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SCOUTING REPORT— WHAT THE COACHES LOOK FOR
Doug Beal, Men’s National Team Coach
This feature provides insight on what top-level coaches look for when evaluating performance for the colleigate or national levels.
We look for some very specific things. At the national team level we are looking at pretty mature athletes. Generally the population we scout is the college volleyball community. The first thing we look for is the players who are successful. We are biased, and I’m not at all embarrassed to say it. We look for the players who are on the teams that are winning. I think they have something to do with why that team is winning. Particularly if they win over time, that’s important to us. I think you learn a lot more and grow a lot more by being successful. I’m not sure that’s true at every level, or that every coach at every level is interested in that, but we clearly are.
"We are looking for somebody who has made significant progress during that period we have evaluated him or her. We look for the kids who probably haven’t completely matured physically, but made substantial improvements between their fresh- men and senior year."
The second thing is we look for is general athletic ability. It’s a plus in our mind if someone has played another sport or is successful in another sport. That’s a positive in my mind. I’m not specifically for the volleyball athlete who has never played another sport, never experienced another environment. I find it very positive when we identify an athlete who has been successful in baseball, basketball, tennis, any- thing. It doesn’t happen as much as I wish it did, but it is a very positive thing.
The third component we look for is size and other physical characteristics. We’re looking for players who jump well, who have unusual quickness. We’re looking for players with unusually long arms and obviously we’re looking for tall players. I think height and size, in general are a little bit overrated, but we can’t discount it. Volleyball is a big person’s game and it’s getting to be a bigger person’s game as time goes by. We would still take the outstanding average- sized player over the mediocre large-sized player. Height or stature is sometimes misidentified. General standing height is not as critical to us as standing reach. Somebody with very long arms who is a couple of inches shorter could actually play bigger than someone a couple of inches taller. I think I already mentioned jumping ability and general quickness. It is very unusual to find good jumpers who are not quick athletes. I still feel very strongly that volleyball, at the level we are competing at, is a game of quickness. It is not a game of size. To some degree, it certainly is a game of power, but it’s mostly a game of quickness. As blockers or defensive players, as attackers running patterns you have to get to the ball, to the point of execution of a skill very quick. So we’re very concerned about quickness.
The next aspect we’re looking for is competitiveness. It’s very impressive to us to watch a player perform well when their team is behind or when the score is tied in the fifth set. We like to see who has the ability to carry their team at the most stressful moment of a match. That sometimes overweighs a player’s value in our minds.
The next component, is excellence at something. We are not really concerned about all-around ability. Someone who is very good in all aspects of the game but not exceptional in anything. We would rather see someone who is an exception- al blocker, hitter or passer. I think it is much easier to put a team together with players who are really outstanding in one or two parts of the game. It would be great, of course, if they were exceptional in more than one, but that is unusual. So, we are looking for the player who is really good in one area. I think the point scoring skills or terminal skills, as we might call them, with the rally scoring, everything is a point scoring play. The server, the blocker, and the hitter are the skills that dominate the game. So a very good blocker, server and hitter are probably more important to you, most of the time, than a very good passer, digger or setter. I don’t believe any coach would tell you those skills are unimportant, but those skills I mentioned earlier tend to be more important to us.
The last thing for this discussion is we are looking for somebody who has made significant progress during that period we have evaluated him or her. For example, if we see a player as a freshman in the college setting, and they are in the middle of the pack and by their sophomore year they have jumped up relative to other players, that sends up a flag for us that we are going to keep an eye on that player. Players change a lot at that age—everybody, and at the high school age, but we don’t scout. We scout the 18-22-year-old age level. They can improve a lot and some players don’t. Some players come into college as freshmen as physically mature, outstanding players, with a great high school history and then never get any better, simply because they reached their physical maturation earlier. So we look for the kids who probably haven’t completely matured physically, but made substantial improvements between their freshmen and senior year.
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