Will Professional Volleyball Impact Club and Collegiate Programs?

An increasing number of students are “canning” the over-rated and overpriced collegiate experience and are focused on getting a head start on a career without being saddled with a college loan.

A study by the National Student Clearinghouse indicates a decline in college enrollment of 5.1 percent or 938,000 students since the fall of 2019. By comparison, the number of apprentices working in various companies has increased by more than 50%, according to federal data and Robert Lerman, a labor economist at the Urban Institute and co-founder of Apprenticeships for America. “It’s very frightening,” Doug Shapiro, leader of the research center at the National Student Clearinghouse, said, per NPR. “Far from filling the hole of [2020’s] enrollment declines, we are still digging deeper. This could be the beginning of a whole generation of students rethinking the value of college itself.”

The educational terrain is changing. The motivation to begin a career is not restricted to the business or corporate world. For volleyball athletes, there is the motivation to make sure their time in club and college benefits them as they begin their careers. With the advent of three domestic professional volleyball leagues along with the USA Women’s National Team, will the top volleyball athletes prioritize the ability of junior clubs or colleges to prepare them for the next level of play or a professional volleyball career?

For junior players, the IMG Academy is beginning a high-level training program for volleyball that offers extensive training on a year around basis. The short-term and career options for volleyball athletes are growing. The athletic scholarship is undoubtedly an enticement in itself. Now there are post-collegiate career opportunities in volleyball without relocating around the world.

My understanding is the Pro Volleyball Federation is leaning towards having a substitution rule of 8-9 substitutions per set. I don’t know how LOVB or Athletes Unlimited will handle substitutions. The international game is six substitutions per set. There is an undeniable focus at the professional level placed on players with a decent all-around skill set. Internationally, even the middle blockers must serve and defend. Will the current NCAA rule allowing fifteen substitutions adequately prepare the athlete with professional aspirations?

Many nationally ranked collegiate programs will only have one player, other than the setter, that will play six rotations. A large percentage of collegiate middle blockers do not serve or play backrow. A collegiate or club outside attacker (left or right) who only plays front row might be rethinking their options if they have professional aspirations.

Several successful collegiate coaches (along with some vocal fans) believe that preparing players for the national team or professional league participation is not their job. Envision a collegiate football coach or basketball coach telling top prospects that it is not their job to prepare them for the NFL or the NBA. That recruiting strategy would guarantee the recruit walks out the door. A quarterback who aspires to play on Sundays will look for a college program with an offensive system emphasizing throwing passes. Similarly, a talented left-side attacker might pursue collegiate programs that offer the opportunity to play six rotations. There is no question the percentage of athletes to play professionally in any sport is small. However, every athlete that is so motivated deserves a shot.

As professional educators, it is the job of teachers and volleyball coaches to prepare their players for the next level, whatever level that might be. At the club volleyball level, the next level might be preparing the athlete for a collegiate career, or it also might be a player progressing from a 14-3’s team to a 15-2’s team. In either case, the coach must work hard to allow players the best opportunity to fulfill their aspirations.

When recruited by the college or club program, will the talented young player with professional or national team aspirations focus on coaches with a track record of prepping their athletes for the “next level.” A front-row-only player doesn’t have the professional value of a well-skilled six-rotation player. At the club level, will the tall athlete with the potential to be a world-class outside hitter be automatically categorized as a middle blocker and be replaced in the backrow by the libero?

Should the professional leagues on the horizon prove successful (as we all hope for), I’m curious how these professional opportunities might impact how the athletes approach their careers at club and collegiate levels. The impact might be minimal. I’m not on a campaign to change the rules. But should the professional leagues in other sports be an indication, the players with appropriate talent and motivation are keen to develop their skills at a young age and carry this motivation throughout their collegiate career.