Thursday, February 25, 2016

What Political Campaigns and Volleyball Coaching have in Common

by Kathy DeBoer, AVCA Executive Director

I know you are busy recruiting and coaching, but have you noticed that it’s political campaign season?  If not, just keep doing what you’re doing; if the cacophony has not interrupted you yet, enjoy your peace.

I’ll admit it interrupts me because I let it.  I’m a certified news junkie: I start with NPR in the morning, read the Wall Street Journal headlines while waiting for my coffee at Starbucks, tune-in to POTUS in my car, listen to “On the Media” podcasts on airplanes, watch the debates, read TIME magazine, and end the day with the New York Times on my I-pad.  This overindulgence in the fourth estate has led me to observations about the similarities between campaigns and coaching.

Our number one commonality seems to be that no matter what is actually happening we must act like we are succeeding! Both coaches and politicians do this with great skill and remarkable conviction.  In politics they call it ‘spin:’ a third place finish is touted as a win; an opponent’s good showing is belittled as cheating; meanness is called straight-talk; blandness labeled as pragmatism. 

In coaching we actually have slogans repeated to encourage this mindset: ‘Catch them doing something good,’ and ‘Focus on the process instead of the results.’ I’m not criticizing this behavior; in fact, on the coaching side of things, I find it laudable and actually a bit amazing. 

I was a mentor for a college coach whose team had an awful season.  Our weekly chats were inspiring to me (I know I was supposed to be the mentor J).  He just never gave up on his team even when they found new ways to lose, he fought the natural tendency to get discouraged at the end of October, and all the way through the last weekend, he found reasons for positive momentum. 


Political pundits may call it spin, but you, who live with a scoreboard that designates a ‘loser’ every match, have found authentic ways to stay optimistic, positive and doggedly determined.  What a gift you give if you can pass this characteristic on to those you coach.
Second, relentless criticism is just part of the gig.  We pick at Bernie for his hair, Donald for his makeup, Hillary for her bathroom breaks, Marco for his sweating . . . You get picked at because a player transferred, because your team didn’t win as many as last year, because you didn’t take the next step in the tourney, because you have too many injuries, because a player is unhappy, because a parent is unhappy . . . .  

It takes fortitude to embrace a leadership role.  Criticism is easy. Running for president and having everything you do and have ever done publicly analyzed, mocked, and dissected, is hard. Cynicism is easy.  Inspiring players to be better than they think they can be when both the scoreboard and their statistics say they are not very good, is hard.   I almost lost a promising young staff member this week because she needed encouragement when all I was offering was critique.  The misstep brought me back to critical moments with players who I almost or at times did, lose. Blaming others is easy.  Embracing a challenge with all your heart, knowing that, if you lose, your heart will certainly break, is hard.   
Third, in both politics and coaching, nice guys/gals finish last often enough that it is very tempting to join the dark side. I had a coach say to me this year ‘every time I do the right thing for a kid, I get burned.’  Those who cheat kids, lie to their colleagues, negatively recruit, and run players off, are winning enough that the ‘everyone is doing it’ excuse for bad behavior starts to look like the prudent choice.  Yet, I am struck by the number of you who talk openly about ethical behavior, who refuse to buy into the narrative that money and pressure will inevitably corrupt us, and who practice ways to stay centered and focused on what is faithful behavior in dealing with your players and colleagues. 

Today, I’m choosing to stay hopeful that this will eventually be the story-line that emerges in this political campaign.    In the meantime, as I celebrate my 10th anniversary as your executive director, I’m thankful for you and the many examples of passionate, authentic leadership you show me every day!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Are Elite Camps a Thing of the Past?

by Kyrsten Becker, Assistant Coach - Morehead State University

While working a club camp does not count as recruiting, no one can deny that being on court with recruits is exposure you may not otherwise get.  Many clubs have multi-day elite camps, where college coaches are hired as camp coaches.  The players get high-level training, college coaches get to work with young volleyball players, and everyone benefits.

The question is… How much is everyone benefiting, and are they benefiting equally?

In an attempt to take recruiting out of camps and level the playing field, new legislation has been proposed.  The intent is “to specify that an institution’s coach or non-coaching staff member with volleyball specific duties may only be employed only at his/her institution’s camps or clinics, or at other institutional camps or clinics.”

Essentially, coaches could no longer work club or high school camps, and only work camps for colleges.  Football has already adopted a similar rule, to prevent college coaches from flying all over the country in an effort to get an “in” with recruits. 

- Removes recruiting advantages for those able to work camp vs. those who cannot.
- Frees up more time to focus on your team.
- Reduces travel for coaches.

- Volunteers, Director of Operations, and other staff may lose supplemental income and networking opportunities.
- Limits recruiting exposure for athletes who cannot afford to travel to college camps.
- Reduces educational opportunities for coaches and players.

Just like any possible legislation changes there are a myriad of pro’s and con’s.  With this rule being proposed for all of Division I, not just the Power 5, there are strong opinions on both sides.  If it’s important to you, make sure to voice your opinion with your compliance.  This rule could have huge ramifications!

Monday, February 8, 2016

The VPI Does Not Lie

Why Include Behavioral Insights?

One factor that makes the AVCA’s College Prep Combines unique when compared to other recruiting assessments is the recognition that success as a volleyball players goes beyond physical metrics (avcaVPI™) and includes the ability to function in a team setting.  Each participant is given a DiSC assessment, a self-administered, on-line questionnaire, and provided with an 8-page Athlete Behavioral Profile (ABP).  The College Prep events all include a 45-minute debriefing session, delivered by a certified behavioral analyst, who unpacks for the players and their parents the mysteries behind functional and dysfunctional team play. 

The goal is twofold: 1.) to introduce players to the ways their style of interacting is impacting their teammates, and, 2.) to give college recruiters insight into the temperament of the players they are considering adding to their teams.  Unlike the VPI score, the ABP is not a competitive measure, but rather an assessment designed to promote self-awareness and more effective group interaction – two critical components of success in volleyball.   

 The DiSC categories are Driver, Influencer, Steadier, and Complier.  All players (and coaches) are a combination of these traits, and most have one or two that are dominant.  Teams in which players value different traits for their contributions to the success of the group are generally functional teams, meaning, they play up to their potential; teams in which there is tension between players who are ‘wired’ differently will spend as much time fighting each other as they do their opponents.  These are the classic under-achieving teams.  
The reason the ABP is now part of all AVCA College Prep programs is because coaches know that internal squabbles can destroy even the most athletically-gifted team, and yet, as evaluators of talent, coaches were not routinely including interpersonal traits in their calculus on prospects. 

 The DiSC assessment is already utilized by numerous college programs and has proven reliability in the 15 to 18 year-old age group. Adapting this tool for use in AVCA College Prep Programs is helping address the heretofore unknown: What is she like? 
Just like the avcaVPI™ is a ‘short hand’ evaluation of volleyball-related athleticism, the ABP is a ‘short hand’ look at a player’s personality and behavioral style on the court.  All AVCA members have free access to both the athleticism metrics and the temperament traits of the players who have attended College Prep events. Simply log in using your AVCA user name and password.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The VPI Does Not Lie

Finding the Diamond in Denver

In 2015 AVCA partnered with Kay Rogness to offer a College Prep Combine in Denver at the Colorado Crossroads Qualifier.  The Crossroads event is unique in that participants get a position-specific video tape along with the Volleyball Performance Index score (VPI) and behavioral profile (ABP).  Due to some unexpected technology challenges we announced the event later than either of us intended, but still ended up with 57 participants. 

When we caucused after the event to review the results, as we always do,  we were stunned to find a player, Seyvion Waggoner, a 2017 outside hitter who had scored a 604.1!  To put our shock in context, an avcaVPI™ score over 600 puts a player in the rarified company of 1%ers; this is the territory occupied by Kim Hill (USAV National Team), Amber Rolfzen (Nebraska All-American), and Ali Frantti (2014 AVCA DI Freshman of the Year).  We had seen 600’s at the women’s national team tryouts, among the Under Armour All-Americans, and every now and then at Phenom, but never at a College Prep Combine.
As you all know, Crossroads is packed with college coaches from all over the country and representing all divisions and sectors.  The 800+ teams make the trip worthwhile for all schools regardless of budget. 

 Even though Seyvion was just a sophomore, I wanted to see who was recruiting her, so I wandered . . . and wandered . . . and wandered over to her court – if you have recruited Crossroads you know the scale of the event.  Aside from a few parents, the court was deserted, not a college coach in sight. 
After watching for 10 minutes I knew why: the play was very ragged, the ball handling poor, and the setting below average.  Seyvion only touched the ball twice - shanking a pass on serve receive and tipping a low trap set over the block.  Without spending considerable time watching the play on that court, or having a specific reason to even go there, you would never know there was a 15-year-old 1%er in that match.  

Seyvion Waggoner is one of the reasons we created the avcaVPI™.  Where will she end up playing in college?  We don’t know.  Will she get good enough at playing volleyball to have a significant number of choices? We hope so. 
What we do know is this:
1.  Athletes with her combination of size, speed, jumping ability and attack mechanics are rare.
2.  There are more of them scattered all over the U.S., training in small clubs and playing on courts where no one is likely to find them.
3.  We can’t lose them because our current recruiting protocols don’t identify them. 
Seyvion was the only 600 among the Denver 57, but she was not the only athletic player.  There were 16 other players who put up ‘college-ready’ numbers, i.e. they scored at 40% or above when compared with those at their position on college rosters.  Four were seniors and graduated last spring, two are playing in DII and the other two are on Two-Year College rosters. 12 are still available.

We go back on Friday, February 26 for our 2nd Denver College Prep Combine.  Will we find another Seyvion? Or Carly, or Jannia, or Ashton, or Berki, or Danika, or Olivia, or Arianna , . . . . ?
Yes we will; we find them at every combine - college-level, college ready athletes looking for the right place to develop their skills.*  

* Denver Combine data will be available by Saturday morning, Feb. 27. Pick up the code at the college coach check-in desk.  No need for you to come to the testing; you save your recruiting days and dollars without missing the players with upside athleticism. 

Monday, February 1, 2016

The VPI Does Not Lie

The Nashville Nine!

At AVCA College Prep events we keep meticulous records of player’s scores and information.  This allows us to track performance over time and also to correlate volleyball performance index scores (avcaVPI™) with college enrollment. 

We have been to Nashville for two years, 2014 & 2015, working with Alliance club director, Jeff Wismer, and tournament director, Jimmy Miranda, on a College Prep Combine the night before their AAU Super Regional.  283 players participated over the two years period, 4 graduated in 2014 and 45 graduated in 2015. 

 Of those 49 graduates, 12 were 40%ers, i.e. their avcaVPI™ score ranked at 40% or higher when compared with college players at their position.  From an athleticism standpoint, these players were ‘college ready.’ 
Nine of the 12, the Nashville Nine, are now on college rosters!  Four are playing in DI, three in DII, and two on NAIA teams.  In other words, 75% of the ‘college ready’ group was offered a roster position, and likely scholarship money, by a college coach.  Breaking the analysis down by position, all three setters and four of five hitters found the right college fit, and half of the liberos.
So what happened to the other 37 graduates? 46% also found their way onto college rosters as freshman – three landed in DI, three in DII, two in DIII and nine in NAIA schools.  So of the 49 graduates, over 51% reached their goal of playing college volleyball.  

Let’s be clear: we are talking about correlation, not causation.  The avcaVPI™ does not cause a scholarship offer, but it does take the ‘smoke and mirrors’ out of the recruiting process for both participants and college coaches by providing a validated, reliable, comparative starting point.   

As we all know, evaluating volleyball skills is a contextual exercise.  The interdependence inherent in the sport often makes weaker players on good teams look better than more athletic players on weak teams.  The VPI is a ‘first sort’ tool, or maybe ‘a second look’ tool that helps club and college coaches avoid the mistake of leaving good athletes on the sidelines. 

A final word about Nashville, there are still 46 college ready 40%ers available from the 2014 and 2015 Combines.  You find them by logging in to the database and searching by event. 

You can export the participants to an excel spreadsheet and/or refine your search farther by position, graduation year, and/or state.  These players are college-level athletes.  Don’t you want to investigate whether they can help your team?
We head back to Nashville on Friday, March 4 for the 2016 Combine.  All the new avcaVPI™ scores will be available by midnight for any coach recruiting the Super Regional.  You don’t need to come to the combine and waste a recruiting day.  Just bring your phone, Ipad or table, and we will give you the results.