Ask Coach Houser: Making the Team

Women Playing Volleyball

Q: I was wondering what most volleyball coaches are looking for in a player during tryouts. Do coaches look at the size of the player? their love for the game? how many mistakes they make? coachability? or do most coaches just look at who the most skilled players are?
Nervous in San Diego

YES!!! Yes, to every one of your questions!

  1. Height is something that coaches notice immediately. Girls who are tall will get a few more chances (notice that I said a few). But coaches notice height like girls notice hunky boys: after a few hours or a day, there better more to him than just hunkiness. Girls who can pass, serve and set are more valuable (especially at the younger ages!!), than girls who can only block and hit.

  2. Love for the game is something coaches would like to see, but for middle school teams (and many JV teams), this quality hasn't developed in the kids yet. If an experienced player is trying out and she exudes "I LOVE THIS GAME, and I'll do anything for the team," then is more likely to make the team than the girl who thinks "Yeah, I like volleyball, but I'm not really excited by it." The 2nd girl is more likely to quit, have an baditude, want to miss practices, etc. and coaches KNOW that!

  3. Mistakes are, of course, noticed by coaches. But all players make mistakes. I don't make a big deal out of one or two or three mistakes. But I can say with confidence, coaches observe and remember the nature of the mistakes. Let me tell you more.
  4. For example, was that mistake made:

  • because she didn't try hard enough? or because she gave her best effort and just couldn't make the play?
  • when she was passing a free ball? That's not good! Or when the other girl hammered a spike at her? No big deal.
  • because she isn't athletic enough to hardly ever make the play that her teammates can often make? This is not good.
  • because she isn't focused? she's being silly? she isn't paying attention? This isn't good either!
  • because she hasn't learned a correct spike approach? Oh no! Or because she just made a tiny error while hitting a good set? No big deal.

My advice? Don't worry about mistakes & just GO FOR IT and it'll all work out!!

  • Coachability is important at all levels: middle, jv, high, college. I coached the conference player of the year one season. Two years later she was history. Attitude, attitude, attitude. At my camps, I now tell the story of "Attitude Setter." 95% of coaches are willing to lose more games in order to protect their team from the uncoachable brats.

  • Skilled Players are nice to have!! haha In fact, skill is the most important factor in winning volleyball games! It's more important than height, strength, athleticism, etc. A team of 5'6" 180 pound greatly skilled volleyball players will have winning seasons in most high school conferences. And they will routinely beat the taller, stronger, more athletic teams solely because of the level of their volleyball skills.

  • Now, let's talk about a few things you didn't mention.

  • Playing Experience! If a coach knows that a girl has played a number of years, especially if she's played club ball, then she stands out like a shining star. Not only is this girl usually highly skilled for her age, but she has taken the extra time (and a PILE of money) to improve her game. Kids who have a lot of playing experience create championship teams, and those kids are extremely hard to cut.

  • Athleticism! On our junior team last year, we kept a girl who wasn't overly skilled, tall or experienced. But we thought she was freakishly athletic. So we took a chance on her. I know that it doesn't seem fair, but when a coach figures a player can do something better after one month than another can after 3 years, the coach may keep the new girl. Gosh, if she stays with the program just 2 or 3 years, what incredible plays she will make!?!?!

  • Loyalty and Teamness! This is a hard one for the coach to judge. But you may want to consider coming to tryouts wearing something that's in team colors. I've known some girls to bring goodie bags to tryouts, or invite the team to her house after practice, or have her parents bring a cooler of PowerAids. I know that this appears as though you're sucking up; but, to me it appears as though you really really want to make the team.

  • Energy! A girl who comes to tryouts awake, alert and ready to go will always get my attention. Some people call kids like this obnoxious. But I call them energetic and a joy to coach. A girl who's complaining and whining gets my attention too: "I don't think I want 3 months of this chic."

  • Effort. I'll tell my girls, "If you don't make the play in practice, you won't make it in a game either." I guess what I could say at tryouts is, "If you don't attempt to make the play this week, I may not be seeing you next week." So give it all you've got. If you go for it, you've got nothing to lose. But if you save your effort for later, you may not make the team.

  • Coach Tom Houser is the head coach for the Roanoke Juniors 15s, as well as the director of STAR volleyball camps. He is the author of the volleyball drill collection, "I Can't Wait," and two eBooks on volleyball technique. Visit for more resources on coaching and playing volleyball.

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