Two things before I start this...
1) I will always stand by the notion that a "better fit" is substantially more important than playing at a "higher level"
2) You can ALWAYS improve your game, skill and abilities. There is ALWAYS room to grow.
We need to have a more realistic perspective of where athletes fit athletically. This is one of the hardest parts of my job when it comes to helping athletes find a volleyball home. It's hard to understand how every college coach in the country isn't emailing an athlete after being on a state championship team, because that is the culmination of high school volleyball; but it isn't necessarily a criteria for college coaches.
The biggest reasons we have a poor perspective of where athletes fit at the college level is because we don't go watch enough college volleyball and we have a poor understanding of what D2 looks like. Those things by themselves will hurt an athlete when it comes to recruiting, potentially more than anything else.
Volleyball is a lot like boxing: there is a TON of skill involved, but you also have to be able to punch really, really hard. You don't go into the ring against someone that has 100lbs on you and even someone that has 30-40lbs on you is probably a bad idea. The physical nature of the sport of volleyball at a high level is I think what a lot of people miss. There are basically different weight-classes in D1 volleyball and even within D2 volleyball. Yes, some D2 programs are going to be in a higher weight class. Bigger, stronger and more physical athletes tend to win out at the higher levels and those are the athletes that many coaches are looking for.
Now we have to talk a little bit about those people involved in this process that are influential in giving parents and athletes the perspective of where their daughter can and/or should play. I do NOT think that club and high school coaches have a "bad-eye" when it comes to evaluating talent. The biggest thing lacking in this step is a overall knowledge of the recruiting landscape at any given time. A majority of club and high school coaches are not talking to a massive variety of college coaches at a variety of levels across the country like I am. Very few are doing this full time. Even in my present situation, the recruiting landscape is changing so rapidly that it's difficult to really nail down needs and wants from college coaches on a consistent basis. Plus, as I have talked about before, college coaches are REALLY good at their jobs. Their job is to find talented athletes that can help them win conference championships and beyond. College coaches do not always need the help or assistance of clubs or high school coaches because they go out and FIND what they are looking for. So, when a college has their "Top 5" for any given position, it's not that an athlete couldn't get in their if they worked really hard, it is the idea that I have my group of kids and I'm going to focus on that group as opposed to adding to that group consistently. Remember, fit is important! Out of the group of schools that match up athletically and academically for any given athlete, how many of those schools in that group are actually looking for her position?
I say all of that to say that just because a club or high school coach says an athlete can play in the Power 5 or "D1" it doesn't necessarily mean that they should, nor does it mean that those school in that general criteria are looking for what that athlete can or could give them. If you are getting interest from schools at a different level than what you "should be playing in" does not mean that you are letting someone down or not playing up to your potential. What we are seeing with the 2022 recruiting class over the last few months and what we WILL see on the transfer-portal in the next few months is proof that we should be more focused on FIT vs the FANCY.
What I have seen continuously in the last 3 years of doing this is athletes focusing on schools at the top of the food chain. Instead of focusing on where they are realistically going to be a good fit and have the best experience. I see way more emails go out to the coaches in the Power 5 than I do the other 270 or so D1 schools out there. The mistake with this is that recruiting is one big trickle down. You don't really have the timeline (not anymore with the new rules) to exert all of your options at the top of your list and then create an entirely new list with schools closer to the middle. Because all of those schools in the middle have already focused on their group of athletes. By the time you are done getting strung along, or sometimes stringing yourself along, other schools have identified who is most interested in them. I'm not saying there won't be ANY options, but you do have to remember the scope of athletes that are looking for opportunities vs the amount of opportunities out there. I say this all the time and some people still don't believe me, but this is NOT an easy process.
I think that recruiting is a process and MORE focus and time at the beginning should be spent on where there is a great fit both academically and athletically and less time on the level. I would encourage all athletes to expand their list of schools into states and levels that match what you're looking for in a college experience.
You aren't going to win an argument with me that the athletes playing in their volleyball conference championships in the next week at the D2 level are any less excited or competitive than those D1 athletes doing the same thing. That should say a lot!
Sign up for the PRI Newsletter by clicking HERE!
Check out the PRI Talk Podcast by clicking HERE!