“It sounds ridiculous, but when you’re good at something, you want to continue doing it. Volleyball gives me something that is ‘mine’ … it’s my talent.”
This is what CaptainU athlete Roxanna Wood said on her decision to shoot for her dream and play college volleyball. Her story is one filled with awesome advice for any athlete aspiring to play college sports. She talks about how to take the plunge and talk to your first college coach, how to use CaptainU to keep yourself organized, and how to become the best at your sport you can be so that you can take your game to the next level in college.
Check out Roxanna’s story and create your free CaptainU profile here to get access to thousands of college coaches and event directors and access tools to help you take your game to the next level!
Roxanna Wood, Junior, Setter/Rightside/Outside
When did you start playing your sport? How did you decide to play your sport as opposed to another?
I started playing volleyball in the 6th grade. Originally, I was a horse back rider, but my parents, friends and school faculty suggested that I try a team sport, because of my height. My mother had been a volleyball player in high school, while my father was a huge basketball fan. With each of my parents excited about the possibility of me playing their favorite sports, it came down to which one I thought I’d enjoy the most. Several of my friends played on the volleyball team and a close family friend was a volleyball fanatic. With the family friend’s encouragement and instruction, I chose volleyball as my sport and tried out for the middle school team.
What do you like most about your sport?
There are so many great things I can say about my experience with volleyball. Not only has the sport taught be a lot about commitment, friendship, responsibility and hard-work, but its just a fun game–physically and mentally. I love the idea of seeing bodily improvements and results and while volleyball isn’t the most physically demanding of all sports, it definitely puts you in good shape with quickness, explosive movements and short cardio intervals. The game takes time and you can’t learn it overnight, but everyday you improve. Plus, unlike many sports, you can play multiple positions and be a part of every single play. As for me, I can hit, block, play defense, serve, serve receive and set–It’s exciting to be able to contribute in every play. The game is fast paced, it always keeps you on your toes and you constantly have an opportunity to compete with your opponent. As for my favorite aspect of the sport, I would have to say that I love the challenge of outsmarting your team through using your physical skill. Ask any volleyball player and they will say that 80% of practice is spent learning smart shots for every situation, how to set up defensive patterns on the fly, how to adjust during broken plays, when to use what tricks, how to read the other team, how to communicate effectively, how to movement efficiently, how to throw off the other team–basically, how to win the mental game. Its exciting and keep games interesting.
What are the biggest obstacles in your sport that you’ve overcome? How did you overcome it?
I had two major difficulties to overcome in this sport: overall speed/agility and understanding how to communicate/”run the court”. As a setter, my job is to run the offense, tell the hitters what plays to run and be the middle man between the coach and us, the players. Doing this requires a very high understanding of the game, because setters basically set up the strategy behind how to score. The only way to learn this was to challenge myself. In the 8th grade, I played on my high school’s varsity team and we won the state championship in 2010 and 2011. While the wins were great, being the youngest on the team really helped me step up my game and understand how to play with the big girls. Along with the mental aspect of setting there are also physical demands. The setter needs to be quick, agile and explosive–all three of which are not in my nature. I’m never going to reach “perfect”, but, as always, I challenged myself and I’m improving daily through extra conditioning and play. Its important to understand that while physical condition plays a large role in volleyball, mentality and and volleyball IQ are even more important.
What are the biggest obstacles in the recruitment process that you’ve encountered and/or overcome? How did you overcome it (if you did yet?)
My biggest obstacles were: making the first step (calling/talking to coaches), keeping an open mind and making a definite decision. Everyone fears that first call to a college coach–it’s always easier to come up with a good response and questions when you can proof read for a couple days over email. My advice would be to start with a coach from a school that you are completely uninterested in. First I found a school that was far away from my intended region, didn’t have the programs I was interested in and met none of my requirements. Then, I called the coach and asked questions, many of which I already knew the answer to. Talking to the coach under no pressure helped me understand what I expect, discover new questions that I would want to ask and feel more confident in my ability. Secondly, I had a hard time looking at more than about five schools that I had on my list. I felt that I knew what I wanted and mostly I did, but looking back, I realize that keeping an open mind can be a big help. Don’t blow off any coaches. Be polite and take an interest in any school that meets any of your expectations. A couple random schools may surprise you. Finally, when I had two offers on the table, I had a very difficult time telling anyone, “yes”. Ultimately, I knew which school I loved and my gut, reasoning and passion all pointed the same direct. Trust your instincts, don’t let anything slip away.
How do you balance being a good athlete with being a good student?
I was always an A student and working hard/getting good grades WAS WORTH IT. Without these things, many of the colleges that I looked at would have blown right past me. Tournament weekends seem hard and like you can never get anything done, but I definitely use the seven hour car rides to my advantage. I can finish all of my homework during these rides. (If you need internet, get a hot spot! They cost a good bit, but they are totally worth it.) Also, when I have a free study hall or a long weekend with nothing to do, I set aside however long I need (without distractions) and just knock it out. Nothing feels better than busting your butt for 2 hours right after school on a Friday, knowing that you have Friday night, all day Saturday and all day Sunday to do whatever you want. Dedication in school pays off just as much as dedication on the court.
When did you realize you wanted to play college sports?
I knew I wanted to play once I became decent. It sounds ridiculous, but when you’re good at something, you want to continue doing it. Volleyball gives me something that is “mine”–it’s my talent. Others can sing, dance or paint, but I can play. I love the feeling of having a whole community supporting you and embracing you for what you love. Hearing the cheers of my peers during games really makes me happy and proud of myself and my team. Being good helps me enjoy it, but the relationships you build, the physical aspect of sports, the achievements you accomplish and everything else just mean so much to me. When you truly enjoy something, you don’t want to give it up.
Where did you first turn for recruitment tools, platforms, strategies, etc.?
I began the recruiting process during my 9th grade year. This sounds early, but it’s NOT. I first began because my club coach really pushed us to get our names out there, start recruiting pages, email/call coaches and make recruiting videos. So, she was really the one who got me where I am now. I began with recruiting videos and posting them on youtube. This was okay, but I would highly suggest a recruiting page where all the videos are more easily accessible and in order along with all your other information. Also, my coach made team pamphlets with each players height, graduation year, recruiting links, etc, which she would hand out to coaches at tournaments. A HUGE HUGE HUGE help was emailing coaches. I started by emailing 10 coaches before every tournament, letting them know who I was, my schedule and any other important information. Most of the time, the coaches would watch me play and other times, it put me on their radar to watch later.
What things have worked and what things haven’t/didn’t work when trying to get in touch with coaches?
Calling out of the blue turned out to be a bad idea. Coaches are busy and have a hard time being available at any given moment. Most of the time, I would text a day in advance and about an hour before I was going to call to give the coach a heads up. It was usually pretty personal and not too serious, but more just like how I’d text a friend. Something like: “Hey Coach Bob! Just wanted to give you a quick heads up that I’m planning on calling you at 12:00 tomorrow. I can’t wait to talk! -My Name :)”. Sometimes, I wouldn’t have the cell number of the coach and I would email them myself. If not, I would have my coach or recruiting director contact the coach for me. In any case, give them a heads up.
How was your family involved & how was this helpful?
My parents had the philosophy that I should work at this for myself if I wanted to get anything out of it, so I wrote my own emails, set up my profile and researched colleges on my own, but my parents were very involved nevertheless! They were good for giving advice and just talking through decisions. Also, they would review my emails before I sent them and made sure I covered all of my bases. Im not perfect, so my mom was the one who pushed me to ACTUALLY email 10 coaches and to upload new video. She kept me on track, but I did everything myself. My parents were very willing to fly around with me to make college visits and help me look at things from different prospectives or ask questions that I would normal not consider. They really helped me to see the big picture.
What tools, platforms, strategies did you use throughout the whole process?
CaptainU was very helpful. We also filmed our own games so that we could pull the very best clips as we went. Then, would be put all of the best clips into one file after each tournament. At the end of the season, we went back to the file and selected the best of these clips and made a highlight video after each season. Would would also do videos after larger tournaments, if there was demand for new footage or it had been a few months since the last video. When I got all of the hundreds of player questionnaires in the mail, I filled every last one out and when I had free times I actually looked those colleges up online to see if they were contenders. Also, whenever I made a new video, I sent it out to tons and tons of coaches to make sure that as many could see it as possible.
What worked best for you on CaptainU / what was your favorite CaptainU tool?
I loved the CaptainU coaches view tool. This would notify you whenever a coach found through a search, opened your emails, viewed your page, watch your videos, basically anything regarding you and your site. When I would send coaches email, I was able to see if they had interest or not based on whether or not they opened the link I sent them, how many times they viewed my site and if they watched any footage. If a coach didn’t keep looking after I had sent them a few emails, I knew they weren’t very interested and that I could turn my main focus to other schools.
What would be three recommendations you have to athletes trying to play in college?
Be the best you can be in everything: colleges recruiters look for well-rounded prospects with strong academics, a hard work ethic, positive energy and an interesting personality/lifestyle. You don’t have to stress yourself out to be perfect, but every point you can get higher, every positive remark you make and every minute that you spend improving the various aspects of your life makes you more desirable to a college program. You want to showcase who you are and what you love, so be the best you can be and don’t limit yourself. All of the hard work will pay off!
The earlier the better: Don’t think you have an another year or you can wait until next season. Start now. Colleges might not be scouting 7th graders, but you can start thinking about what you like in colleges, what regions you like and what your passionate about at any age. You can also research colleges at any time. The first step isn’t calling a coach. Here’s my guidelines (all of these can happen earlier if you feel comfortable!):
8th grade: begin to decide whether or not you want to play in college; think about what you want in a school (location, athletics, size, etc); set up a recruiting site and start to figure out how to use it and what you want to put on there
9th grade: email, email, email; make recruiting videos; put as much information as you can on your recruiting site; make your first practice call; go to clinics, college showcases and college camps; fill out questionnaires; narrow down what you want in a school and research a variety of schools; make a list of top 30 schools
10th grade: figure out your non-negotionables for a school; make regular recruiting videos; call coaches before tournaments; tour schools; meet teams; have your coaches contact college recruiters on your behalf; keep in contact with the coaches who are interested in you; make a list of top 10-15 schools; if a school is strongly interested and you think it is a top contender, begin to talk about offers, committing, etc.
11th grade: be upfront with coaches/figure out who is truly interested; call coaches regularly; ask how you rank on their list of recruits; continue contacting new coaches and updating your recruiting site; hopefully you will commit soon!
12th grade: stay on track and be aggressive, but don’t panic; get on campuses and talk to the coaches face to face.
Get your name out there: a coach won’t know you exist unless you let them know that you are there. After contacting a coach, they will either keep you on their list or take you off, both are equally important to know. If a coach isn’t interested or doesn’t have your position available, its good for you to know so that you can focus your attention elsewhere. Any feedback is a step closer to figuring it all out! When you get those hundreds of player questionnaires, fill them out! Coaches will notice that you’re responsible and interested enough to return their questionnaire promptly. It makes you look focused and passionate about the recruiting process. Email. Email. Email. It’s the best way to get your name out to a lot of coaches! Make each one a little different and personal so the coaches know that you are genuinely interested in their program–this means a lot. Reasons to email: sending tournament schedule, new film, just checking in, interested in coming to a camp, recent victory, coming to campus, just letting them know whats new (they actually do appreciate this)!
Finally, what are your goals for the coming year in your sport? How are you currently doing in your sport? Have you been recruited yet?
I committed to play at a D1 school in North Carolina, the summer after my sophomore year when I was 16. I am still loving volleyball and intend to improve my setting consistency and overall fitness in preparation for college athletics. I can’t wait to learn even more about my sport and be the best I can be for my teams!