Christopher Austin here, checking in. This edition of Sunday Morning Coffee is designed for the recruiting process, specifically related to the transition from high school to college. I'm a good source, because I am one of the rare athletes who had so many different experiences from high school to college, before facilitating my own athletes through the recruiting pipeline. My background consists of coming from Las Vegas, Nevada where boys volleyball was not popular. The best hope was to take athletes who played other sports and turn them into athletes who enjoyed volleyball. When I made the decision, around my 10th grade season, to pursue a collegiate volleyball career, I wasn't sure of a good starting place.
1) The most important thing to do in the recruiting process (boys or girls) is to make certain that you have video of yourself. Avoid preparing your flashy highlights, avoid preparing your rec league pick-up games. Do your best to get raw, straight play, footage of you playing with a team. Try and pick the best match that you've ever played. Most college coaches will have the mentality that once they get their coaching hands on you, your best match in high school will become your minimum level of play in college. As coaches, we want to see the way athletes respond during and between plays; positive plays, less than positive plays, etc. I learned this when I was coming up through high school and it's been reconfirmed with every athlete who I have worked with since. The first time that it was presented to me was at Long Beach State Mens Volleyball Camp, by Alan Knipe.
- The time to send your video is perhaps, as early as 15 years old, and then once every two or three months. That is, if you get a response from the program that they see potential in your play or that they would like to see more. It doesn't hurt to send updates on your level of play, if you're fortunate enough to have access to consistent video footage of yourself. Seek out the program's assistant coaches' email address and send it to him or her. It't not a bad idea to carbon copy (CC) the program's head coach. However, do realize that over 90 percent of programs have someone in charge of recruiting athletes, and it is usually not the head coach. The head coach will often be the middle or last line of contact, if the assistants or recruiting coordinators think you may be a good fit.
2) This leads me to the second best option you have when trying to be recruited. A sure-fire way of getting yourself seen is to be playing volleyball in a location where the coach or coaches are present. That would be their school's volleyball camp. Now, volleyball camps can become expensive, and I would not recommend going to volleyball camps (will the sole desire of being recruited to that school) without having talked with the program and learning that they are looking for a player(s) in your position or that they are interested in you. Do your research and be aggressive when reaching out to schools.
- In regards to how many schools you should reach out to: that is dependent. Dependent firstly on your grades. If you take care of your grades, you won't close yourself off to any schools. If you don't work-hard and perform in school, consistently, then you will definitely close yourself off to some schools, a few that could have potentially been good fits. Start thinking about what kind of experience you want for yourself: big school, small school, close to the ocean, in the middle of the cold, a place that has four seasons of weather in the year, a winning record, a specific tactical style, GPA minimums, what division the school is in, are you okay playing Junior College ball, etc. I made a list when I was in high school and I numbered it down as I learned more and more of those factors did or did not suit me. By the end of my 11th grade season when I began reaching out to schools, I had 15 Division I schools, 12 Division II and III schools, Six NIAA schools, and seven Junior Colleges. That may seem like a lot, but only 17 of those schools replied to me, and only eight said they were interested. Only two of those eight were Division I. I decided that if I could get interest from Division I schools, then I only wanted to play Division I. Maybe that was the right move, maybe that was a mistake. It is different for everyone. What is certain, is that you should follow your heart and avoid letting people detour you from an experience that YOU actually want.
3) VISITS. This is the third thing of importance on my list. Once you start to get your volleyball game in front of coaches' faces and you start to converse with them, it is time to go experience the potential product for yourself. If you're fortunate enough to be invited on any, you are allowed five "official visits." This is when the school will pay for you to fly out, stay on campus (or near), usually stay with the team, feed you, show you the school, maybe have you watch a practice or a match, and give you the full college experience for a day or two or three. You only get five officials, so choose them wisely. If you're like me, and don't get offered any officials while you're in high school, then you can take "unofficial visits" in which you pay for the travel to the school and your housing (if you want to stay overnight), the school can buy you a meal or two while you're on campus, and they will show you some things about the program. This is what I did with the University of Hawaii Mens Volleyball team in 2009, my 12th grade season in high school. Feel free to ask the coaches you're speaking to about coming on a visit. You need to take the reigns on your recruiting process. If you sit back and wait then you could miss the boat (the opportunity).
- If you aren't getting the responses you want and volleyball is something that you REALLY want, then you shouldn't give up. I verbally committed as an Outside Hitter to the University of Hawaii in 2009 after that unofficial visit. I was committed as a walk-on, which means that I did not have a scholarship. The coaching staff changed as I came in that fall of 2009 and I was cut from the program. I decided that volleyball was still something I wanted, so I took an unforgettable offer from Randy Totorp at Long Beach City College (a Junior College in California) and transferred there to start the rebuilding process. The first season, I did some passing, and hitting, and began some setting. The second season I did all of the setting and reached out to Division I schools again. I didn't have much luck with responses. Again, only two, Long Beach State and, ironically, University of Hawaii. I waited and waited, and my best friend at LBCC, a Middle Blocker named Kris Johnson, was asked on a visit to UC Irvine. I ended up tagging along and asking to attach myself to the visit, a very bold move. They weren't interested in me, originally. A weird series of events happened and a lack of interest turned into a spot opening up on the roster, so they invited me on my first official visit. Again, as a walk-on without scholarship, I committed verbally to UCI, because I had done my research and thought that if I went there, we were bound to win the NCAA title at least one of my two seasons, regardless of what my role was. What was important, was that I made it back to where I wanted to get to and didn't settle on an experience that I didn't want.
4) In closing, what I will say is most important is gaining contacts in the volleyball world. The more players and coaches who know your name, the more opportunities you may give yourself. You have to work on your skills and improve as an athlete, a volleyball player, and as a teammate. Yet, the old saying is true, "Sometimes, it's not what you know, but who you know." Set yourself up for success in all facets and don't leave your career to chance. Be persistent and show programs how much you want to be there. It's rarely too early and it's never too late!
Email me if you have any questions (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tune back in to the next Sunday Morning Coffee.
- Christopher Austin