[Editor’s note: Sloane Green, a former high school and collegiate player and current coach, has agreed to write articles for Prep, at least monthly, geared specifically toward the player. You’ll find she has a lot to wisdom to impart. Any players having questions for Sloane can email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. While your identity will remain confidential, your question could be used in a future column]
A couple of weekends ago, I was at a qualifying tournament and I saw something I have never seen before. I was watching an 18’s team. This team did not have a libero, but instead rotated each of its three outside hitters to play that position. I thought, “These outsides-turned-liberos were all still playing and working on their ball control… no harm done.”
A father of a player on this team threatened to remove his outside daughter if she was in the libero jersey. Then, just before a match was to begin, I watched the father march onto the court and follow through with his threat. He took his daughter home in the middle of the tournament, moments before the match’s first whistle blew.
I was blown away. Maybe she hadn’t committed to a university. Maybe the pressure of not playing or not being seen as an outside hitter was the worst thing at that time.
It had me thinking about what it’s like to be on a team and working for the goals of qualifying and winning, as well as being recruited and preparing for the next level.
What is it like to be selfish in the pursuit of your next level, while also playing for the needs of the team?
I played before the era of highlight reels on YouTube, and before college coaches were able to look me up in a hand-held database. I remember my sister sending VHS skill tapes to universities. (Do players know what VHS is?). College coaches looked up court assignments and match times on paper tacked to a bulletin board in the middle of a convention center. At tournaments, it’s almost absurd to remember that recruiters walked around and just noticed talent wherever and whenever they saw it.
It was rare that athletes committed to universities before their junior year, so my parents never felt pressure that I wouldn’t find my place at the next level.
I felt that the better I did personally, the better my team would do; thus, I would be noticed. College coaches gravitated to the winning courts – and they still do! That’s where the “good kids” played. I never had the conflicting battle of, “I need to be seen more than I want my team to succeed,” because they were one and the same.
I’ve talked to many club coaches recently that have a goal of finding a place for all of their players who want to play collegiate volleyball. This means they’re talking to college coaches at tournaments, responding to their interest e-mails, helping players make skill videos, and preparing their players in practice and individual lessons.
At the same time, coaches are gunning for championships, qualifying wins, and higher rankings. They’re competitors, too. Because of this, you can’t rely solely on your coach to get you recruited.
So, as a player, how do you do both: win for your team, and be seen by collegiate scouts?
We can talk all day about “we over me,” working hard in practice, and being a selfless player… that’s an important conversation. It’s all good until tournament time rolls around and a couple of players don’t play.
Instead of truly caring about playing time or qualifying for nationals, what I hear is the frantic race to commit. I hear parents comparing their daughter to others her age: where she’s going, who she’s being recruited by, and why haven’t we heard anything?
First of all, comparing anything is unhealthy. Secondly, this hysterical, nervous stress makes you act selfishly. Your kids hear it, and then they begin to feel it, too.
There becomes a divide in the team between those who are committed, and those who are uncommitted. I’m not sure I need to say it, but this doesn’t lead to too much team success! Who wants to play with and for teammates you feel are “too good” for you?
I did it. It happens before you know what’s going on. As a 5-8 setter, I got some looks, but girls in my club I felt I was better than, but happened to be 6-0, got to go to big-time schools. By my 17s year, we stopped talking about our dreams, because I felt that my dreams weren’t as valuable as my teammates going to Minnesota and Stanford. I ended up waiting and waiting to find something higher-tier, and then just choosing a school. I transferred later to a better-suited option.
My point is that if you want to play volleyball in college, I think there’s room for that to happen.
Focusing on the team goals is what will prepare you for college. Investing in your club program does not mean you’re not thinking about yourself, too. Competing will never make you a worse volleyball player. Being recruited is an individual thing that happens in pursuit of team goals.
Whether you play or not, and because sending video is queen nowadays, college recruiters will see you. Whenever you step onto the court, whether you play the whole time, or not at all, make sure you add value.
That means, if you’re a serving sub, then set out to string points together for your team. If you’re used as a blocking sub, put pressure on your opponents. If you’re a setter in a 6-2, make it so your team is more “in rhythm” with you than without you. If you’re a libero, or trying to get recruited as one, but you’re playing DS, make it impossible for your coach to not play you. If you don’t play, help your teammates by helping them find ways to score. If the only time you play is in warm-ups, then taken them seriously.
The beauty of sending video and contacting colleges you’re interested in is that, if you are on a coach’s radar, you will be seen. The coach watches you on the bench, and how you either sulk or cheer for your teammates. The coach wants to see you do athletic things on the court, but she also wants to see how you react and respond when you make a mistake. Coaches watch how you prepare, and how you talk to your club coach, parents, and teammates.
As a coach, watching that father grab his kid from the situation is a red flag. It tells me that the dad likes to make the rules, and that his daughter is used to someone else doing the hard things for her. That worries me.
Coaches build their programs based on the people – not just players – they have, and they are careful about balancing their personnel: not too many direct, “I’ll tell you what I think” kids, and not too many nice, “I’m staying away from confrontation” kids.
How you act all the time, and not just when you’re winning or playing six rotations, tells the coach more about your character than you think.
Striving to be the best individual helps your team succeed, just like competing for team success motivates each player to improve. Cheer for your teammates’ success; that means it’s your success, too. Push your teammates in practice; not only will they get better, but so will you. It’s amazing how that works.