At all levels from middle school to college, coaches look for certain attributes in a volleyball player. Especially for club tryouts, coaches track the athletes using some kind of rating system on the various sought-after facets of ability. Leaping ability is a big part of the package -- “if a kid can touch 10 feet, 2 inches, that kid is going to get a look,” says Maryland-based volleyball coach Jerry Hulla with a laugh -- but many other variables also come into play.
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Volleyball coaches look for speed, agility and movement, as well all-important footwork, says Hulla, technical director of the Columbia Volleyball Club in Maryland. They look at the player’s build, seeking a good strength base. “We look for coordination, and what type of flexibility they have,” he adds. Coaches key on athleticism even more so than technique and skills, because if the tryout candidate is not a really good athlete, the game becomes a lot harder. “Particularly with our sport, because there is so much jumping, coaches look at how high they can jump and how high above the net they can play,” Hulla notes.
Coaches want to see somebody who is vocal, energetic and encouraging with teammates, Hulla says. They look also for the allied skills of court vision and volleyball IQ, which involves critical thinking and problem solving. There’s a difference between talking -- such as calling for the ball or shouting “I’m open”-- and communicating, which involves passing along information as you assess the game, such as how a rival player serves, that helps the team. Coach Pete Waite in his book “Aggressive Volleyball” notes while the best athlete is the quickest and highest jumping, the best volleyball player also displays a strong volleyball IQ. Effective teams blend both types of players.
If you are a player trying out, you’ll need to demonstrate that you are willing to try new things -- to change technique or adapt rather than being set in your ways. Coaches look for a player who can correct her approach and take criticism. Some players have skills and athletic ability, but they don’t want to change, especially as they get older, Hulla notes, so coaching them “becomes an effort in futility.”
At your tryout, coaches check to see if you demonstrate leadership by your example, your work ethic and hustle. “This is very, very important to me and to a lot of coaches,” Hulla notes. Leadership also ties into volleyball IQ: whether you know what’s going on the court so you can help direct traffic and organize what is going on during a drill or scrimmage. “Do you have the ability to make people around you better by doing what you do?” Hulla asks rhetorically. Experienced coaches make this one of their tryout criteria, he observes.