Making tough choices during your journey through sports and recruiting.
Updated: Dec 13, 2022
Let’s start this off with an analogy. It’s Friday night and you and your family want to go out to dinner. Someone says, let’s go out to eat, someone else asks where, and the conversation ensues. Maybe you get on Yelp and look at a menu, maybe you talk about a place you heard about from a friend is really good, maybe you go to a place that is tried and true. You come to a decision, you go to dinner, and that’s it. Once you get to the restaurant, that you have decided on together, if it is open and the wait isn’t too long, you go in. You look at the menu, find something you want to eat, order it, and eat it. You used the information available to you either through word of mouth, the internet, or prior experience to make a decision about the restaurant and then when you got to the restaurant, you each tailored your experience to your likes. You do this same thing probably thousands of times in your life. It’s a process we all know extremely well! But wait, I’m not a food critic, so what the heck does this analogy have to do with volleyball?
I was chatting with a dad tonight about the recruiting process and about how challenging it can be. We were talking about how there are so many different variables that go into making a decision about where you want to go for college and about how the “keeping up with the Jones’” outlook can be detrimental. We discussed how some kids end up at schools just because it was the top ranked school that gave them an offer and how miserable some of them can be when they get there only to realize that while they are on the team, they will never get to play. That they have worked so hard for so many years putting in the blood, sweat, tears, and heartache that it took to get to the next level only to never see the court in a match again. We discussed how expensive some schools are and how some don’t have the degree program a kid might want. There are a million different things that go into that process that make it maddening at times to try to decide.
Being a teenage athlete is INCREDIBLY hard. People don’t truly understand how much pressure kids are under as athletes these days. When I was a kid, you heard about kids here and there going to play their sport in college, but with social media, kids these days have it in their face all day, every day. So and so committed to this school and so and so committed to that school. Why haven’t you committed yet? It’s a process that literally breaks kids and parents all the time! I have seen it first hand! With recruiting, there is a TON of research that has to go into the process to find the right fit for you and you have to form a team around you that will help you to get there, but how?
As a kid making your way through juniors in ANY sport, you have to seek out a program to fit your individual needs. Talk to people about it, figure out what your goals are with the sport, and find the right fit for you. Do your research up front. Take the time to ask the questions. Take the time to notice the environment and how people treat one another within that program. Look into what successes that program has had and if they have ever gotten anyone to where you want to go. You could be the first for them, but the odds are, if they have been around for a while and have never gotten anyone to where you want to go, they may not be the best fit for your goals.
Once you have made your choice, just go all in and chase your goals. It’s just like making the decision to go to a restaurant. Once you make the decision, go in and figure out how to make it fit your needs. Tune out all the noise. Tune out who committed to where and when, your process is unlike anyone else’s. Tune out people in other places promising you big things. You chose what you chose for a reason. Trust the research you did that put you in the place you are in.
I have good friends all the time ask me about where their kids should go to train for volleyball. While I will, of course, let them know all of the good things we provide at the club I work for because I am passionate about the way we go about things, I never tell them that we are the only one they should come to. While I truly believe that the club I work for is filled with genuine people who care about kids and who are passionate about helping them chase their goals, I know that we are also not the right fit for everyone. I just tell them to try different places out and find the right fit for THEM and for their goals. As adults we have to be the rock. We have to be the ones to assure kids they are doing the right thing. If you are a good player, you will often have coaches and players from other places telling you how good you are and how much they want you to play for them or with them. Yes it feels good to hear how good we are and how wanted we are, but putting too much pressure on a kid only leads to burn out and a loss of passion for the sport. They are kids! Let them be kids! Think about it, are they telling you that because it is what is truly best for YOU or because it is what is best for THEM?
I overheard a conversation tonight from a girl who is really enjoying beach volleyball but is also still playing indoor. The poor girl is torn, as are MANY volleyball players when they play both. She is getting a ton of pressure from her indoor teammates and friends to stay, but from the sounds of the conversation, she doesn’t seem to want to. Good players will always receive that pressure from people because good players help teams to be more successful, that’s just facts. How do you tell a kid to choose one or the other, it’s their path, their goals, and their decision. As much as I am passionate about my sport, at the end of the day, all I can genuinely offer kids is my best with them on the sand every night they step into it with me. I can promise that I will be uplifting, and that I will do my best to give them the tools to be successful, but I can not promise them success. Everyone seems to want this promise of, if I choose this, will I be successful? Heck, I have had plenty of parents along the way try to talk me into promising them things that I just can’t, and refuse to promise. They say the only two guarantees in life are death and taxes. I’m inclined to agree. In life there are a million different paths you can take. If you keep trying to go down one only to choose another and then another, you’ll wind up always wondering what would have happened if you had just done your research, made your decision, bought in, given it your best effort, and trusted in the process you chose. The saying, “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side” comes to mind here. That saying is so true in so many situations in life and the pressure to show just how green it is is real as an athlete!
It’s hard enough to have your friends and teammates pressuring you, but sadly, even adults pray on that vulnerability of not knowing for certain what your path ahead holds. Recently I have been hearing a lot of rumors about a coach here in the valley who is telling kids from other clubs how bad at something they are and then goes on to essentially tell them that if they come to him, he will fix it. If this is true, he is purposefully planting seeds of doubt in the minds of kids and their parents to tear them down, and then portraying himself as their savior and the only person who can help them. If the rumor is true, that’s absolutely disgusting. Kids already have it hard enough and as adults we need to protect kids from things like that instead of buying into it! You hear stories all the time about club coaches who tell kids that if they play for them that they will promise a scholarship to the school they want to go to. You even hear about colleges doing back door deals to try to get the kids they want. Why are coaches doing this to kids? It’s horrible!
Will I try to sell the club I coach for to people? Absolutely! If you truly believe in something, why wouldn’t you tell other people about it and about all of the good characteristics of it? I won’t, however, ever tell a kid how bad he or she is at something to get them to come have me fix it. I have never, in my 18 years of coaching, gone up to a kid or parent and told them that their kid needed a private lesson. I’m always willing to help, but if a kid wants a lesson, they will ask. They don’t need to hear about how bad they are at something and how great I am at fixing it. As a matter of fact, I don’t, care which athletes I get to work with. I try hard to make a connection with every athlete I am blessed to work with. Whoever wants to step in the sand and work hard for me, that’s the kid I want to coach. Whoever wants to show up with a great attitude and give me everything they’ve got that day, that’s the kid I want to coach. Whoever can fully commit themselves to the process instead of always having one foot in and one foot out, that’s the kid I want to coach. Whoever can understand that winning means nothing if you don’t do it the right way, that’s the kid I want to coach. Whoever can put the team before themself day in and day out, that’s the kid I want to coach. Whoever wants to be inspired and in turn will inspire me, that’s the kid I want to coach.
I have been blessed to get to be a part of the journey for athletes at every level of the game. I had conversations just this week with both AVP champion and Collegiate World Champion Hailey Harward, and 2021* USA Olympian Sarah Sponcil. In those conversations I let them both know that I am way more proud of the people they are than what they have done in the sport. After all, at the end of the day, sports are just a part of who we are, they are not all of who we are. Their trials and tribulations are the fire that sharpens the strong iron we become. Their challenges and disappointments are what make us resilient because we know that we will always fail in life, but that we also can always come back from that failure.
I used to be absolutely petrified of speaking in front of people. To the point that there were a couple of occasions in high school that my anxiety was so bad that I would fake sick on the the days where I was supposed to give a speech at school. I went on to be a teacher and stand in front of a class every day. I went on to be a coach and stand in front of kids every day. I run parent meetings and informational meetings all the time. Someone once told me that the best way to calm your nerves and be confident is to have done your homework. To make sure that you have done the research to be able to answer the questions when they come your way. So as you chase your own unique goals and you begin your own unique journey and begin to establish what your process looks like, do your research. Do your research on the club you choose. Do your research on the teammates and partners you choose to play with. Do your research on what the club’s culture is like. Do your research on the list of colleges you might like to go to. Do your research on the degree programs you might be interested in. Do your research on what the school environment is like. Do your research on the coaches for the programs you might like to be a part of. Do your research on the team and what the environment of the team is like. Then, just dive in head first. Trust your research. Trust the process, and at the end of the day when you set foot inside that club or school, you will know, just like you knew walking into that restaurant you chose, that there is a reason you are there and that there is 100% something there for you.