It is high school tryout time. Missouri tryouts were completed yesterday. Illinois high school tryouts are next week. As kids from my club were trying out this past week I thought to myself: what should kids have gotten out of their club team that will help them in high school volleyball? In my opinion the player should expect to get trained to be effective in her high school environment with training in skills and positions that should maximize where and how she plays on her HS team. A freshman should make her JV team or, in some cases, even her varsity team. A sophomore should be on the varsity full-time and, in some cases, be all-conference, a junior should be an all-conference level player and a team leader and a senior should be a go-to player and a team leader and, in some cases, conference MVP, an all-area and maybe all-state player.
So how should club teams do that?
1. You should expect to be trained in the fundamentals of volleyball
While this is a given for what parents pay for club volleyball, what should happen is that EVERY player should be trained at all skills. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen an 8th grade girl who is subbed out in the back row and never got to serve, play defense or pass serve. When I have asked the parents of that kid, in many cases they say that their daughter really didn't get to do those skills much in practice, either.
When that girl gets to high school she is most likely to be considered a one-dimensional player. Unless her team has an extreme need for height, she is likely to be on the JV or freshman team.
One of the girls who played for me ended up as state player of the year, played on the junior national team and played D-I volleyball. She came to play for me because I promised (and followed through on that promise) to train her in the back row IN PRACTICE and to give her at least a few back row chances in games. Doing this helped make her a more well-rounded player in high school, where she was given the chance to play all the way around as a freshman. It also helped get her to the junior national team.
2. You should be trained at the best position for you, not the position to help make your club team win more.
Look, sometimes in high school a player is forced to play a position they are not the best at. If you are the only tall kid in your high school you will likely find yourself playing middle blocker. If you have only ever played OH or libero you may be asked to set if your team doesn't have a setter. That is because the emphasis is to put the best team on the floor you possibly can.
Club volleyball should be different. For what parents are paying their children should be trained at positions that are the best for their development as a player, NOT because playing a particular position will help the club team win more. That is really the difference between club and high school. Club should be 90% training and 10% winning and high school should be more like 70% winning and 30% training.
Here are a couple of anecdotes to show what I mean:
a. A number of years ago I coached a 14s team that had two 5'8" kids and three 5'5" kids. Most coaches would have just played the taller kids in the middle and the shorter kids on the outside as that is where they played on their previous club and grade school teams. However, I played the 5'8" kids on the outside because that was better for their development and played the 5'5" kids in the middle. We qualified for nationals that year and even went in as the #1 overall seed based on our wins that year against open-division teams. The following fall in tryouts the 5'8" girls made their varsities as freshman and the 5'5" kids made their JV and ended up having good high school careers.
b. More recently, I coached a year in a big club at the 14s level. We had a 5'7" girl with an incredible vertical leap. We had the luxury of three 5'10" or taller girls to hit middle so we could play the 5'7" girl on the outside. She was dominant. I saw a recruiting video of her on the internet with her hitting middle while playing for a different club. As an outside hitter (she is now 5'9" I believe) with her vertical and power she could have been an attractive player to colleges. As a 5'9" middle, probably not so much. How she ended up as a middle for the other club is a mystery to me. My guess is that with her height and vertical leap they felt it was best for that team if she hit middle.
b. This summer, while scouting HS summer league games, I saw a 5'8" girl who had played for two years for a big club in the area as a middle blocker. In addition to being 5'8" she had a good vertical leap, making her the 2nd best middle blocker on her club team. In this summer league game, however, the girl played outside hitter. Once she got into the flow she was just crushing the ball and appeared to me to be the best outside hitter in the gym that day. My question was how could this club team put that girl at middle blocker? My guess is because they looked at her and looked at the rest of the team and saw that their best chance to win was to have her hit middle and let a shorter girl hit outside. To me, that wasted the years that girl had with that club. As a big club I am sure they trained her in all the skills but they played her a position that was clearly not the best for her long term projection as a volleyball player. In my opinion, this was to help the team be successful.
In summary, playing players at positions that are best for them while, in the process, maybe sacrificing team success, is not new. Sports Performance in Chicago has been doing that for over 30 years as they would routinely pick a tall, thin, athletic girl and turn her into a setter in 6th grade when most people would have made her a middle blocker and even the most inventive team would have had her play outside. They developed some great setters for years doing this as when those girls got to high school they were competing with much shorter setters in both club and for college scholarships. For those of you familiar with high level volleyball, would you rather have a great 6'2" setter or a great 5'9" setter? I think the choice is obvious but, for these girls, that choice was made for them at a young age by a club coach who had to either choose to make the PLAYER the best they could be or the TEAM more successful. For the money parents are paying for club volleyball, I think we, as coaches, should always choose to make the player better and even sacrifice team success to do that. You never know. As I found out, you might even be able to have extreme team success and still think about the development of the players, as well.
So, when you look at how your daughter did in her high school tryouts this year, reflect back and think it any of that had anything to do with how she was trained in club and the position she played on her club team. As an FYI, we had 9 girls on the 14s team in our club last year. Seven of them made their high school varsities as freshmen, one will play both varsity and JV and one will play JV with a chance to play on varsity if the need arises. So, playing kids at appropriate positions and giving them rounded training can make a difference.
I urge all of you, when you go to club tryouts this year, make sure, if you are invited to play on a team, to ask the coach/coaches what position they expect your child to play. If they tell you they are going to take your tall, athletic child and play her at middle blocker or they are going to take your ultra-quick 5'1" daughter and play her at setter because she has great hands or are gong to take your 5'8" daughter with great hands and play her at OH or MB, you might want to think about looking for a different club that will play her at a more appropriate position for her skill set. Probably at the most 10-20% of club volleyball players end up playing volleyball in college. My guess is that a good number of other players are on teams just to fill out the rosters for the good players. For what you are paying, your child shouldn't be just a roster filler, at least in my opinion.