Recruiting is hard. For the top 1% of athletes it doesn't ever seem that way, but for everyone else it can be a real challenge. There are lots of variables that go into a coach's decision to recruit one player over another. One of those variables is the ability to be seen by a coach. A perfect example of this is happening right now in recruiting with the 2022 class. Those athletes that were seen at Triple Crown, TOTF and maybe the Sunshine Qualifier are ahead of the game compared to most of the rest of the 22 class. If a college coach got a good eval on an athlete, they have a decent shot of being in that "top tier" of recruits and if they didn't get a good eval on an athlete they are behind for right now (Listen to my Podcast on Tiered Recruiting HERE). So this issue of playing on teams outside of your graduating class, does have an impact on your visibility as an athlete, usually in the negative direction.
Playing up a year...
If you are a junior in high school and playing up on an 18s team, then you are in possibly the worst possible recruiting situation there is. Even before the calendar changes for 18s teams a few years ago, playing up on an 18s team had a negative impact on your recruiting. You are limiting your exposure to only a select few coaches in this situation. Unless a school is specifically looking for an unsigned senior, then budget, travel and coordinating tournament calendars can make it hard for a college coach to come watch an 18s tournament. They want as much "bang for their buck" as they can get. Very few coaches have the resources to come to an 18s tournament to watch an athlete in the junior class. Can't they probably find someone with that same level of talent at a 17s tournament, where there will also be 16s and even 15s (Juniors, sophomores and freshmen)? While there are some really good ways and some average ways to increase your visibility as an athlete, anything that can decrease your visibility could negatively impact your recruiting. Now, this honestly won't have a huge impact on recruiting at 10s - 13s, but once you enter high school it can definitely have an impact.
If I am a college coach and I am recruiting an outside hitter for the 2023 class, then the bulk of the recruiting I am going to be looking at are going to be playing in the 16s. So I am going to spend the majority of my time watching those courts. Sure, I will occasionally go watch a 17s court if there is an athlete playing up on a team, but I am also spending a lot of time seeing other athletes in positions that I am no longer recruiting. In the end I am probably spending less time overall watching that athlete. It is the same issue when it comes to recruiting regionally. When I was a head coach, I could drive to Dallas or maybe Houston and watch a TON of talented athletes and I would plan on making that drive multiple times throughout a club season. I might have a talented athlete that is interested in my school from Arizona or Colorado, but chances are I am going to see that athlete play fewer times because of travel budget restrictions. I couldn't just fly to every qualifier across the country or to every local tournament outside of Texas. But I could drive to a lot of local or regional tournaments. So, unless that athlete from out of state is going to make a HUGE impact in my program and she is really, really interested in my school, I am most likely going to focus more on the athletes that I am automatically going to watch 3-4 times a year versus the athlete I am going to watch 1 time.
What about playing down a year?
I think you can make all the same arguments that I am making above and apply them to this situation. Remember, you are being recruited against other athletes in YOUR class. When you are not playing against athletes in your class and playing athletes that are younger than you, it could certainly raise some questions in a coach's mind. Not always, of course, but for the same reason a coach wants to watch you play against tough competition, they want to see how you do against athletes in your class because they want to see what you're really capable of.
It's not a science of course. Depending on your goals each club season and the goals or foundations of your club, maybe you want to play on a team outside of your recruiting class. Maybe winning a gold medal at USAV Junior Nationals is your goal and the best way to do that is be on a team than you might normally. Everyone has different reasons for their decisions in club volleyball. Recruiting should certainly come into play when making those decisions though. If you do find yourself in a "different" recruiting situation than most of those athletes in your class, you MUST take a proactive approach to your recruiting process. The "it will be okay" approach probably isn't going to be good enough. Make sure that you are always taking the steps you need to in order to find the right academic and athletic situation for yourself.
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