Originally published in Inside HP, Jan-Feb 2012, updated March 2018 by USAV High Performance staff
The mission of USA Volleyball High Performance is to identify, train and develop elite athletes and coaches to build a sustainable pipeline of future Olympians and Paralympians. High Performance bridges the gap between the senior U.S. national teams and high potential athletes. The High Performance national team pipeline is for volleyball athletes who aspire to reach the elite level of the sport. It is intended to grow the pool of talented young players who may someday compete for a spot on the U.S. National and Olympic teams.
Any age-eligible U.S. citizens can register for the opportunity to be evaluated at an Indoor High Performance Tryout. There are specific characteristics that Indoor High Performance looks for in young, developing athletes. These characterizations are not all-inclusive, and their applications differ depending on age group, types of players and positions. Read on for an overview of the characteristics of an Indoor High Performance athlete to put your best foot forward at an HP tryout.
The best volleyball athletes are dynamic. They have a mix of strength, quickness, flexibility and power. This mix allows them to play the game with speed and control. Dynamic players can quickly move among the various responsibilities on the court in a low, athletic posture. Quickness and speed can be developed and improved if you are willing to train hard in the practice gym and in the weight room. To become more athletic and dynamic, you must force yourself to step out of your comfort zone and see/respond confidently and efficiently.
All good coaches seek aggressive play. In younger groups, HP would rather see an aggressive and athletic player hit five great kills and five balls into the bleachers than 10 “get-the-ball-overs.” Roll shots and tips are important to learn, but HP is looking for smart terminating players more so than “safe” players.
The ability to play high above the net is important, but many people think that HP is only looking for big, tall players for the national programs. That is not true. The key is how big you play, not how big you are. Many top-rated players who are 3-5 inches shorter than the average height for elite players in their position have participated in top HP programs. These athletes are strong and play big. A player can compensate for a lack of size through efficient movement skills, dynamic power and knowledge of the game.
“Reading the play” is the knowledge of what is going to happen based on the development of the play, possible options and probabilities of the game. This ability comes from playing and studying the game to understand system-specific and position-specific responsibilities on the court.
Confidence and Leadership
It’s not surprising that the best athletes demonstrate confidence and leadership on the court. They make the players around them better. The best leaders are not egotistic; they are usually humble and compassionate. They are perceptive to the needs and experiences of those they lead.
At the national level, the rate at which a player can adapt and improve is critical, including during a three-hour tryout. USAV is only able to train national-level athletes for about 2-4 percent of a given year. Coaches need to know that players can adapt to the national team systems and quickly reach their potential when placed in an elite training environment.
Athletes should be able to track the trajectory of the ball early and continue to track it as they move quickly and efficiently to that location. Passing is a primary role for both outside hitters and libero/DS players, and provides a significant advantage to strong attackers in their overall ranking.
International competition demands that players serve aggressively with high success rates. HP identifies athletes who can produce high velocity serves with consistency and control to force an opponent out of position.
Arm swing technique is one of the most important factors in determining whether a player can reach the national or international level of play. Athletes who have the ability to attack with both power and range rank highest among attacking positions. Volleyball IQ (ability to observe, analyze and make decisions, particularly under pressure) is also a component of attacking.
Dynamic players who are proficient in reading and reacting quickly in response to the opponent’s set and offense have the greatest potential to become elite blockers. These blockers can reach over the net and stuff-block the attack. Discipline, patience, quickness and aggressiveness are all determining factors.
Setters should be able to jump set consistently and have great body control and speed, even when passes are all over the court. These setters can control the ball and execute a consistent, accurate set. Setters should be calm, confident and knowledgeable about offensive systems. Volleyball IQ is key for setters in terms of decision-making skills, composure under pressure and overall leadership.
Athleticism, reading and quality of contact are the most important components in defensive play. Defenders who produce high quality digs while also maintaining a consistent athlete ready position and communicating with their teammates are the strongest in the HP pipeline.
USA Volleyball Indoor High Performance programs operate within the FIVB rules of the game. Therefore, the substitution rules have a great impact on the selection process. Team substitutions are limited, so all players must be effective in the back and front rows. Outside hitters must be able to be primary serve receivers. Because of this, some great attackers that don’t have back row skill will not rank as high. Middle blockers who switch to outside hitters can hurt their chances of making a top program due to their inexperience in the back row. Likewise, some outside hitters try out as a libero, limiting the ability to evaluate their all-around play and potentially hurting their program consideration.
Ultimately, HP is searching for players who enjoy the rigors and challenges of high-level training, and are seeking to elevate their game to the highest level of competition. The best athletes find it rewarding to give everything they have, enjoy new teammates, expand their comfort zone daily, and strive to become better in every practice. USA Volleyball High Performance is the Path to the Podium for any athlete who wants to pursue their Olympic Dreams.