Club volleyball tryouts.
At the end of each fall, an army of high school volleyball players looking for college coach exposure descend upon courts all over the country. Their regular season has recently come to an end, and they only have a few short days to reset, switch gears and prepare for a multi-day tryout that will be a true test of their physical skills and mental endurance.
As a Division II college volleyball coach and 9-year Elite Club coach veteran, I know all about the stresses of club volleyball tryouts. Every year, during the weeks leading up to club tryouts, I’ll have players send me that nervous text. “Coach Dani, I’m so nervous for tryouts. I really want to make a top team so I can play in college, what can I do to stand out?”
Of course the texts themselves vary a bit, but the message and the emotion remains the same: Players want to know what they can do to stand out from the dozens of other girls in their age group. They want to know what they need to work on, what they need to focus on during the tryout, and any other possible tips or tricks I can offer them to increase their odds of landing a coveted spot on the team.
The truth is, depending on the state and region size, there could be anywhere from 65 to 150 girls trying out for a spot on 1 of 5 teams. Club is unlike the typical high school or college team. In club volleyball, we take a max of 10 or 11 girls, significantly fewer than the 14-15 girls we take on a typical high school team.
If you’re after one of these spots, here are the seven most valuable tips I can offer for crushing your club volleyball trout.
1. Register Ahead of Time and Show Up Early on Day 1
Plan ahead. Do your research to find out which days and times all the clubs in your area are holding tryouts. Register early and then show up early. Arrive 15-30 minutes before the tryout is set to begin, put on all your gear, and start warming up however you prefer. Coaches notice players who arrive early and who are prepared and ready to play.
2. Flash a Bit of Color
Club volleyball tryouts are plenty hectic for the coaches, too. Attempting to accurately identify and assess upwards of 100 players in just 2-3 days is no easy task. That’s why wearing something that flashes a bit can help you stand out from the crowd and continually draw the coaches’ eyes.
You will most likely receive a tryout shirt that is numbered and the same color as the rest of the players. Having an outlying pop of color in addition to this shirt can help you stick out. Examples of this are neon yellow mid-calf socks under your ankle braces, a bright pink headband, or a colorful arm sleeve. If your skills are worth noticing, this is a great way to stand out from the dozens of other girls you are competing with for the same slot. Don’t forget to wear that same piece for each tryout day, or you’ll defeat the purpose!
3. Refuse to Be Out-Hustled
Nerves often take over during a high-pressure tryout. Girls can become hesitant when a ball comes between them and the girl next to them. But DON’T be the girl who doesn’t dive for the ball. DON’T be the girl who hesitates and doesn’t call for the ball. Understand you’re going to make mistakes, and be OK with that. But every time you’re on that court, look at the players around you and say to yourself, “I will not be out-hustled.” Dive for every ball, chase a shanked play off the court, step up when others do not. And always run to each spot on the court, run to each court between drills, run to your water break, run to shag. Embrace the hustle in every aspect of the trout, and you’ll be noticed for it.
4. Tell Us Your Name!
Tryout drills are fast-paced, as are the transitions between. Coaches are spread out around the courts with clipboards, evaluating at all times. As you come off a court, perhaps heading to the back of a serving line or running on or off for a water break, stop by a coach and introduce yourself.
This not only helps you stand out, but shows us you’re not afraid to put yourself out there. You obviously don’t want to do this when the coach is actively evaluating players, but go for it when there’s a break in the action. By virtue of remembering you as a name instead of a number, you could better stick out in a coach’s name.
5. Be Heard
Unless they’ve got superstar skills, the quiet girls are the ones who often go unnoticed. Many girls tell me they’re worried about saying the wrong things, calling the wrong play, saying a ball is in when it was out, etc. Do not make this mistake! We coaches notice players who are outspoken, call for a ball to be set to you, call the play you see across the net, tell your team where the setter is, how many hitters are on the net, etc. Call that ball in or out. Even if it’s close or wrong, you will not be cut for making a bad call! One of the most important traits of high-level volleyball players is communication and lots of it. We can teach players which calls are correct and how to pre-determine if a ball is in or out, what we can’t do is teach someone to go outside of their comfort zone and be outspoken. One motto I tell players is “Get Loud, Get Noticed.”
6. A Positive Attitude Stands Out
Every year, in every club tryout I run, there are outliers on both sides of the skill spectrum. There are some girls with incredible high-level skills, and some girls who look lost on the court. However, the majority of the players lie somewhere in between. If you’re unsure of your skill level, don’t be deterred by the highest-level players. Be confident, smile, have fun, encourage the other girls on the court, and compliment them like they were your teammates. Be the first player to run around and help shag balls when asked.
These traits give players a huge leg up when it comes to getting noticed. We are not only looking for girls who are great on the court, we’re looking for coachable players who can turn a losing team into a winning one through confidence and positive body language and attitude. Don’t get caught standing around with a frown or pouting over every mistake, or you risk being written off before you get the chance to showcase your full skills.
7. End Each Tryout With a ‘Thank You’
At the end of each tryout session, there are always a handful of girls (either alone or with their parents) who will approach me and the other court coaches to say thank you. Although it seems like a small gesture, it goes a long way. It shows professionalism, confidence and gratitude. Because after all, we’re looking for well-rounded players. We want girls who are leaders on and off the court and will add to a team chemistry rather than subtract from one.
While club tryouts can get the nerves going, think of them as an opportunity to show the best version of yourself. Play hard, be loud, be positive, be thankful, and be prepared. That way, no matter if you make the team or not, you’ll know you gave it all you had.