Interested in playing college volleyball? If so, it’s a good idea to start planning now.
In fact, college coaches we consulted for this story made it clear that high school and club players who are serious about stepping up to the next level should begin their preparation as early as their freshman year in high school. If you’re systematic and well-organized, this process can be a great learning experience and will help you find a school that’s a good fit – both for volleyball and academics.
Quick tip: Don’t get discouraged if your dream school isn’t showing interest. First and foremost, volleyball is about having fun. If you love the game and keep working hard, you’ll give yourself a chance to play at the next level. Remember, when a school says no, it’s not just about you and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re not a good volleyball player. Maybe the school is already well stocked at your position. Or maybe they need someone who jumps a little higher. Whatever the reason, just keep playing and working hard and enjoying the game. Chances are, you’ll arrive at a destination that’s right for you.
To help you prepare for the journey toward a possible collegiate volleyball career, Art of Coaching has asked recruiting expert Dianne DeNecochea to put together a comprehensive four-year checklist of things you’ll need to know and stuff you’ll need to do. Dianne is well qualified. She played indoor volleyball at the University of Tennessee, competed 5 years overseas and 12 years on the pro beach tour and is now a college volleyball recruiting advisor as the founder of ProActive Volley. She has also navigated the recruiting process with her daughter Avalon, a sophomore setter at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and many other players. Her younger daughter is a freshman in high school and currently embarking on the recruiting journey.
FRESHMAN YEAR CHECKLIST
- Watch some local college matches. Seeing the level of play that you’re aspiring to will give you an idea of where you’re at as a player and where you need to be by your senior year.
- Get on a competitive club team where you will get playing time. It’s important to play for knowledgeable coaches on a good team that practices at least twice a week. It’s also important to play at national qualifiers and tournaments so college coaches can watch you.
- Make a recruiting video. But don’t pay a lot of money for someone to make it for you. Using video from your phone or iPad and editing in iMovie or a similar program works just fine. Here’s an article from Art of Coaching Volleyball on how to make your own recruiting video.
- Create a target list of 15-30 schools. They should be schools you are interested in attending and schools where you would like to play volleyball. Look at all divisions and conferences around the country that you think are your level. (Ask your coach if you don’t know). Don’t count out any schools when you're a freshman. It's early in the process, so you should be open to many possibilities.
- Create your University Athlete (UA) profile at www.universityathlete.com. Every college coach/recruiter will use it to track and find the court you’re on at tournaments. Include your name, a picture, graduation year, contact info, your coach’s contact info, parents’ names and approach jump touch. It’s good to post a highlight video, too. This should all be on the free version.
- Email the college coaches on your target list. With the new recruiting rule, there is no back and forth communication between players and college coaches until June 15th after your sophomore year. But it’s NEVER too early to introduce yourself and express your strong interest in attending their school and playing volleyball for their program. College coaches will definitely start watching you play, and if they know you’re interested in their school and they like your video, they will mark you down and watch you during your freshman season.
- Start to find out which schools on your target list will need your position in your grad year. Become a detective and study the roster of the schools, use the prepvolleyball.com “College Needs List,” ask your club coach or director to find out which positions the schools at the top of your list will need in your grad year. They are allowed to ask college coaches this without asking specifically about you. When you find out, either keep the school on the list or take it off and add more.
- Attend winter clinics, spring clinics and summer college volleyball camps at schools you're interested in. Clinics are great for visibility and to get experience being coached by college coaches. The summer between your freshman and sophomore year is important to target specific schools on your list. If you’re a setter or a middle, make sure they need your position in your year before you go to the trouble of attending the camp. Colleges usually aren’t as certain about their needs at OH or L/DS for freshmen.
- Keep your grades up. No mystery to this one. The better you do in school, the more options you’ll have, especially with regard to merit-based/academic aid that many universities offer.
- Make yourself aware of NCAA core course requirements. Be sure your high school counselor is up to speed on what type of classes you need.
- Become involved in fitness and strength development programs. It doesn't need to be extensive.
- Give yourself a social media checkup. When college coaches mark you down on their watch list after receiving emails from you, you have begun the recruiting process with them and they will check your social media accounts. If they see things that shine a negative light – partying, inappropriate behavior, etc. – it can hurt your chances. Remember, coaches view posts with adult, grown-up eyes. They may stop recruiting you if they don't like what they see. Just be careful.
- Participate in volleyball lessons with a good instructor. In practice, you don't always get enough skill acquisition and technical coaching specific to your weaknesses. Lessons are a great way to improve your skill level outside of club practices. Invite a teammate (in a position that complements yours) so you can split the cost. Both of you will have an opportunity to get better!
SOPHOMORE YEAR CHECKLIST
The first thing you should know as a sophomore in high school is the new NCAA recruiting rule regarding communication between athletes and coaches. Before June 15 of your sophomore year, there can’t be ANY back-and-forth communication between the athlete or parent/guardian and a college coach.That doesn’t mean you can’t email coaches to tell them about yourself. It just means they can’t email you back, nor can they text you or talk on the phone.
There are many things you can do at this stage of your high school career to increase your chances of getting a scholarship, including researching which schools will need your position in your grad year and which volleyball summer camps you’ll want to attend.
Be proactive. It may not seem like the finish line of your high school career is near, but it will be here sooner than you think.
- Follow the checklist for high school freshmen. Be sure you have completed those items if you’re starting the recruiting process as a sophomore.
- Revise the target list you have made of schools that interest you. Now that you’ve played another year and gotten older, you may have a better idea of the major/area of study you’re interested in, so you can check the schools' websites to confirm they have what you're looking for. Also, reassess the area of the country and the conferences in each NCAA division to determine if you should look at other divisions for the level of play, size of school and academic reputation you want.
- Keep working through your target list to determine if schools need your position in your grad year. This may take some time, and it will require patience. It can be a guessing game, but with some detective work (see the ideas in the freshman target list), you'll learn this information over time.
- Continue to email coaches on your target list. It’s a good idea to check in every couple of weeks or so and let coaches know how you are doing on your volleyball team, in school, and with extracurriculars. Also, this makes it clear that you are still interested in their school and program. It will feel like you’re talking to a rock because coaches can’t respond during your sophomore year (even through your club coach) until June 15. But understand this: Most likely, they are reading your emails and watching you play.
- Work hard to continue improving your volleyball skills. Ask your club and/or high school coach for suggestions on how you can get better and work on your weaknesses. Continue private lessons, when you can, to fine tune your game.
- Become a great teammate by being positive and exuding energy. Don’t be an “eye-roller” or have bad body language when your teammates make a mistake. Be supportive. And be the type of player who bounces right back after a mistake. Coaches watch you in warm-ups and on the bench. They value a good attitude and good body language as much as good skills.
- Plan to go to more volleyball camps. As a sophomore, camps and clinics are crucial. You should still target clinics and summer camps at schools where you want to play. Email the coaches in advance to let them know that you will be there. This is a great way to show them that you’re serious about their program and to get a better feel for what their program is like. If budget is an issue, you don’t necessarily have to go to the entire camp. If it’s a 3- or 4-day camp, consider going for 2 days, especially if you have other camps to attend. The coaches can usually prorate the fee, and they understand that players often go to multiple camps.
- The floodgates open June 15! Communication between players and coaches is open and can go back and forth (emailing, texting, phone calls) as of midnight on June 15. This became the magical day in the recruiting process after the rule change in May of 2019. Communicate with coaches on June 15 or as soon as you can after June 15. You may hear right away from some coaches you’ve been contacting. Prepare before June 15 by knowing which coaches you'd like to call on your target list and having questions ready to ask. Also, be prepared to answer questions from them – if you get them on the phone or if they contact you.
Just like with academics, junior year is the most important year for volleyball athletes who want to compete at the next level. As of June 15 after your sophomore year, you’re allowed to communicate with coaches, so the floodgates are open and you will likely be speaking/texting/emailing with multiple coaches.Also,the NCAA allows you to take both unofficial and official college visits after August 1 of your sophomore year, so this is a big priority for high school juniors.
- Have a positive and strong mindset! Work hard in the classroom, on the court and in your recruiting process to find a great fit. This is the most important year of the college volleyball recruiting process.
- Set yourself up for success. You did some preliminary work your freshman and sophomore years creating your target list, and you emailed coaches. They read your emails, watched your video, and, most likely, watched you play at tournaments ... even though they couldn’t communicate with you. If you’re just starting the recruiting process now, it’s OK. Review the freshman and sophomore checklists and jump in.
- Continue working through your target list. Arrange in your order of preference and communication level with the school. Keep track of all communication between you and the coaches. Touch base with them every 2-3 weeks.
- Give yourself another social media checkup. When college coaches are recruiting you, they will check your social media accounts. If they see things that shine a negative light (as stated in the freshman checklist), they may stop recruiting you.
- Attend camps the summer before your junior year. You probably already booked camps by June 15th, but you can still contact the coaches of the camps. It’s a great excuse to touch base. Ask these questions: Do they need your position in your grad year? Are they interested in you for their program? What is the offer on the table (full scholarship, partial, walk-on, etc)?
- Attend spring and winter college clinics and showcases. Many schools hold clinics to have more opportunities to see players in action. There are also recruiting showcases, which can be good too but can also get expensive. If you're attending a college clinic, make sure it's at a school you're interested in. Email them before the clinic to let coaches know you will be there and are excited.
- Take unofficial (and official) visits beginning August 1 before your junior year. Official visits (where the school pays) are usually later in the recruiting process, but unofficial visits are good to arrange with the coaches when there is interest on both sides. A great time to visit is during their fall college season or during spring practices. See if you can picture yourself there.
- When talking to a school about a scholarship offer, clarify the different types and what is covered. For example, is it full, partial, walk-on? Does it cover tuition for a fifth year, summer school tuition, medical expenses? Are there need-based and merit-based options available? Know this before you attend summer camps and/or take unofficial visits to be sure it’s OK for you and your family. Otherwise, you can gracefully pull out of camps and not visit because it’s not a fit in that respect. This process can be expensive, so each visit or camp needs to make sense. Coaches understand.
- Talk with coaches about where you stand on their list. This can be done in person during campus visits, on the phone, via email or text. This will help you narrow down your list.
- Understand the timeline for when the schools on your list want to make a decision. Are they in a rush, in no hurry, have an offer out to another player and you’re next on the list if she says no? If you have an offer on the table, your timeline speeds up, and they need to know that too.
- Stay in touch often, and learn as much as you can about the coaching staff, their philosophies and coaching style. Get to know them. Communication and learning is key. Talk to former players, if possible, to learn more about the coach and school. You will spend so much time with the coaches and your teammates, you will be miserable if it’s not a good fit in that area!
- Register with the NCAA Eligibility Center. You’ll eventually need to provide transcripts and test scores (after you take the SAT or ACT).
- Register to take the SAT/ACT. Once you get your scores back, you need to send them to the NCAA Eligibility Center. Coaches who you are talking back and forth to during the recruiting process will probably want these scores too.
- Stay focused on your classes, and keep your studies a high priority. Academics are very important your junior year. This is true for all college-bound students in general. For a student-athlete, your grades are an important consideration for coaches. If they don’t have to worry about your academics, they can focus on you as a person and a player. This will open up more college volleyball opportunities for you.
SENIOR YEAR CHECKLIST
By senior year, most athletes are fairly deep into the recruiting process. If you aren’t, there’s still time to catch up, but you have to be efficient and act quickly.Among the important action items for high school seniors looking to compete in college are:
–Figuring out which schools still need their position.
–Showcasing their talents.
–Communicating with coaches to find out where they might be in the pecking order. Most college coaches will be honest with you about where you stand. If you’re an outside hitter and they have one player ahead of you on their recruiting board, they will likely say something like, “If so and so doesn’t come here, you’re our next choice.”
- If you’re an uncommitted senior, time is of the essence. If you haven’t started the process,
follow the freshman checklist. Reach out to coaches at schools you may want to attend who may still
need your position in your grad year. Division 1 schools complete recruiting earlier than
Division 2, 3 and NAIA. NCAA rules have slowed down the recruiting process, so as time goes
on it will become more common to be uncommitted entering your senior year.
- Attend as many “unsigned” showcases and clinics as possible to get in front of more
coaches. Make sure the coaches attending are from schools you are interested in.
- Scan the “College Needs List” on prepvolleyball.com. This is even more crucial to
speed up your process by finding out which schools still need your position and where
you could see yourself going as a student-athlete.
- Apply to the schools you want to attend. Early applications are usually the best option; it’s
good to get them out of the way. Most colleges begin accepting applications around Sept.
1, but make sure to research your specific target schools' deadlines and let the coaches know
if you’re planning to apply.
- After your verbal commitment, complete your NCAA eligibility profile. For
student-athletes, this is a simple matter of clicking a button.
- Make a phone call to the other schools that offered you a spot. This is respectful, and it's a
nice gesture to tell them your decision over the phone rather than letting them find out on
social media or through others. It lets them know that you’re courteous and care. Remember, you may
see them on the other side of the net during your college volleyball career.
- Announce your verbal commitment through your social media platforms and on prepvolleyball.com and/or Rich Kern’s recruiting registry. This lets coaches and others know your plans and that you are no longer in the recruiting process.
- Plan for your National Letter of Intent signing experience. This is a ceremonial event and
a great photo opportunity for capturing memories and celebrating. Depending on your city, high school and area where you live, there may be a city wide “signing” of all athletes – or simply at your school. Find out from your high school athletic director what typically happens on “signing day” in November.
- Reach out to your soon-to-be teammates on social media. Getting to know the players
who you’ll be going to battle with is a great way to begin forming a strong team bond.
- Plan your summer. Find out from your college coaches what’s expected of you. Will you need
to go to summer school? If so, who will pay for it? What will your housing situation be? Be
proactive in fact-finding.
- Keep training and practicing after both your verbal commitment and signing. Some recruits
relax at this point, which is a bad idea. You should grind even harder and focus on
getting ready to compete, especially if you want to challenge for playing time right away.
- Take care of any nagging injuries that you may have had during your senior year of high school. Get stronger and healthier than ever so you can have a positive start to your collegiate volleyball experience.
- Pay close attention to communications from your coaches or the school’s compliance
department so you can complete whatever is being asked of you. For example, working
out housing arrangements or getting a physical. Again, be prompt. Respond within 24 hours.
- After your high school graduation, send your final transcripts and your degree
immediately to the NCAA Eligibility Center and to the admissions office of the college
you’ll be attending. Overnight it with a tracking number so you’ll know when it’s received.
Once the NCAA has it, they’ll call the conference office and the conference office will let
your school know if you’re eligible to compete. Don’t send this info by snail mail. The faster the
NCAA receives it, the more time you’ll have if there are eligibility issues to iron out.