Tips from three collegiate sand volleyball head coaches and DI student athletes about the recruiting process of sand volleyball. For more information about eligibility, check out the NCAA’s eligibility 101 information.
What characteristics do you look for in prospective student athletes?
Anna Collier, USC sand volleyball head coach
“When I start recruiting a prospective student-athlete, I want to make sure they will be a good fit for USC, the team, and my coaching style. I consider sand volleyball to be a very cerebral game, so in some ways, coming in with strong academics is very important. Not only does our university have a high academic admissions standard, but for our sport, I feel that if you can excel in the classroom, then you can learn all the nuances of the game and then hopefully execute them on the court.”
Steve Walker, Arizona sand volleyball head coach
“For years I’ve recruited the indoor game and we had certain prototypes we looked for in each position (for example, could the setter locate the ball consistently or does this right side attacker touch well over 10’4”). In the sand game, I’ve really had to rethink how I go about recruiting players. There is a place for athletes of all sizes in this game. Just look at what players like Holly McPeak or the Lindquist sisters, or the opposite in Ryan Dougherty have done in this game. But bottom line, regardless of physical or mental attributes, I think players need to find a way to get the ball to the sand offensively (be it by raw power or shot making); otherwise that makes for long afternoons because it is a well-known belief you can’t hide or run away from the ball in the sand game.”
Mike Campbell, Long Beach State sand volleyball head coach
“There are a few things we look for. Two of the more important things are athleticism and willingness to learn. Brian Gimmillaro (LBSU indoor head coach) does a fantastic job teaching the techniques and skills that elite volleyball players need. We look for athletes that are mature and are able to handle the intense amount of effort and focus that our program demands of them.”
How do schools break down athletes playing indoor and sand or just sand?
“At USC, all of our players are currently sand-only players. I believe that every once in a while, there are some truly exceptional athletes that will come along, who can play at a high level both indoor and on sand at a Division I school. But for the most part, I think players are going to have to choose which to focus on by their junior years in high school. I think we certainly have some players that could be stars playing both indoor and on the sand at USC, but the ones here have chosen to focus on one, and for us, it’s certainly made our team much stronger."
“For the 2015 season my roster size was 13. Three were multi-sport athletes. However, of the 10 that were “sand only” student-athletes, only five had what I would call extensive beach volleyball experience coming up through youth volleyball.”
“We have six sand-only athletes and the remaining seven are all indoor/sand combo athletes. Our top teams (1s, 2s, 3s), consist of all combo athletes who play both indoor and sand.”
How did you decide to play just sand or indoor and sand?
Shannon Dugan, Grand Canyon University student athlete
“I was given the opportunity to play sand at Grand Canyon University for program’s first year in 2013. I tried out for the indoor team for the fall and made the indoor team, as well. I still had a burning passion to fulfill my goals as an indoor player, which was to compete at a higher level in Division I.”
Mackenzie Phelps, Grand Canyon University student athlete
“When I was first looking to go to college to play volleyball, sand was not even on my radar. It happened that the school I went to for indoor got a sand team the year after I arrived. Ever since then I have been playing both indoor and sand for GCU.”
Taylor Kennedy, Stetson University student athlete
“I decided to play sand after I already committed to Stetson. Tips I’d give to incoming players is to play pick-up games whenever you can. Especially if you’re near a beach or courts. I was lucky to play for Club BeachDig in Florida.”
Did you have experience playing sand in high school, if so, at what level?
“I got involved playing old school beach volleyball at age 16 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. I didn't know much about the technical rules or dynamics of the game until I moved to Ocean Beach, San Diego - which was after my first year of college when I started training for sand.”
“Throughout high school I did not play for a sand team. However, there would be sand clinics and tournaments on the weekend that I played in for about a year.”
How do you weigh an athlete’s experience if their high school only has indoor volleyball, where does club sand factor in?
“At Long Beach, we encourage our players to compete in both indoor and sand. We believe that the skills they learn indoor apply to their sand game and vice versa. In 2013, we won a sand championship with a group of athletes who had never played sand until it was a collegiate sport. The techniques we teach apply to both indoor and sand, so when weighing an athlete’s experience, it isn't an issue if they do not play club sand.”
“Two of my better players played mostly indoor coming up through juniors. If the athlete has the essential physical and mental traits, along with the desire to improve his or her skills (to put the thousands of hours in when the coaches are not present), then there is no reason I would not bring in players without extensive sand volleyball experience. Their development, arch of improvement may be longer than your sand only athlete, but it can be done.”
Who should athletes get involved in the recruiting process with them?
"I think coaches are a good place to start. A high school coach can help guide an athlete to the best program for them.
If a coach calls me about an athlete, we can have an honest open conversation about that athlete and their chances of fitting into our program. In addition, we can get an early gauge as to whether the university and the team would be good fits as well. I am all about family, so I want the parents involved. We want them to feel comfortable with the program I am running. They know their children best, and can recognize if a school, a program, or a coach, are the right match.”
“I would prefer to the recruit the student-athlete during the recruiting process and not the parent (unless finances are involved, as we are an equivalency sport in terms of scholarship). The student-athlete should be the one that needs to do the leg work in terms of researching the institution, the sand volleyball program, the support services and the coaches and they will be the one to go through the experience. Rely on your club coach to communicate with the college coaches with regard to development, but the student-athlete (as a life practice) should take the initiative.”
“I think it's important that they listen to their club/high school coaches. The volleyball world is very small, as coaches we all either know or have heard things about each other. It's important that these athletes spend a good amount of time weighing their decision, and not deciding too early. Once you find the place you want to be at, you will know.”
When you were recruited, who helped guide you through the process?
“When I was recruited as a sand player, I was in the middle of my collegiate sophomore year academically and eligibility-wise. With the help of my sand coaches' connections and my current coaches for my school at the time, transferring to a new school was very possible.”
“When I was getting recruited for college, my mom was the person that helped me the most. Other than my mom, I did most of my recruiting on my own.”
How do coaches really feel about a collegiate athlete hopeful making the first contact?
“I think it's a good thing. There are a ton of great athletes out there, sometimes it helps when they reach out so that we can better identify them.”
“I would strongly encourage that. Your realistic list of schools should meet the following:
- Is the level of play within reason?
- Is the location, region of the country to your liking?
- Does the coaching style fit me?
- Do they have my academic interests?
- Would I attend this school without volleyball?”
“I want student-athletes that want to come to USC. The more you reach out, the more I know you want to be a part of what we are doing at this school and in this program. Not all coaches are the same, but personally, I need to know that you yourself are passionate about being here, so reaching out is a good thing."
Tips to make the process easier for high school athletes looking to play sand volleyball
“Play as many tournaments as you can and if you work hard, you will get noticed by someone who may be able to help you get your foot in the door.”
“Get the most exposure as you can. Compete in as many tournaments and constantly contact coaches. Be persistent when contacting coaches. If you really want to play for a team, keep trying to contact the coach.”
“Now that sand is getting big, reaching out to colleges that you’re interested in to see if they have camps would be helpful.”
“There’s a lot of hard work involved, but it is just a few simple things. Study hard, train hard, and compete as much as you can. Do those things, and you will be noticed, and end up in the right place at the right time."
“Find a coach that can teach the fundamentals or basics well. The good news is I’ve seen many former and current professional players take to youth coaching and have been impressed by the passion the which these coaches have about the game, but more notably their commitment to teaching basics. As young players move up in age division year after year, the ball will begin to move much faster and your skill set will carry you in the long run. Of course, understanding the nuances aspects to the sand game is critical for success, but in my opinion those come into play much easier once the basics are as close to mastered as possible.”
“Sand volleyball is in its infancy, in terms of growth. This sport is going to grow, enjoy your experience and the process of being recruited. It's entirely stressful but at the same time rewarding once you find that place you will be at for the next four to five years.”