Saturday, February 7, 2015

Don't Stop Now: Recruiting Your Student-Athlete's College

When I thought of college recruiting before actually getting involved in the process, my mind immediately went to Robbie Benson in "One on One" or to Nick Nolte in "Blue Chips". Benson's character has college recruiters knocking down his door and he gets a job on campus turning on and off the automatic sprinkler systems to put some money in his pocket. Nolte plays loose with all the rules to compete for all the prime college hoops talent across the country and then deals with all the character issues and ramifications that recruiting elite players might bring.

Either way, a good athlete is picking and choosing between which school they want to attend for nothing.

That's not quite how it works with 5'2" volleyball-playing liberos.

But wait, there's more.

Unless your kid is one of that very small percentage of elite-type recruits (and the likelihood, statistically, is next to nil that that's the case despite a parents' advocacy and thoughts) then you're going to be doing a lot of work and spending a lot of time (and you've probably already spent a decent amount of money) DOING the recruiting of your kid's potential college or university yourself.

I consider myself to be fortunate. I have a daughter, Jess, who will be a senior next year. She's that 5'2" libero. She will likely end up playing relatively high level volleyball after high school and likely end up getting a helpful amount of her education paid for. She's not going to play for Stanford, Texas, Penn State or Arizona. She never was. She's smart and she's articulate enough, but she comes by her athletic ability honestly. She's not an elite, athletic freak, just like her parents weren't.

And, to be honest, that's where you need to start. You need to understand that despite your kid being gifted and special and one of a kind, when it comes down solely to athletic scholarships, chances are your kid isn't gifted or special or one of a kind. But they can still benefit greatly.

If your kid truly is in that elite minority, no need to read further. The Stanfords, Arizonas, Penn States and Texases will find you. And they'll do so early enough in the process that your time will be spent decreasing the pool of prospective schools, instead of trying to create a pool of interested schools. You'll know quickly if 'elite' is in the cards.

But if you haven't heard from those schools or many D1 schools in general by the time your athlete is a freshman (or a sophomore at the very latest), you better get busy.

Parents spend a ton of money on club sports. There's a washout rate there as well as a percentage of parents that will experience a declining return on investment as the kids get older. Just like not every good player is a D1 player, not every club kid is destined for scholarship money either. Again, realism needs to be a part of the experience. If you're paying club prices and expecting a huge payoff when high school ends, you better be relatively sure that's what's going to happen or adjust the expectations and let the athlete experience playing for the fun of playing ( a novel idea in many circles).

Jess McPeek
I can tell you from my own experiences that the entire club process and the environments can be frustrating and even toxic. My 5'2" volleyball player can play. Jess can play at a high level (which I define as beyond high school and at a school where volleyball is very competitive) and she's received all conference and district honors and all that stuff that makes parents proud. What she could NEVER seem to do was get noticed UNTIL she played. 5'2" walking into a tryout in a crowded gym of 100 kids wasn't where she showed out. 5'2" at a tournament showcase wasn't going to be any different.

Where did she show out? In camps. In camps with college coaches who actually watched the kids in smaller groups and who then moved those kids up to higher level groups and watched some more. At camps sponsored by her club team and conducted by collegiate coaches that resulted in Jess going to that college coach's camp later in the summer. There she was placed (as a rising high school junior) on the court with the school's incoming freshmen who were camping, and with some of the upperclassmen who were helping run the camp. That, not coincidentally, is the court where the head coach spends most of her time and watches the action.

That experience she had with the collegiate coach, at the JO camp and the university summer camp, again not coincidentally, leads me to believe that that coach and that program are the leader in the clubhouse in terms of where my 5'2" libero might end up. The coach got to see for herself that Jess is a human bruise. She's on the floor almost as much as the logos that are glued to it. That shows up in games and against competition. Not in a JO tryout gym.

The point being, if your daughter is 6'0 tall or bigger then she might stand out in that crowded room. You can't teach height. Big hitters, big middles and even big setters are coveted. They stand out. The fidgets do not and your money and time and effort is probably better spent in smaller group environments where coaches and camp leaders can see what separates your kid from the pack. If your kid's advantage over other players is exhibited clearly in one environment and not at all in another, put them in the best spot to show it.

Start them young, if you can, and make sure you do your homework on the particular club. Go visit it. Talk to the director. Research what high schools or colleges the coaches work for or with. And starting young gives your kid a chance to overcome the tryout stigma that some face. If the kid can play, it'll be apparent. They may get placed on a Regional or Regional Elite team initially, but their talent and ability will allow them the chance to move to American or National if they're that good. But starting them young and researching the club gives them the time and ability to make those gains and make those moves. If you're constantly changing clubs with a player like Jess, she's constantly walking into that tryout with strangers and internal politics in place at 5'2" tall and she's constantly being overlooked and misplaced skill-wise.

Are there politics in play? Hell yes. Even at the better clubs? Hell yes.  You need to take advantage of it. I bitched about it for a few years. I hate the JO tryout process. Very good players get passed over all the time in the process. But you can mitigate those damages and make that process work for you if you're willing to understand there is no Xanadu in the club world. The grass isn't always greener and the grass isn't EVER perfect. You can benefit from the same thing you hated initially.

Jess was placed on a team that wasn't at the level we had hoped for when she got to her current club. Again. But she got a lot out of the training and she turned some heads. She played with the American team when they needed a player due to injury and ultimately signed an early offer to play with them again this season. It worked out. When tryouts came SHE was the legacy and already guaranteed a spot. Hypocritical of me to enjoy that? Yep. But I did enjoy it because she earned it. But the bigger point is that last season was a struggle to get through during tournaments. It was tough to watch. But it was also a season where the training made her better and where the opportunities provided by the club (the training as well as the camp run by the college coach) were worth every dime of the dues despite the tournament play being closer to depressing than inspiring.

But if you take anything away from the above, it's that there are no perfect clubs or situations. Find one where you like the philosophy, the facility and the coaches and stay there. That can be hard because you might have to look just as intently at yourself and your kid's ability as you do at the program. My 5'2" daughter isn't playing middle blocker no matter what she wants or what I think. Not every kid is a setter or a libero just like not every kid on the soccer field is a forward or destined to score goals for the national team.

Much like you need to know your role on a team and in a club, you need to figure out the best ways to proceed in the recruiting arena as well. Don't follow the cookie cutter approach. You have to identify, or have someone trusted identify (and Jess is ridiculously fortunate in terms of the interest and assistance her high school coach at Madison, Norm Potter, provides), what attributes and strengths your player has and then to play to them. Don't be sucked into the recruiting companies and the promises of them delivering your kid's tapes and highlights to thousands of schools. That's no different than sending your 5'2" kid to the cattle call tryouts. There are firms and services that are out there and that are valuable and effective. But you need to look as closely at those as you do at the schools themselves. If you go that route, research them.

One of the things that endeared me to one of the coaches in this process was her telling me to call her with any questions and to NOT go with one of the recruiting services. I was leery of that at first, but continued conversations with her and questions asked of her told me she was being anything other than selfish and that she honestly was happy to be asked. Lean on people you trust when researching schools and coaches. It's worked out thus far but the servies can be effective if you find the one that fits your needs.

Along those lines, go with a rifled approach as opposed to shotgun approach but begin it early. Identify some schools that your athlete is interested in. Start with however many they want and wherever they want. Get some tape that can be turned into a highlight film of sorts. Volleyball, especially, plays to that. You can set up your digital camera on video easily and inexpensively, throw in a 32mb SD card and tape a days worth of matches. Edit that down at the end of the season or seek assistance.

A highlight tape of the player as well as a video of a full match (coaches will want this- life ain't a highlight tape and they know your kid has weaknesses and holes in their game and will want to see those too) can be put up on youtube. Create your own youtube channel and you now have your own video library that services would charge a boatload for. It's not Scorsese-quality but it doesn't have to be. Now copy and paste the address of that youtube channel into your email drafts, because you're about to need it a lot.

 I sent a lot of personalized emails to coaches and assistant coaches initially.

That was stupid.

I mean, you'll want to make sure you send it to the coach or coaches of the school you're directing it to, but you can easily get away with a standard letter where only the school name and the coach's name(s) is personalized. I figured that out late in the process, and I also sent out one to a particular coach and forgot to change the name of the previous school I had mailed.

Don't do that. It's embarrassing and probably counter productive to making a good first impression.

But a basic introductory shell might look something like this:

Hi Coaches,

My daughter Jessica is a junior at Madison High School here in NE Ohio. She's played JO for the last two seasons with Vertical Elite (Now Vertical Force Volleyball). Last year she was coached by Katie Powell and this year she will play for Ricky Sanders in a program that's directed by Colleen Nero and Mark Royer.

Jess is about 5'3" tall and is an excellent all-around player for Norm Potter at Madison High School.

She's an OH and plays all around for both Madison and in JO but her future is clearly as a libero after high school. I've been advised by multiple camp coaches and opposing coaches that Jess can absolutely play at the D1 level as a libero and that she's one of the better defensive players in the area. She was quickly placed on Court 1 at a recent camp in _____ with their incoming freshmen. Jess has added 4" to her vertical from the time she started at the Michael Johnson Performance Center at Spire in Geneva, OH.

I'm corresponding because schools like _________ fit where Jess is looking to go academically and athletically after high school. Jessica is an excellent student, enrolled in multiple honors classes, and she's extremely serious about volleyball. Coach Potter has put together a brief highlight package which I linked below for your review. There are also match tapes for your review. I'd also love for you to see her workout or play, as you need to do so to appreciate her abilities, so a JO schedule is attached.

Jess is a 4-year varsity player at Madison, will be a three year starter and was been named a captain as a junior. Her style of play is appealing to watch and coach.

It would be appreciated if you could take a look at the youtube videos and I'd be happy to discuss any opportunities that might exist for her to continue her education and volleyball career at __________.

I can be reached at 440 525 4573 if you'd like more information, to confirm schedules or for an in-person look.

Thanks you for your time,


Sell your kid. Not literally, regardless of how appealing it might sound, but in terms of why a coach needs to take the next step and see them play or ask about them. If they're a hair over 5'2" they're 5'3" tall,  if you like watching them play, they're "exciting to watch".

But be an advocate. That takes practice and refining the message and additional emails to coaches can be more personalized and specific.

Don't lie. A shade over 5'2" doesn't make them 5'5" tall. But sell it. There are no perfect players out there and there a  lot of schools and a lot of potential dollars in aid. If the coach is engaged, as Norm is at Madison, they can also utilize their contacts built over years in the game to be an advocate for the player. Norm has sent numerous emails and highlights to college coaches on behalf of Jess.

Sadly, Norm is probably the exception as opposed to the rule in regard to a coach's advocacy. But there are a lot of opportunities that are available to young athletes by way of their club coaches as well. My youngest, Kacie, plays club soccer. The training and the instruction she has gotten at both of the clubs she has played for have provided her with skills and opportunities. And while she's yet to reach high school age, those opportunities can still be in the form of educational AND athletic opportunities.

If a club coach wants your kid to go look at schools outside of your local school system, take the opportunity to visit and have the kid shadow at those schools. They are ridiculously expensive. A school like Hawken, Gilmour, University, Hathaway-Brown or Laurel come with a sticker price approaching $30k per year. That's more than my entire four year total at BGSU was back in the day. For one year of high school. But they may work with you, depending on how much emphasis they put on a given athletic program. And the educational opportunities are incredible. In fact, you don't visit those schools for the athletics at all, even though in many cases the athletic programs are also better. You look at those schools because of education and because of the opportunities that superior education might provide your kid.

But it doesn't hurt to take a look and see if the school will work to make that educational opportunity affordable to the point it's a consideration. Even if they do, it's still about the fit, socially, academically and in many other ways.

When you pay to have your athlete play JO or club sports you 're making an investment in the kid and an investment toward the future. That future may come before college. That investment may also come with the understanding that you'll have to invest even more in terms of time, effort and attention toward creating an interest from schools that may be unaware of the student-athlete until you make them aware.

Schools will not magically line up just because you made that monetary investment. You need to line them up and direct them toward the player they should be looking at. It can be a daunting and time consuming endeavor. It can be frustrating and it can result in you hearing, "No thanks, but best of luck" far more often than you hear, "Tell me more". But it has already been costly in terms of money and time. To not follow up and take that next step makes it all even more costly.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

I guess I’m what you’d consider an agnostic.  Probably a visceral agnostic would be a more accurate description.

I mention the agnostic part without pride or shame (I have no excuse for the visceral issue, I think that's just hard-wired in), but faith in a higher being is just something I have trouble mustering. Not when I look around at the current state of global affairs, and the suffering, and everything else that would seem to belie the idea that there is a peaceful and merciful God watching over those He created in His image.

Weeks like this past one certainly don’t help.

Like others I was caught up in the non-stop coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris and in the ultimate deaths of nearly 20 people when all was (nearly) said and done. When a few terrorists, in the name of God, brutally and coldly, and with calculation and no remorse, turned a magazine office into the final resting place for cartoonists, office workers and police officers and turned a Jewish grocery store into the final resting place for four innocent, unlucky shoppers.

But wait, there’s more…

I’ll never wash from my mind the images of the terrorists coldly shooting an unarmed police officer to death while he begged for his life. Some images stay with you. Unfortunately that’s one of those. I’ll also have a hard time washing away the memory of one terrorist being shot dead on camera as he attempted to escape the kosher grocery store where he had taken hostages, but only after killing those four when he arrived.

His death is less a tragedy to me. But that’s the visceral agnostic in me poking through.

I have a hard time understanding the radical Islamic culture. That’s probably because I’m not a radical Muslim and I’ve never walked a day in their shoes. I’ve never been overtly or significantly oppressed, discriminated against or felt ostracized in my own country. Those are all valid issues but they are also issues that other cultures have dealt with, addressed and overcome without targeting innocent people for death and doing so in the name of religion. If this were a legitimate article instead of a rambling attempt to corral my own thoughts and feelings (the visceral thing), this is where I’d reference the Jews, Italians, Irish and the African Americans and give illustrations of their sufferings, persecutions and the methodologies they used to extract themselves from those situations (to one extent or another).

And this isn’t to say there isn’t validity to the Muslim claims of persecution in various places around the world. There is. This isn’t to say that the other groups referenced above have been warmly embraced or have an easy time rising above their own real struggles and the prejudices and hatred they faced. They have not.

What it is is a realization that appeasement and negotiation and rational discussion simply do not work with a culture that condones, embraces and promotes violence and death on all people who do not agree with their belief system or religion.

Don’t misunderstand. The people who condone, embrace and promote death and violence in the name of Muhammad or Allah are not representative of the vast, overwhelming majority of peaceful Muslims who live in relative harmony with those around them. This is not a condemnation of their religion or them as a people.
But there is a huge radical, fundamental Islamic problem all over the world today and it should be clear to all who have their eyes open that it needs to be addressed and it needs to be destroyed. 

Destruction probably isn’t very godly.  But those who revel in violence and bask in chaos and who will kill without concern or remorse have no place in society. Not our society, not French society and not Arab society. This isn’t a new phenomenon. I’ve been alive for 48 years and yet Munich, Beirut, the Luxor Massacre, 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombings and now Paris are deadly and violent bookmarks to each decade I’ve been old enough to remember. And the frequency of attacks is accelerating.

And each of those incidents drew gasps and condemnation and indignation from around the world. And in nearly all those attacks there was a response but those usually came from governments and were directed against governments who were thought to harbor terrorists, if not sanction terrorism.

It’s different now. While we may live in some dark times, we don’t live in those relative dark ages any more. Terrorism has adapted. Terrorists have embraced technology as well as a new way of doing business. Their leadership is more organized, more effective and is funded with billions of oil dollars.

On the ground their “soldiers” are better organized, more efficient, media-savvy (if not attention craving), as willing to kill as ever, and they are everywhere. The terrorist organizations are simply better than they were 30 or 40 years ago, there are more terrorists and they are more committed to the cause.

We the people, and our governments, are literally losing ground. And confidence. And freedoms. And lives. We can definitely outspend terrorists and we still have a decided edge in technology and equipment.

What we’re lacking is conviction. And maybe some nastiness.

The terrorists have literally taken this to the streets and we’re still playing by Marquess of Queensbury rules, figuratively getting punched in the face, watching our cops literally get knifed at landmarks and butchered on the sidewalks of major cities. The radicals have declared war a hundred times over and we seemingly greet each act of war with some tisk-tisking and hand wringing. And the hand-wringing is while wearing kids gloves. Then we hope it goes away and never comes back.

Instead we’re hopeful of appealing to the sensibilities of people who would rather kill us than reason with us and praying/wishing/thinking that, despite 2,500 years of savagery, hatred, intolerance and brutality in the name of God, that they’ll suddenly wake up one day and embrace the fact that there are societies out there that want to live differently than they do.

I’d say that’s highly unlikely.

So, as you would do with a cancer, you need to start eradicating the tumor. For those who speak only PC: the soldiers of this evil cult need to be removed from the battlefield. And no, I don't think it's 'playing God' to consider it. I'd prefer we not kill. I'd prefer we not have to incarcerate. But that preference is outweighed heavily by my preference for not being killed for publishing this post or upsetting these radicals on Facebook. And our current approach is lacking in the all important results category. 

So what most of us would prefer not to do appears to be the only way to go. Sometimes you have to out-brutal the brutal and outslug the sluggers if that’s all they understand. You always extend an olive branch and keep lines of communication open, but you do your negotiating from a solid position of strength. That means it needs to be done on a macro and micro level. No holds barred. You overwhelm the nations that foster and harbor these people through military operations and with all tools at your disposal. You use your intelligence networks and your military and your elite forces on that macro level. You ultimately tear down regimes that spread fear and hatred and allow nations to rebuild with people who value peace and getting along.

The infrastructure for that macro approach is already in place. It’s the micro-level where it gets dicey and where the biggest challenges exist. There’s simply not much at all, if anything, standing between some radicalized asshole with an automatic weapon walking into a McDonald’s or a school or a crowded stadium and destroying himself and countless others if he’s hell-bent on doing so. You’re not going to stop it.

But we need to make it tougher. We need to stop more of these lone wolves and small cells before they get that chance. And that requires a paradigm shift in how we relate to these people and how local citizens and law enforcement approach the issue.

Local law enforcement needs to be trained in counter-terrorism techniques and intelligence, if they’re not already. Maybe do it on a county level in less populated areas, but there needs to be a better understanding of terrorist techniques, communications, organizations, etc. on that micro level. Local LEO need to develop and cultivate and maintain their own relationships and networks so that chatter and activities may enable them to cut off the terrorists before they can act. There needs to be a task force at local levels that share this information and pass it upward as necessary. Correction officers and sheriff’s deputies need to be trained what to listen for and watch for in correctional facilities. There are a lot of terrorist connections made in prison and there is a lot of information passed between those bars. LEO needs to hear, understand and disseminate more of it, even when it’s not at the federal level.

While I understand the aversion to certain interrogation techniques, I don’t give a shit what kind of methods are used on terrorists. I have zero concern about their human rights. Not because I have no decency, scruples or morals, but BECAUSE I have decency, scruples and morals. It’s easy to not watch the ISIS beheading videos and to not watch Daniel Pearl’s head fall from his neck. It’s easy to turn the channels or not click the link to see a Paris police officer executed while pleading for his life on the sidewalk. It’s easy to say that these videos and these torture techniques (and let’s not call them something else) are barbaric and offensive, because they are. But keep ignoring that growing tumor. Keep ignoring the fact that the world’s greatest and safest cities are no longer safe. Keep telling yourself it’s just an isolated incident or that the Repubs or Dems and their failed policies are at fault. If you want to catch and kill a snake you’re going to get dirty. If it goes against your religious beliefs to get that dirty, take a few minutes to understand the bastardized religious beliefs of the people who would prefer you dead.

You can’t kill these people with kindness. You can’t negotiate with people who will not compromise at all on their demands. You can’t appease these people with concessions and capitulation. They will gladly accept your offers such as No Go Zones and censorship of cartoonists and journalists. And then a couple disgruntled kids from the No Go Zone will shoot a defenseless cop in the head. A lot is not enough for the people who want all of it.

But there needs to be nation building too. You can’t claim an open and free nation and keep down the minorities who come to live freely. It doesn’t work here, in France or anywhere else. You can’t have a line of demarcation within your “free country” and no opportunities for people inside that line to assimilate into mainstream society. That fosters hatred and contempt and feelings of persecution. You’re all-in or you’re not. That “Give me your tired, your poor… the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” thing is just a bunch of bullshit if those people flee their teeming shores only to be treated like second class citizens in that “free” country. Those found guilty of hate crimes, abuse of power (LEO or politicians) or discrimination via the justice system should suffer harsh consequences too. They're a big part of the problem

And the “moderate” Muslims? Those “moderate” imams and caliphates? Why not walk with a rabbi or a priest to their synagogue or church and stand with them? Those “moderate” priests and rabbis? Why not extend a hand and visit a mosque? Why not walk that walk while you talk that talk? How about some inter-faith gestures of goodwill in big cities and smaller towns?

So for those who can’t keep back their love of humanity and their godly nature, you can work on that part of the equation.

And no more censorship from the media either. Show the cartoons. Show the bodies. Show the mayhem and the murderous results. Show it all and do it for a couple reasons.

Show it first and foremost because people need to see it. They need to see it whether they want to see it or not, because they’re not understanding how prevalent or awful it is right now. If half the 24-hour news cycle consists of what looks like the beach scene from ‘Saving Private Ryan’, then so be it. Hit people in the face with it. And plaster it across the newspapers as well. Put it out there everywhere in all its ugly and horrific reality and maybe people will soon understand that there are serious issues and that you can't ignore it anymore than you escape it. Not to mention it’s not up to the media to hide these things from us or determine what’s appropriate for me or mine to see. The initial media narrative was all about the execution of expression and freedom and yet they blur out the ugliness? Hypocrites.

And do it secondly so it does lose its shock value. That’s what these fundamentalists want. They want the ‘wow’ factor. They want the fear the event produces. You take that away and you illustrate the breadth of their violent ways by showing all the details of more of these attacks. Don’t spare us from a damn thing. In fact, if you want to get a jump on things, every newspaper and television show SHOULD show those stupid, antagonistic and insensitive cartoons. The whole point of freedom speech and expression is so that exactly those types of things are permitted to be published. Should those that publish such insensitive images or articles face repercussions? Hell yes. Don’t read them. Admonish them publicly for their insensitivity. Have a discourse about how it portrays a class of people or a religion. STOP BUYING IT, subscribing to it and supporting it and the market will take of the rest.

And before I forget, call this what it is even if our President and presidents before him won’t. Our Fourth Estate is supposed to ours. A journalist, a newspaper or a TV News entity should not be a goddamn channel-based, agenda-based propaganda machine for the administration.

Barack Obama wouldn’t call the Paris attacks a terrorist act. I have no idea why (though I have a guess). Any idiot who stumbled onto the coverage knew exactly what it was in 30 seconds. But it’s not just an Obama thing. You remember the Beltway Sniper incident in 2002? John Allen Mohammed and Lee Boyd Malvo traveled the DC area and killed ten people out of their truck. Bush2 and the media didn’t call that a terrorist attack either, despite a ridiculous amount of information that showed that’s precisely what it was.

Why? Appeasing Islamic leaders here in the states (which is what my guess as to Obama’s reluctance would be). That's a problem.

Call it what it is and show us all of it. Bring all of it to light. Acknowledge the issue. Start working on it now from the top down and from the grassroots up. World leaders and you and me. We'll meet in the middle.

These killers and these extremists long for the ways things were 2,000 years ago. They’d like to take us all back there with them and they won’t stop killing until they’ve succeeded or been exterminated. If we don’t wake up and get hit in the face with the reality of the situation, if we don’t soon see the light and change the way we treat those who would do us harm as well as change the way we treat each other, then the radicals may be closer to their goals than anyone realizes.