What Coaches Look For: Read This Before Volleyball Tryouts


Some of you know the nerve racking feelings associated with trying out for a team you badly want to make. Pushing ourselves to make the best plays while minimizing our errors. Tryouts can be incredibly stressful, especially when the stakes are high.

If this is your first tryout, and you are relatively new to volleyball do not worry. We have everything you need to be prepared for your big day. Make sure you read thoroughly and I encourage you to check out the beginners section of our site to help elevate your volleyball IQ. More on what this is later!

Intermediate and advanced players there are quite a few things that coaches look at that may surprise you.

Welcome to your complete guide to making your high school varsity volleyball team

Tips For Making The Team

  1. Know and practice the volleyball basics like passing, setting, hitting, serving and blocking. If you do not already, I encourage you to learn the footwork associated with each. If you master the footwork you will look like a pro even if your form is not perfect.
  2. Be positive! Remember that volleyball is a team sport and a large part of succeeding is being able to work cohesively with a team towards victory. A coach wants to build their team with positive players.
  3. Show up at tryouts early and prepared. Make sure you have all necessary equipment and are in proper athletic attire. Be timely so that you can get a warm up in and make a good impression.
  4. Pay attention when the coach is talking and be respectful. Be open to advice, make eye contact, smile and thank them for any critique they give you. They are saying it for a reason, they want to help you improve.
  5. Show enthusiasm in all aspects of the tryout, from the warm up and stretching to the drills. You are playing a sport you love! Coaches enjoy picking players who love the sport and genuinely want to be there.
  6. Go for everything (within reason avoiding injuries). There are balls that you would never believe you are capable of picking up that you can get to if you hustle. Coaches value a player who wants to win and who is willing to work for that win by not give up on the point prematurely.
  7. Know what coaches are typically looking for in potential players and make sure you speak to those (there are 7 things most coaches look for and we’ll talk about them in further detail below.)

What To Expect At Volleyball Tryouts

If this is your first volleyball tryout, you probably want to know what typically happens so you can prepare yourself.

You will likely have your photo taken when you arrive holding a number which helps the coaching staff identify you throughout the tryout. You will likely pin that number to your back. You will want it to be visible and not be blocked by your hair.

Different coaches will have various methods of running their tryouts. What you can expect is to be tested, likely on a number of specific drills which show off your expertise in the skill sets of volleyball. During each drill a coach will likely be taking notes on how the players perform.

There are 9 skills that coaches will test you on which we will discuss. You can also expect conditioning in the form of plyometrics and strength training. Finally you can expect cardio and sometimes a lot of it.

Cardio

Yes ladies, that’s right listen up. Cardio will be one of the tests that the volleyball coach will likely use to test your physical fitness levels.

When coaches have massive numbers of athletes try out for a 12 person team, one of the ways they weed out the crowd is by throwing in cardio focused warm ups. Usually these will be lengthier than normal volleyball warm ups. For some coaches this will be a few laps around the volleyball court, for others this can be miles.

Prepare For Cardio Workouts By:

There are a few ways you can be ready to show that coach how dedicated you are as an athlete. Be as active as possible in the upcoming months and weeks before tryouts. Your cardio vascular health is something that every person should already be working to maintain, especially athletes. Go for runs several times a week leading up to tryouts to prepare your endurance.

Tryout Drills

Coaches will want to see those volleyball skills and they will put you through a workout that will show them, all of them. Brush up on serving, serve receive, digging, ball control, passing, setting, hitting, and blocking.

If you have not mastered an overhand serve it is so important that you do so before your tryouts. We have a guide on overhand serving made for beginners which breaks the serving process down very simply into 3 steps

The Skills You Need To Make The Team

The skills you need to make the volleyball team you are trying out for will of course vary with the level of the team. However, for any team, you should have a basic knowledge of these 9 skills:

Serving: Serving is such an important skill in volleyball, every point starts with a serve and therefor every volleyball player Needs to be able to consistently serve in the court.

Whether you can jump serve or if you are still working on mastering an overhand serve you should be serving consistent to the level you are playing at. If you are trying out for a varsity team you want to make sure you can overhead serve.

Serve Receive: Service reception is the skill in volleyball where a player returns a serve either with a platform pass or an overhand one. We’ve already discussed that every point starts with a serve therefor the second thing that happens is service reception. Coaches rely heavily on serve receive for side outs and because of this it is important that a coach build their team out of excellent serve receivers.

Ball control: Ball control is the art of being able to place a volleyball where you intend. This skill is in all aspects of the sport from passing and setting to hitting and serving. Ball control typically comes with experience, however some players are more naturally gifted with this than others.

Passing: Some people call passing a volleyball the “bump”. If there is nothing else you know about volleyball going into a tryout it should be this: Passing is a skill used by every player on the court. Familiarize yourself with proper form and practice, practice, practice.

Digging: The skill of digging is being able to pass hard-driven balls. This skill is another that everyone on the court must be able to do. Yes, all you middle hitters out there have to know how to dig. Everyone on the court plays defense.

Setting: Whether you actually play as a setter or another position, every volleyball player needs to know how to set. You may not have the cleanest hands (aka best setting form) in the world but you should be able to demonstrate basic technique.

Hitting: You do not have to be a hitter to know the basics of attacking a volleyball. This is another skill that every player on the volleyball court should have in their arsenal. If you are intending on being a front row player this is especially important as this is your main job. Back row players a coach will look at your ability to back row attack. Setters should be able to hit from anywhere on the court.

Blocking: If you are a defensive player this is not as important for you, but you should still know the basic footwork involved in this skill. Hitters and setters should be able to effectively block in the front row. Blocking is a fundamental part of a teams defense and coaches will be looking at your ability to consistently put up a timely block.

Hustle: This is the most important skill you can have on this list. If you want it the most, and out hustle the other players on the court, you have a much better chance of standing out and getting the coaches attention. As a coach, I will pick a player who wants to work and will go for everything over one with more skill and less hustle.

How To Practice, Prepare and Get Fit For Volleyball Tryouts

3 Months Out

Find a strength and conditioning program to adhere to whether that is at home or in the gym. Include a cardio warm up, non-static stretching, strength workout, and plyometrics. Be as active as possible whether that’s going for a bike ride or playing another sport with your friends. Consider adding morning or evening yoga to your daily rituals to enhance balance and mobility.

Practice volleyball 3x /week or more. Play in a rec league or with friends weekly. If you are really trying to level up in that period of time consider hiring a private coach.

Exercise positive nutrition habits. You cannot expect your body to produce gold and gains when you are filling it up with junk! Limit sugar and unhealthy fats. Make sure you are getting the proper amount of protein, carbohydrates and fat.

Finally, you need to continue your education of the sport when you are off of the court. Volleyball IQ or understanding the game of volleyball and its strategies is one of the best things you can do as a player to improve.

2 Weeks Out

Prepare all necessary documents. A lot of teams require documentation of vaccination and a physical before you are allowed to even tryout. Be sure to contact the authority on this and make sure you have everything you need.

Ensure you have all the gear you need. You will want to have a proper athletic outfit complete with knee pads, volleyball shoes, and any braces you might need. I recommend wearing spandex if you are comfortable because they will make you look more like an experienced volleyball player. More on what to wear to tryouts later..

Break in new gear: Do not show up to tryouts with brand new shoes that you have not broken in. You want to give time for your gear, especially your shoes, to mold to fit your body. Wear your new gear around the house (not outside) or in any practices you have leading up to tryouts.

If possible, begin working out at the same time that the tryout will be held. Humans are creatures of habit and by getting yourself on a schedule where you are used to working out at that time will help you perform better.

Continue working on strength, cardio, mobility, nutrition and volleyball skills as detailed in the above section.

Begin mentally preparing by trying to maintain a positive attitude in all areas of your life and building up your self confidence. If you go out there believing you are the best, odds are you’ll play like it!

1 Day Before Tryouts

Do a light cardio workout and some yoga but other than that REST. You want your muscles to be ready to perform tomorrow.

Make sure to eat well. Eat 3-5 small healthy meals to prepare your body for tomorrow’s tryout.

Lay out your outfit, and pack your bag with everything you need. You do not want to be scrambling to find all of your belongings right before tryouts. You want to set up your mental state to be as calm as possible so prepare yourself the day before.

Tryout Packing Checklist

  1. Lay out your outfit. Shirt, spandex, crew socks, and include a headband and hair tie as well as bobby pins if you need help keeping your hair out of your face. See our complete list of what to wear below.
  2. Gear. Make sure your knee pads and volleyball shoes are packed safely away in your bag along with any braces or eyewear you typically play with.
  3. Any documentation required for tryouts already in your bag.
  4. A reusable water bottle and some healthy snacks.
  5. A good night of sleep. Set an alarm at least an hour before tryouts if you have an AM tryout.

The Day Of Tryouts

Eat a light meal an hour before. You do not want to be uncomfortably full before a tryout or a game. It is a biological phenomena that we play better when we are a little hungry.

Be peaceful knowing you did everything in your power to prepare for this tryout and that whatever happens, happens.

Be positive. You’ve got this. Be confident in your abilities, go out there and have a great time. Remember that you are getting the opportunity to play a game you love.

What Coaches Are Looking For At Volleyball Tryouts And How To Stand Out

The best way to do well at volleyball tryouts is to score well on the 7 principles most coaches use to compare players and pick out their team. Every coach will have a unique style to the way they select their teams, however coaches tend to look for these things universally.

  1. Athleticism
  2. Dedication
  3. Volleyball IQ
  4. Grades
  5. Attitude
  6. Potential
  7. Skill Level

Athleticism

Natural athletic talent cannot be taught, but we can teach players to master skills like passing, setting, hitting, blocking and serving. Athleticism includes things like a naturally high vertical, speed, agility, balance and reaction time.

Dedication

The high school season is a long one. As a coach, choosing a less talented player over a less dedicated one is a no brainer. The last thing we want is for a player to suddenly quit a team midseason because they found something better to do or they couldn’t handle the time commitment.

High school volleyball seasons can be very wearing on players because you practice or have a game every day M-F and sometimes have tournaments on weekends. Even for the most dedicated and sport loving athletes, this can be a lot.

Grades

Student athletes are students first. If you can’t perform academically your school and school district will not let you compete. Many coaches are also teachers, usually at that particular school. They will have access to your teachers and your grades. Show dedication and responsibility by keeping a strong GPA. These go hand in hand for a coach.

Volleyball IQ

Volleyball IQ is basically how knowledgeable you are on the sport of volleyball. It is about making intelligent decisions because you understand the strategies of the game, both in helping your own team minimize errors and scoring on the other team.

Attitude

Attitude is everything to coaches. If a player cannot hold a positive attitude in tryouts, as a coach I will immediately cut them. Volleyball is a team sport and for that reason a group of positive athletes is essential to the ultimate success of a season.

Make sure you are keeping a positive attitude and are encouraging all of the players on the court.

Potential

Potential is the growth opportunity that you have as a player. I typically look at things like natural athleticism and raw talent less of all of the refined skills of practiced volleyball players.

Coaches will look at things like your approach and form on skills and seeing how easy it would be to make improvements to your game.

Skill level

Your skill level is essentially how well you have mastered the skills that are important in volleyball. These are serving, serve receive, ball control, passing, digging, setting, hitting, and blocking.

Things You Should Know If This Is Your First Volleyball Tryout

What To Wear To Volleyball Tryouts

You should wear a t-shirt or athletic shirt, spandex, knee pads, crew socks and volleyball shoes to volleyball tryouts. This is not a requirement, but it is advisable! Here’s why:

A comfortable shirt: Wear a well fitting t-shirt that isn’t too big but also isn’t too tight. If you have a volleyball T-shirt from an event or club volleyball team this would be best and will make you look like an experienced player. Know that you will likely pin a number to this shirt.

Spandex/Running shorts: Do not wear leggings to a volleyball tryout! You want to wear shorts and the traditional style of shorts that volleyball players wear are spandex. If your school is a religious institution the uniform may differ, check with your athletic director.

Anything you need to keep your hair out of your face: hair ties, bobby pins or a headband.

Knee Pads: Make sure you bring this essential piece of equipment with you to tryouts! Some players prefer to play without knee pads, but these athletes are usually experienced on the proper ways to fall. If you are a new player you should invest in a pair of knee pads if you do not already own some.

Volleyball Shoes: If you are a beginner wondering if you should invest in volleyball shoes, know that they are not exceptionally expensive, but that you can get away with not having them if necessary. It is an awesome asset to have as a volleyball player if you intend on playing competitively. Not only do they make you look legit, they offer increased traction and jumping ability.

A Smile: No coach wants to put a grumpy athlete on their team. Be happy.

Typical Tryout Protocol

Most tryouts will last several days and the coach will make cuts as they narrow down to final selections for the team. It is a great way for coaches to give every player a fair shot, but also to be able to give more individualized attention to the players who are a good fit for their team.

How Long Do Volleyball Tryouts Last

This is going to vary from team to team. Typically most club volleyball tryouts are over within a few hours. High school volleyball tryouts, again, are usually spread out over a three day period where cuts are made each day.

It all depends though. Each coach and organization is going to run their tryout differently.

What To Eat Before Volleyball Tryouts

Eat healthy and eat light before going to a volleyball tryout. I recommend eating about an hour before showing up at tryouts. You do not want to be super full while you are trying to play.

People are typically slower and lazier after they have eaten. It is a biological phenomena where when we exercise when we are hungry we perform better. But you do not want to be really hungry either! If you do not provide fuel for your body you can grow fatigued more quickly than you normally would.

If You Are A Younger Player Who Wants To Play Varsity Volleyball In The Future

Start as young as possible. There are tons of at home drills you can do that only require yourself and a volleyball. Start playing in a rec league around the time you are a 4th or 5th grader.

As you get older play for your middle school team and consider playing club volleyball!

Play Competitively

Start With A Rec League

Check out your cities government website and parks and recreation page to find opportunities to sign up for volleyball leagues.

Most cities generally have a volleyball Facebook page as well. This is a great way to network with other volleyball players in your area and hear about rec leagues for both minors and adults. Always be safe and verify the locations of any proposed meetings. If you are a minor always consent with your parents on using social media to network.

Play Club Volleyball

If you want to be a competitive volleyball player and receive the best coaching an excellent way to get the results you desire is to join a club volleyball organization.

Club volleyball is usually very competitive, so make sure you are really dedicated. You will have practice 3+ days a week and then expect to travel and have weekend tournaments and national qualifiers. It can also be expensive so this will be a decision for you and your family to make together. Most organizations do offer scholarships, so reach out to club directors for more information

Once you are ready to commit to playing club you should start researching teams in your area. Some clubs will be better established and it is best to find out the training styles of each club and match them to your goals. If there are multiple clubs in your area you should plan to tryout for several. It is best to have options when you are deciding on which club to ultimately play for.

Play Other Sports

As the recruiting process gets more intense and younger athletes are recruited it is important to note that there is a fine line between starting children in the sport too young. Volleyball players definitely experience burnout more than other sports.

I encourage players to start playing volleyball as young as possible after age 8 or so, but to play other sports as well. Track and swimming are excellent sports for building out overall athleticism and cardiac endurance. Tennis, softball, basketball and football build out hand eye coordination. If you are a young athlete wanting to play volleyball competitively one day the best advice I can give you is to be active wherever possible.

In addition to preventing burnout, playing other sports develops the strategic mind of athletes in their primary sport. It will make you a smarter player.

Attend Camps and Clinics Over The Summer

Look up volleyball summer camps in your area online. Most universities raise money for their volleyball programs by offering day camps and sleep away camps for volleyball players. These are a great way to come in contact with college level coaches and players and get critiques from the experts.

Good Luck

Best of luck making whatever team you are trying out for. Remember that success in a sport is about dedication and determination. Do not let anything or anyone stop you from achieving your dreams of playing volleyball. It’s not about how many times you get knocked down, it’s about how many times you get back up.

Coach Alyx

CEO and Founder of Volleyball Solutions. Coach Alyx has been playing and coaching women's indoor volleyball for over 15 years. "Volleyball is my culture. It is an incredible opportunity I have to share my knowledge of the sport, as well as the raw character it develops, with our next generation of players."

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