Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations as a College Volleyball Recruit

unrealistic expectations

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Attention volleyball parents,
Is it your child’s dream to play volleyball at the next level?

To close the gap between that dream and the reality, there is one thing you must get clear, because it can make or break the recruiting journey. It will not only keep your student-athlete from missing out on important opportunities, but you’ll save time, effort, money, and a lot of anxiety, too! That first step is to avoid unrealistic expectations. 

Making the team

I remember back in elementary school when the PE teacher would announce it was time to line up for one of our epic games of kickball (yes, we were sooo into it)! Captains were chosen and were lucky enough to get to select their own players. Excited to be able to create their very own “dream team”, each captain took turns, methodically picking their players one by one, until only one remained.

Who got picked first? Usually your first round “draft picks” were the best athletes (or your best friends)Obviously, you picked the ones who could help you win.

But what about the rest?

Sadly, it was usually the not-so-gifted athletes who were left unchosen at the end. These kids didn’t necessarily have NO athletic skills. They weren’t terrible. They just weren’t quite as fast, as coordinated, or generally as good as the others who were chosen ahead of them.

In PE class, everyone gets chosen, at least eventually. Everyone knew that if you waited long enough you’d get on ONE of the teams (and of course, the teacher made sure of that).

But volleyball recruiting is not PE class.

In volleyball, there are people, including yourself, who will definitely want to help your son or daughter find a place to play, and possibly even become a part of someone’s “dream team”. There are the high school and club coaches who say they’ll help, but the reality is the athlete must be WAYYY more proactive if they don’t want to be left for last (or possibly not get picked at all)!

From unrealistic expectations to real opportunities

I do believe that most capable players can find a home on team where they can make a contribution. But just as not every high school basketball player is cut out to play at Duke, and every football player isn’t going to make the starting lineup at Alabama, the first step to the volleyball recruiting reality is to stop chasing down the dream of playing at a school that is not a good match.

If your student-athlete is reaching too high, it can be a recipe for an unpleasant outcome.

Expectation Management 101

To curb some of the common expectation misconceptions, it’s important to know where you stand academically, financially, and athletically, as a family. This will help BIG TIME with keeping it real, yet preserving a healthy mindset for your athlete. A healthy mindset is vital, especially for these important reasons:

  • This child of yours is still a child.
  • He or she likely already feels a load of pressure just making it through the social and academic realm that is high school.
  • And now, not only does your child need to be academically qualified for college, but he or she has to also try to gain the attention of a coach who in all likelihood doesn’t know he/she is alive.

Every athlete’s journey is a bit different, but I believe in your success story.

Here are a few guidelines that you should incorporate along the way, to help you target the right schools and avoid unrealistic expectations, so your student-athlete can achieve their goal of playing college volleyball.

Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations #1: Academic Expectations

Identifying the right target for your search starts with knowing a bit about the academic “personality” of the school. After all, the whole goal in this endeavor is to have your son or daughter attend and graduate from a college that has prepared him or her well for life, not just for the court.

Have a look at the academic profile and course selections for colleges your student-athlete is considering and have him/her ask these questions:

Do they offer the major(s) you might be considering?
What is the average GPA of accepted freshmen?
What percentage of out-of-state (if that’s your situation) students are accepted?
Are your test scores in line with the school’s ranges?
Will it be challenging enough? Too much?

One of the first schools my son began to receive emails from was Princeton. He had gotten to know the head coach over the years through participating in the USA Volleyball program, and was flattered when they began showing him some attention. Despite having a good rapport with the coach, we both knew that the caliber of the Ivy League was not a good fit, so my son politely replied and said he didn’t think it would be the right school for him. The coach appreciated that, because he could then move on, and my son was free to focus ahead to a school that was a better fit.

Bottom line: 

If you know a school is so challenging that your athlete will be over his/her head or just could not academically qualify, don’t waste everyone’s time pursing it. There are always a few exceptions, but no matter what happens, taking the right classes in high school and getting the best grades possible is always the best course of action!

Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations #2: Financial Expectations

While the hope is to get your child’s school paid for (or at least as much as possible) it’s important to know how athletic money is distributed. It’s also important to realize that not receiving athletic aid is not the end of the world, because you might be able to support your college bill in a number of other ways. In my family’s case, my daughter received athletic money and my son got academic money. With the help of some small student loans and private scholarship awards to cover the difference, both achieved their goal of getting to college and playing for their schools.

Athletic Scholarships

The NCAA and NAIA sets rules for the number of athletic scholarships available by sport*.

Division I women’s volleyball allows a limit of 12 scholarships per team, except the Ivy League, which does not give athletic scholarships.

Division I men’s volleyball has an equivalency cap of 4.5.

Division II allows 8 women’s and 4.5 men’s scholarships.

Division III schools do not award athletic scholarships at all, but they do offer other forms of financial aid that student athletes may qualify for.

The NAIA allows 8 for both genders.

*NAIA and NCAA Men’s volleyball are equivalency sports, which means awards can be shared among players, with different portions going to several athletes. As long as the total doesn’t exceed an equivalent of their scholarship limit (4.5 for DIV I, 8 for NAIA), the coach can allocate it at his/her discretion. NCAA women’s volleyball is a head count sport, which means funds are allocated per player, with up to 12 players can receiving 100% (aka, a “full ride”). 

Cost of Attendance

The best way to avoid unrealistic expectations in the area of your finances is to see the school’s “cost of attendance” estimation on their website. Make sure you fill out a FAFSA to optimize your opportunities for financial aid – and this applies to any school. If the location is far from home, make sure to factor in transportation. Don’t forget housing, books, and spending money for your student-athlete, too, so they can go have some fun once in a while!

Bottom line:

In case there is no athletic offer on the table, assume you will be footing the bill yourself, and seek out schools (and resources to help pay for them) accordingly. If you happen to get some “free” money, that will be a bonus.

Avoiding Unrealistic Expectations #3: Athletic Expectations

So now that you’ve looked at the academics and the finances, how do you know which schools are going to be a good athletic match? 

Start watching as much live college volleyball as you can.

If you don’t have a home team that you can go see in person, watch matches on TV or online from different levels and conferences. This helps give you an idea of the coaching style, team chemistry, and athletic caliber of several different teams. Getting feedback from current coaches can also help give you an idea of what level is reasonable to target.

Begin casting a wide net, reaching out to coaches from schools in various levels from each of the following: 

Safety Schools: These are schools you know your son or daughter can definitely qualify for academically AND can very likely be an impact player on their team. Your child’s SAT scores, grades, and/or athletics qualifications exceed that of the average student at their safety schools. Many times, these are not going to be the “big brand” schools, but don’t overlook them. Your student-athlete’s best fit school could very possibly be among them.

Target Schools: These are schools where your child’s scores fall well within the average range for accepted students. They also have volleyball programs that are the best match for your child’s ability, height, commitment level, etc. Of course, there are no guarantees, but it’s not unreasonable to expect to be offered/accepted to several of your child’s target schools.

Dream Schools: A dream school is one where your child would love to play if all factors lined up in an ideal world – academics, athletics, financials, location, etc. As a family, help your child weigh each category in terms of which gets more priority over the others. While nothing lines up “perfectly” every time, reaching out to a few dream schools based on your priorities doesn’t hurt.

The Broken Leg test

Something else to consider is a school where your student-athlete would be happy if something happened that prevented them from playing, like a career-ending injury or other situation that could change their intended path. This is known as the “broken leg test”. If a school passes the broken leg test AND it’s at an appropriate athletic level, definitely keep it on your target list!

Bottom Line: Include a variety of schools on your list, cast a wide net, prioritize what factors matter to you, and don’t rule out the lower conferences.

Achieving the goal

The more of the right coaches your student-athlete reaches out to, the greater the opportunities there are for them to get noticed by targeted schools that are a match – in the eyes of both the player and the coach.

Remember, as coaches evaluate each class of recruits, they are mentally assembling a team that they feel will add value to their program and help make it better.

Just like in that kickball game, the players might not always get to pick their own team (and this is very true of volleyball recruiting). That said, by educating your student-athlete to avoid some of the common unrealistic expectations, you can help him/her take some of the guesswork out of recruiting, have more confidence to reach out to those best fit schools, and ultimately achieve the goal of playing volleyball at the college level.

Here’s to your success and to a wonderful college experience!

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Website Designer, Teacher & Volleyball Mom

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