internet, it's NEVER been easier to research/contact schools and gather information). Many clubs and "recruiting services" are more concerned with promoting their kids that make it to Division I schools as a way to lure more kids to their program than they are sitting with ALL families that are interested and teaching them how to research schools, properly introduce themselves to the coach, how to make a good video, etc. - that being case, of course college coaches are going to tell kids all the great things about their school and why they should go there. But let's not pretend that they don't have their own agenda first and foremost.


While I know the numbers may be a little off, you can read in an earlier post that about 1.4% of kids get the full-ride scholarship. We constantly use FEAR as our recruiting tool, telling these kids "you have to look at schools early, otherwise you'll be too late" - and I think that's garbage. I've been involved with college athletes for 10 years now, and have not seen a situation where a Division I caliber girl had to drop down to Division III because she waited too long. Because the reality is, if a player has the ability to improve your program, you'll find a way to include them - I know this first-hand, because I've seen a starting freshman lose her scholarship to a junior college transfer because the coach wanted her and had no other way to get her in. Does this happen always? No, there are plenty of ethical coaches out there. But it doesn't change the fact that the power of renewing scholarships sits with the coaches, NOT the players.


I appreciate the fact that you were willing to put your name out there and admit "this is being done across the board" - but I don't think the answer is "we know it's happening, so let's allow it". My answer is "How can we make it so this isn't as necessary of a process? And that answer is EDUCATING THE PLAYERS/PARENTS. Help them learn how to do the searches. Players can contact you, so why don't we help them in their process so that they know how to do so? 


I challenge everyone reading this: DON'T settle for a process that coaches admit they don't like, as well as something that forces CHILDREN to start choosing their colleges before they truly have any idea of what they want, both on and off the court. Coach Kelleck says let's make the process more transparent, I say let's make it more efficient. Recruiting will never go away, but it doesn't mean we can't do a better job of educating players so that they can make their decision with more certainty that they're going somewhere they WANT to go, not somewhere they can go. If a change is to be made, let's start it by taking more responsibility at the high school level of giving our players better guidance at picking their schools - including the 98.6% of kids that won't be scholarship athletes.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Valuable Lesson Taught by an 8 Year Old

2 years ago, Michigan State basketball star Adreian Payne was visiting a local hospital and met Lacey Holsworth, a 6-year old battling cancer. While these visits are somewhat common for athletes, the friendship that formed between the two is not. Payne became her role model, essentially adopting her as a little sister and developing a close bond with her. Fast forward 2 years, and their friendship became one of the best feel-good stories of March Madness, with her in attendance for the Michigan State games, even being front row for Payne as he competed in the Collegiate Dunk Contest.

Sadly, Holsworth passed away earlier this morning, and the stories have been spreading like wildfire on the internet. As I read every article I could find on her, I began to reflect on the situation. Before, the news story was all about how a star athlete changed a terminally-ill child's life for the better (and he did - my condolences to Adreian - I hope through the grief he takes comfort in knowing how much of a positive impact he was on her life). However, I think we should realize that the story should also be about what SHE did for Payne, as well as for the rest of us.

We're talking about a child who had a tumor wrapped around her spine, who struggled to walk, who learned that after a brief time of remission that the cancer had returned and her conditions had gotten worse. But looking at dozens of pictures, you will NEVER find one that doesn't involve her smiling, or laughing, or blowing a kiss to the camera. Throughout the entire process, this little girl who had so much outside of her control going against her decided to smile through it all and have fun living life in the process, focusing on what she could control and not letting the grim reality of her situation bring her down.

Lacey isn't an inspiration because she had cancer and found a relationship with an athlete - it was how she handled her cancer and lived her life. Almost every day, I'm in the gym with kids of all levels - from our top 18 year olds to our young kids that are getting their first experience playing volleyball. At every level, I see kids that are more afraid to make a mistake then they are determined to make the play.

As a society, we've glorified the victor, the winners, those that have come up successful at the highest levels of their craft. On the other end, we see writers/sports analysts criticize those that have lost, players that have had a bad game on a big stage, people that in all reality are world-class athletes and have worked just as hard as the winners, but have been on the short end of the fact that when world-class teams/athletes compete, someone is going to lose. The fact that this is what we are judging our pro/collegiate athletes on a 24/7 basis, whether it be on Sportscenter on television or trending on Twitter, has caused a generation of young athletes to be hesitant, to be unsure of their movements, to be uncomfortable; feeling incredible pressure to not be "the loser". They are more afraid to let others down than they are focused to simply do their best - the results make them lose sight of the process.

It is incredibly sad to hear about Lacey no longer being with us - but I hope that her story inspires people, young and old, to live life and GO FOR WHAT THEY WANT, without fear of falling short or losing. Everything they do, I hope they do it without hesitation, without worry about what may go wrong - I hope they do it with passion and excitement about what can go right.  Lacey was playing a game where she had such a slim chance to win - but she played hard, had fun in the process, and in the end, touched an unbelievable amount of lives in a positive manner. And that's what makes her story special.

Next time you want to accomplish something and feel the fear of failure, think of Lacey and go for your accomplishment. Next time you're in a situation where on paper things shouldn't go the way you want them to, think of Lacey, and go for it anyways. Next time you see someone that wants something but they are more worried about not succeeding than they are confident that they can do it, think of Lacey, and encourage them to give it everything they have, with no hesitation. Sometimes, we lose sight on how powerful we really can be, but if an 8-year old like Lacey can live they way she did in spite of everything she was going up against, why can't we?

Rest in peace Lacey - you may have only graced the world with your presence for a short time, but the impact you had on the world will be carried on with all those whose lives you touched.




Monday, March 24, 2014

My Time at Mercer University

In 2010, I was the Assistant Coach at Mercer University for Women's Volleyball. For some of you reading this, that name probably stands out more than it would have a week ago as their Men's Basketball team just upset Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the first time the institution has ever won a tournament game. A senior-heavy team, most of the players that led the team to victory today were freshman when I worked there. While they were eliminated by Tennessee yesterday, the way they played as well as the fan support they had made them the darlings of the media for 72 hours.

Let me tell you: to this day I vividly remember how their work ethic came off to me. Every moment we weren't in the gym it seemed like they were in there getting individual reps, and if they weren't getting those reps because the court was ours, they were in the weight room. There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't see them working hard. Years of those reps led to Friday's accomplishment, something bigger than them, a memory that will probably stay with them as one of the greatest moments of their life until the day they die. It was a beautiful moment to witness from a thousand miles away, and I couldn't be happier for them. A lot of memories flashed back as I watched them celebrate their victory, and I felt like it would be a good opportunity to write a little blurb about my experience at Mercer.

The reality is, and a lesson I try to teach every team I coach, is that 50% of teams will always lose, and they don't always have that storybook ending we love so much as sports die-hards - "It's not if you win or lose, but how you play the game" is a really nice way of saying "Sometimes you're going to do everything right and still fall short". Truth be told, the Women's Volleyball team at Mercer in 2010 didn't generate much press with their 14-18 record. However, what their accomplishments were from a distance couldn't properly describe what great players and better people they were.

I met the girls in February in 2010 - while the facilities were breathtaking to a person who was a year removed from playing for a team without a gym on campus, the thing that really stood out to me was the drive these girls had. Our team was talented, but not the biggest/most athletic from a Division I perspective, but they had INCREDIBLE heart. I've met with teams I'm interviewing to coach for, and know when they're asking questions because they're supposed to be asking. These girls had a genuine care for who was coming in to help them in their quest for success.

When I finally arrived to coach, we hit the ground running - although teams definitely got a jump on us. We were predicted to finish 8th out of 10 in our conference - which would have put us outside of the conference tournament. Our season started against a tough non-conference schedule, beginning the season 2-10.

Our girls didn't have that "go-to" physical outlier, the one that at 20-20 could tell her team "we got this, set me the ball and we'll finish this off", but we had depth that no other team had. After awhile, we recognized that while most teams had an advantage on us with their first or second options, we typically were deeper with our 3rd-5th hitters, and could find a mismatch to utilize by the end of the match if we just saw who was successful as the match progressed. This became our nitch, and we started gaining momentum, finishing the rest of the season 12-8 and making the conference tournament.

That may not have been the fairytale ending that we always dream of as athletes, but the reality is, those girls worked SO hard to get to that point - they pushed themselves and those around them every day, from 6 am weights all the way to when our last practice would conclude 12 hours later. They were selfless - it wouldn't be easy to ask 5-6 hitters to take 30 attempts one match and less than 10 the next, but we never had drama with players when it came to accepting whatever role they needed to take for the team to be successful. I was extremely proud for what those were, not what they didn't accomplish.

The reality is, while their record may not reflect it from a wins-losses perspective, I find that team to be one of the most successful ones I've ever had the privilege of coaching - they could have looked at the first half of the season and just kept falling - but they stayed determined to find a way to be successful, put the effort forth, and finished the season on a very respectable note.

If you know me, you probably know I'm a huge John Wooden fan - my blog is named after one of his mantras. I always appreciated his definition of success (Peace of mind which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable), but this was the first time I truly felt it.

I left Mercer and Division I that year - I simply couldn't afford all of my bills (While I was the only assistant, it was a GA position. Being 25 and naive, I believed the coach when she said I would have the time to work a part-time gig to pay my student loans, having no true grasp of what the administrative aspect would entail at this level as the only assistant). Looking back on it, it was probably for the best. While I cared a lot about the players, I didn't have a passion for spending only 20 hours in the gym with players, then another 80-90 in an office breaking down film and/or recruiting. I didn't like the politics of revenue vs. non-revenue sports, I didn't like the imbalance of student/athletics, and it was disappointing to me how little I felt those girls were appreciated for how much they accomplished compared to the expectations for them that year. I respect the attention to detail and passion coaches have to have to work at that level - I cared more about developing people both on and off the court, and felt like my personal goals for coaching didn't align with the culture that I felt Division I provided.

What solidified my decision was the political part of things - I gave the coach advance notice about my decision and helped get everything prepared for someone to take my place. However, she did not want to risk my housing spot being taken away and used for another sport, so she asked me to keep it private until the last minute. While my intentions were to respect the coach's request, I felt absolutely awful for the team that I had bonded with that season. I had to look my girls in the eye and tell them I was stepping down, and that I'd be out of town 18 hours later. I remember the looks on their faces as I delivered the news, and to this day it is one of the worst feelings I've ever had in my life.

It is good to have a competitive nature, but I learned from coaching that team that wins and losses don't always define the success teams have. A year removed from my senior year as a player, where my team started 16-1 and sputtered to a 24-13 record and first-round conference tournament elimination, I was reminded by a young group of girls that tough times don't last, tough people do.

So while everyone is congratulating Mercer's 2014 Men's Basketball Team - I'd like to give a little credit to their 2010 Women's Volleyball Team, a special group of people that will be successful in whatever professions they decide to dedicate themselves to.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What "Recruiting" Companies Aren't Telling You / Why I'm Starting My Own Business

I've been dipping my toes in the water on this subject for quite some time, but the more I talk with parents and athletes, the more I feel it's time to jump in and tackle this subject.

When I sat down with the Club Directors to discuss possibility working for them, I didn't have many demands. I was going to be taking a substantial pay cut, no problem. The concept of weekends were going to be gone, and I was OK with that. The one thing I NEEDED was the ability to truly be a "liaison" for our kids. They happily obliged, and while the results have been outstanding, learning about what other groups have told my families has left me quite alarmed with the culture of high school athletics and what we're telling our kids.

Over the last few years, we've seen clubs put a much larger focus on having the "College Liaison". Clubs are helping their players create videos, put their profiles online, and then sending their information out to colleges in hopes of finding someone that is interested in recruiting them. For the kids that stand out for their volleyball skills or athleticism, this process works fairly well. What about the others? More importantly, have we really been trying to get to know what they want both on/off the court, and educate them on how to find the school that best suits their wants and needs, versus "finding a school where they can play volleyball"?

I have sat with over fifty families over the last year, and while our girls are talented as players and athletes, an online profile simply does not do them justice for the PEOPLE they are. Many of our players are talented off the court as well, with stellar grades, other talents, or just a great vision for what they want to accomplish after college. While they can rehearse it and put it in a video online, I don't think it separates them as much as actually researching the school and personally reaching out to coaches, telling the coach why they specifically are interested in their institution.

More importantly, when coaching college, there simply aren't enough hours in the day to look at every profile out there - I was pumping 100 hours a week in, leaving the office at 2am, waking up at 6 just to do the whole process again - even with that, I probably only hit a very small percentage of the profiles that were put online given all the sites that have popped up. Even with the profiles I DID like, I knew the athlete wanted to play volleyball but had no idea if it was a good fit on both ends.

Now we see companies like the NCSA sprouting up, pushing their services hard on our kids. I have had multiple sophomores and their parents from our club contact me extremely concerned, saying "The NCSA contacted us and asked us if we had done x y and z, when we said we hadn't, they told us we were way behind, but if we used their services they could catch us back up."

Truth be told, they are not behind. Companies like the NCSA are using scare tactics to get kids to spend a ridiculous amount of money to use their "services" - which while they do a great job of selling kids to schools, aren't really covering the overall issue I'm seeing with both athletes AND non-athletes at the high school level.

I know my last post had the analogy but I'll use it again. We buy cars with a specific idea of what our wants/needs are. We take it for a test drive and perhaps have our mechanic take a look under the hood before making a decision. We DON'T let a salesman tell us all the great things and then sign the papers. We buy houses with a specific vision, perhaps we need more space for an addition to the family, maybe we want a location that caters to our work or hobbies. We don't let a realtor just tell us all the great things about the house and then take the mortgage. So with our kids, why are we letting these companies tell us where we should go and essentially either sell to our kids or, in the case of NCSA, SELL our kids?

A lot of parents tell me, 'we just don't know that much about the process' - which I'm all too familiar with. I transferred twice during my time in college (I was an Illinois State Scholar in High School that was in the National Honors Society three years - it wasn't because I was unintelligent). I had NO IDEA what I should be looking for when looking for schools. I didn't have a lot of guidance, and my parents were unfamiliar with the process. My question is, why aren't we doing a better job of helping educate parents and players on the process? Even if someone wants a company to do the legwork, the reality is no one has a player's best interests more than the player and their family - so why let someone else do the work on this when there's no way they can truly know the player as well?

I have known throughout my twenties that when it's all said and done, I want to leave this world better than I found it - I just didn't know how I'd do it. Between my experience as a student, coaching at the Junior College/D-III/D-I levels, and now seeing what we're "doing" for high school athletes, I believe I have found my calling. I will be starting a Consulting business for families to educate them and guide them through the process so they can TRULY find the best fit for them. I will speak at schools, clubs, and PTA's, I will hold seminars for large groups as well as do one-on-one consulting - all for a MUCH cheaper rate than these large recruiting agencies are charging. I am tired of seeing these clubs/agencies showcasing their superstar athletes, not telling the other 98% how they too can have a wonderful college experience, including the Division III level (and don't let people tell you there's no money in Division III - Athletics does play a role in Merit Aid being rewarded and if people tell you otherwise, they're the same people that don't think certain Powerhouse Division I Football/Basketball universities aren't giving players benefits). I'm tired of seeing companies pop up and use children and their parents' hopes for a bright future for them as a cash grab. One-third of college students transfer from their original school - we can help that number decrease if we do it right. I look forward to taking on this challenge.

More details to follow.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Playing College Volleyball Part Two: Finding the Right Fit.

Wednesday, I added some information on scholarship availability for women's volleyball. The numbers come as a surprise to a lot of people. That being said, that's not to say that those who want to play college volleyball will not have opportunities to do so: it just mean they may not get their education paid for in the process. This is why I push our players to push themselves in the classroom to get the grades: It will give them more opportunities.

Looking at the numbers (which are more estimates than concrete, and doesn't include data regarding club participation, but gives us a good benchmark to work with), one could argue that with around 418,000 kids playing in high school and 25,000 for college, that about 6% of kids that play in high school will have the opportunity to play in college. However, I would say that the chances are much higher than that. Many high school volleyball players compete in other sports, and will play those sports in college instead. Aside from them, others are focused on other interests and do not want to play volleyball in college. I have seen the top Division I teams and the lowest Division III teams: I firmly believe that if you play club volleyball in high school and REALLY want to play in college, the opportunity is there. However, certain things should be considered.

When I sit down with players and parents, We discuss their ideal situation: what do they want outside of volleyball? Have they thought about what they want to study, what are your grades, do you have a preference in geographic location (I have read articles that actually think this isn't good - while I agree that you shouldn't break your bank simply to go to college in your dream location, it doesn't mean you can't look there if you have grades/ability that will allow you to do it for the same cost), school size, or any other factors that matter to them?

The idea isn't for them to necessarily know all these things - the reality of the situation is I can cook a meal for someone, tell them the ingredients, how I prepare it, and what it should taste like - until they take a bite, they won't know what THEY think about it. However, the more thought students put into what they want from their experience, the more confident they can be about making the right choice for them.

At that point we discuss the volleyball aspect of it - I ask them about what they environment they would be most comfortable with:

a) Joining a team that is a legitimate contender in their respective National Championship each year - playing time all 4 years can be worked for but there is no guarantee.

b) Joining a team that is in the middle of the pack, but could compete for a conference title. Playing time doesn't happen freshman year, but if the player works hard the opportunity will be there to move into a starting role.

c) Joining a team that has not been successful in wins and losses, but player could potentially start freshman year and maintain their role should they continue to work hard.

The purpose isn't to say that they will have one of these scenarios, it is to make them think about what they value and what they would like to envision their playing experience to be. Truth be told, I have had athletes that have said "I just want to win - I don't care what role I play" - I have also had athletes that say "I'd like to have the opportunity to start all four years". From there we can talk about how to hunt for programs that best fit their description.

While we can look for a place that history dictates will be similar to their wants, I also remind them that things can change outside of their control, and they'll have to be open to that possibility. Coaches can leave that helped built that program - My coach had a nationally-ranked team for 4 years, and once he left, the program went from being a regular 20-game winner back to single digits immediately following his recruits' departure. You can go to a school that appears like they NEED you, only to find the coach has 2 other recruits coming in at the same position that have the same goals you do, or perhaps a returner put in a rigorous off-season and isn't so willing to give up their spot on the court. I want to make sure that they understand that should the experience not go exactly as desired, they are willing to do what will be expected of them.

All of this information may seem disheartening, but better to accept the possible outcomes instead of getting blindsided with them once they're already committed/on campus. My goal with all of my kids is to get them to pick the school that's right for them after thinking about what they want - it requires some legwork on their end, but it's worth it if it finds them the school that they're going to be happy attending, that will bring out their best and set them up to succeed in the real world. I am not shy to say that I feel organizations/college liaisons of many clubs are not doing it right for their kids by simply throwing their film/specs out there and hoping a school shows interest (and don't try to tell me they don't - most clubs are more concerned with being able to say they send kids to play at college moreso than if it's a good fit, and the amount some of these organizations are charging is absolutely ludicrous, especially with the tools we have at our disposal online).

If the kids go to a school with no specific thought process about what they want, the coaches/tour guide are going to make that school sound perfect. That's their job, and that's not going to change - but if we were to buy a house, we wouldn't let the realtor tell us all about the house and buy it without inspecting it ourselves, or having an idea on what WE wanted to get out of it. If we were to buy a car, we wouldn't just let the salesman tell us all the great specs on it and buy it - we'd take it for a test drive, perhaps have our mechanic look at it - all while knowing WHY we want the car (more passenger space, better gas mileage, etc.) - so why wouldn't we make our athletes put a little more thought into what they want from college before investing years and a large amount of money into it? This applies to non-athletes as well!

The reality is, if you truly want to play college volleyball, there are opportunities. I have seen schools pulling kids from soccer teams/basketball teams to fill out their roster. They are smaller schools, their programs are in a rebuilding phase - but there are definitely programs that would be extremely happy to have anyone with club experience. The player just has to look at the overall environment and decide where their priorities lie.

With a little preparation and guidance, there is no reason players can't find a school that makes them happy - with over 1,500 options, it's just a matter of doing the research and finding the right one!