At USAV Nationals, I dumbfoundedly found myself on the 14 years old courts watching 6th, 7th, and 8th graders play volleyball. There I watch, seriously recruiting kids that aren’t much familiar with high school, never-mind the collegiate world. There are tons of articles in the NY Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, etc. talking about the ‘phenomenon’ of recruiting kids just out of diapers, but then I also consider the great professional soccer clubs of Europe worth billions of dollars that seriously recruit young kids. I think of Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, among other NBA stars that skipped college to go pro. Are we just catching up to the professional level or are we as silly as the professionals?
I consider a friend and softball assistant coach who was a star on the USA National Team that did not get recruited to a top ranked university until her junior year of high school. She admits that if softball recruited like volleyball, she would have never been recruited to a ‘big time’ school. She developed late and would have been overlooked.
At Miami University, we have a great middle blocker. She has a younger brother that plays basketball and he publicly announces on social media that he has full scholarship offers to Toledo, Ohio, Miami, and others. Newspapers write articles about his offers like it’s a pack of gum given to a kid. Cutthroat (or maybe unscrupulous) basketball recruiting laughs at verbal commitments. So does football. It makes me wonder if we are doing it wrong in volleyball and creating an injustice to young kids and families?
At a former school I coached, our Associate Athletic and Compliance Director, who also happens to be an attorney, always told me that the verbal commitment is just that, verbal words, and not a legally binding contract.
The professional network of volleyball is an awesome group to be apart. We openly share ideas, network together, pass along recruits to others, and respect one another. We, for the most part, honor each other. We honor each other’s verbal commitments made by young student-athletes and do not continue to recruit those players. In turn, should a young student-athlete verbally commit to our program, we do not continue to recruit that position and year.
Because of the early commitments, we are seeing a surge in transfer at colleges. Kids that commit so young that they really don’t know what they want out of a college and find themselves in a mysterious place that no longer fits. Unfortunately, these kids feel pressure from within the collegiate program to stay and at home by parents. Yes, we should honor our commitments, but how often do you make a life decision four years ago that needs to be honored for the next four years. Where were you four years ago?
The irony is softball has an opposing issue. The talented young kids may verbally commit, but continue to shop for other schools. Often, the top kids will change their minds and commit to other schools throughout their high school career until they sign that National Letter of Intent on Signing Day in their senior year. The problem I have heard with softball is this changing of their mind doesn’t stop in high school. Bigger schools will ‘poach’ smaller schools top players and those kids transfer. This is not right either.
The moral question is: “Is the honor system in volleyball, ironically too honorable? Has it cultivated a recruiting environment that has gone too far and is no longer in the student-athletes as well as universities best interest?” How do we stop this recruiting madness?!?!
In my humble opinion, as a measly assistant volleyball coach, there are a couple things that should be done to protect the athletes, coaches, and our sport.
1. As football and basketball may employ unethical recruiting practices, the competitive recruiting environment for the student athletes has its advantages. Student-athletes are allowed to grow and mature into young adults through high school, have the opportunity to be recruited by a plethora of schools over a number of years, those without socioeconomic advantages are on a more level playing field, an Official Visit the senior year of a high schooler’s career can actually mean something, and young kids aren’t asked to make a life decision before they even enter high school. Signing day for top young senior athletes must be a lot of fun as they have a variety of hats in front of them on a podium and tease the media by picking up a few hats before crowning themselves with one to announce where they will attend college.
Football and basketball certainly have their own challenges and drawbacks with the system, and hopefully the student-athletes don’t take advantage of it. I’m sure it drives coaches crazy wondering who will be on their squad in the following year. But I do believe it delays the recruiting process.
2. Along the lines of the recruiting madness, there is a correlating issue of playing madness. These kids are playing all year round and overuse injuries are becoming rampant as they enter their freshman year of college (never-mind the mental burnout). Often they wrongly play for the elusive scholarship (and the numbers prove how elusive it is: Volleyball Recruiting Facts and Athletic Scholarships an Illusion of Opportunity).
As college coaches, we may have some indirect control. I believe that many kids play in tournaments to “be seen” by college coaches. We as college coaches need to add more recruiting Dead Periods throughout the year. The Dead Period should start May 1 and continue through July 31. Yes, right through the heart of USAV Nationals and AAU Nationals. Kudos to USAV for moving their USAV Nationals for 18 year old earlier in the year. This trend should continue with the other age groups.
A Dead Period of May through July would help in so many ways:
- Kids would not enter as many tournaments, especially not in May, June and July.
- Nationals would be hosted at the end of April.
- Overuse injuries would be less of an issue.
- Kids could have a true summer break.
- Club would not be as costly to parents and again create a more even playing field for less privileged kids.
- We would have more qualified club coaches (too many good coaches no longer coach club because the season is too long).
- College recruiting budgets would not need to be as large.
- The recruiting field between the have and have-not colleges would be more level.
- There would be more money for each program (Athletics Directors would be happy about this)
- Coaches would get a break (and might live a more normal life).
- I believe we would have more women willing to continue their coaching career (I have been witness to too many coaching friends that have left coaching for their family…I see this trend starting with men too (see Chris McGown, former BYU Head Coach)).
- I also believe more players would enjoy some time in the sun and might play some beach volleyball 🙂
As a side-note – wouldn’t it be great if kids could play at a “No Parents Allowed” Tournament?!?! Talk about less pressure and more fun. Or how about a “No Coaches Allowed” Tournament. This includes their own club coaches. Maybe this tournament can be hosted during the new May – July Dead Period and clubs can still make their money 😉
The pendulum has swung too far in many ways. We should not go overboard and let it swing too far in the other direction and find a happy medium for our young athletes, for our coaches, and for our sport. We need to be trailblazers for other sports to follow.