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Recruiting strategies for volleyball coaches

This is an excerpt from Volleyball Coaching Bible, Volume II, The by American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) & Cecile Reynaud.

Phone calls and text messages are all allowed at certain times and may change. In 2015, a college coach can call an unlimited number of times during a contact period. The junior year is usually the heaviest recruiting time. It can get a little crazy with unlimited texting and people wanting to be texted back immediately. Top schools are the outliers because they recruit so young.


I have done only one home visit in the last eight years. In-person contact is allowed after July 1, but the rules may change each year. Sometimes I wish we could slow down recruiting by backing up home visits and official visits for a year so they would occur during their junior year instead of their senior year. Maybe the parents would be relieved not to have to pay to go to all of the universities on their own; they could simply wait for official visits during their junior year, which might slow things down a little bit.


Some athletes grow up wanting to go to a certain school. Perhaps it is nearby, or the whole family has gone there. If these athletes want to decide early, I think that is great. I worry about young players who haven’t seen a lot of schools and are recruited by schools across the country where they have no real ties. These athletes seem to transfer more. De-commitments don’t happen often, but they are most likely when athletes get to a school and find out it is not at all what they thought it would be.


Unofficial visits are very important now, but can be a challenge. Club volleyball is very time-consuming and expensive. Many parents can’t afford to go to all the club tournaments, send their children to camps, and visit numerous college campuses. A lot of players regionalize; that is, they attend colleges they already know and feel comfortable with. However, they cannot make the most informed decision when they can’t afford to visit all the schools that may be interested in them. Unfortunately, the official visit, which the university pays for, has become a formality during the senior year, after athletes have already made commitments. Families need to think about visiting college campuses as they vacation while their children are young. When they are driving around the country or flying to tournaments and cities, they can take time to stop by nearby campuses and get a feel for the schools. Athletes need to start early and see as many as colleges as they can.


Developing Trust

Once you have identified the athletes you are interested in, you should begin the relationship by making sure athletes, their parents, and their coaches trust you. They must believe that you are genuine in the recruiting process. I tell recruits to call me anytime, even if it is not about being recruited to the university I am working at. I tell them, essentially, that if they need help with anything about volleyball, playing on a summer USA Volleyball team, deciding which camp to attend, or anything at all, to call me.


As coaches, we need to open ourselves up as mentors to these young players. Parents will start to lean on us if they can tell that we care about their children as people. Every conversation isn’t about a hard sell, but about getting to know recruits and their families. Witnessing the lack of honesty in some coaches is very frustrating. We need to know where these athletes are coming from. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and understand what they are looking for and what they need, and understand the stress involved in trying to make the best decision of where to go to school and play volleyball.


I learned to recruit from the head coaches I worked for. I was kind of a natural recruiter because I love to talk to and help people, and that’s really what recruiting is. The communication part was easy for me. Great recruiters have magnetic personalities. People want to engage with them; they are trustworthy and honest, and they love to talk about volleyball. They love the game and sharing their passion for it. Most great recruiters don’t have huge egos; generally speaking, they just love volleyball and are outstanding people you want to hang out with.Since recruiting is all about selling the university and the volleyball program, it is key to have someone who the players can relate to on your staff. If coaches don’t have that type of personality themselves, they may be the ones who stay back in the office and take care of the tremendous paperwork with recruiting.


Offering Scholarships and Maintaining Commitments

Generally, we offer scholarships when we are 100 percent sure that an athlete can help us, which could be as early as 9th or 10th grade. Letting an athlete know that a scholarship is on the table is totally different from pressuring her to make a decision.


The head coaches I have worked with don’t pressure anyone to make a decision or give them a deadline, and neither do I. The offer is theirs until the bitter end. Sometimes, during a junior or senior year when things are feeling a little tight with our second or third choices, we have to let an athlete know that we are under some pressure to make a decision. However, we want athletes who want to be here. We want to make sure they are coming because they want to, not because we forced them to make a decision.


After athletes commit to our school, we keep in touch with them. We do this for the sake of the relationship, but also because other schools may not honor that verbal commitment and continue to try to recruit them. We want to protect our prospective athletes from this pressure. We may communicate less frequently at this point and talk more about day-to-day things. We are getting to know them personally, letting them know that they can contact us anytime, and staying engaged with them. This helps athletes feels as though they have made the right decision and will be comfortable at our school. It shows we care. It is also very important to stay in touch with parents as well.


Tracking Recruits

It is critical that you identify a system for tracking all prospective recruits and where you are in the process with them. We use University Athlete (www.universityathlete.com) as a database to house most of our information. With this program you can look up any athletes and learn more about them. It allows you to also add notes under recruits’ names and look up their schedules at tournaments, which is very helpful. A club that registers with University Athlete submits its schedules, which are uploaded so you can find times and the number of the courts athletes will be playing on. Every club gives its information to University Athlete, and university coaches pay an annual fee to access the service. This has made the data management side of recruiting much easier than it used to be.


International Recruits

I prefer to recruit domestically; I believe there is enough talent in the United States for a lot of teams to be good. However, international athletes can be good additions to your program if you are looking to move up quickly in the national rankings. The opportunity to have a great athlete with playing experience who is not afraid to compete because she has been there is hard to pass up. Most international athletes want to play volleyball and get an education. It is sometimes tough to determine whether an athlete is eligible to play on your program because of that athlete’s professional experience. One recruiting service that can help identify international recruits is American Volleyball Scouting Report Global (www.avsrglobal.com/coaches).

Is an Athlete Being Recruited by a School?

The definition of a recruited athlete is defined in the 2014 NCAA rule book as follows: A prospect is considered a recruited athlete if the college takes one of the following actions:

  • Provides the prospect with an official visit.
  • Has off-campus contact with the prospect or the prospect’s parents or legal guardians.
  • Offers the prospect a national letter of intent or an athletic scholarship agreement.
  • Initiates a telephone conversation with the prospect or the prospect’s parents or legal guardians more than once.


Ironically, a college coach can have frequent communication (letters, e-mails, texts, phone calls if the athlete initiates the call) with a prospect without that person being considered a recruited athlete if the college coach does not take any of the preceding four actions.


Recruited Walk-Ons

We have a number of recruited walk-ons. Russ Rose, women’s volleyball head coach at Penn State, loves to have a nice-size roster. Some athletes love the program and are super invested in what the school has and they are good enough to play and contribute, but at the time they applied, there was no scholarship for them. They are treated the same as athletes with scholarships in terms of academic services, equipment, and meals on the road. You would never know who is on scholarship by the way our athletes are treated. We have even had starters who were recruited as walk-ons.

Learn more about The Volleyball Coaching Bible, Volume II.