In most areas of the country this is the time of the year when club directors are in a constant state of delirium. You are immersed with tryouts, parent meetings, player meetings, uniforms, tournament entries, event housing, etc. But what actually keeps you awake during the few hours of sleep you can spare is concern over which athletes will walk in the doors for tryouts, which athletes will not and why not; who will accept your offers, who won’t and why not.

Naturally, the JVA office receives numerous calls and emails in reference to clubs “stealing players”, illegally recruiting and how to handle these issues.

Imagine this scenario…  A high school coach that pressures a family to switch clubs. Or an opposing director that recruits an athlete’s family in the stands after being told the athlete plays for a different club. Or when an opposing coach has one of their current players approach a high school teammate for them. Sound familiar?

The concerns of our members are of utmost importance to the JVA. We are not a governing body, but we are a voice of guidance, reason, and best practices. So we would like to address each issue with feedback and collaboration from JVA club directors who are, or have been in your shoes. The insight is from a variety of clubs, both large and small, in areas where the number of clubs is dense. There is also a recommendation from our association, and the JVA Member Policy, which we expect all of our member clubs to adhere to. 

Recruiting Players. Where’s the line drawn?

In some areas of the country, clubs are expected to adhere to the rule “in season off limits, off season open to recruit”, meaning clubs are allowed to initiate contact with a player/family when the club season is not in place (before tryouts or after the players last club competition). Contacting a player or family is defined as email, text, face to face, telephone, fax or social media. During the club season the club (coaches or any personnel), may not contact the athlete/family.

Once a player selects a club for a particular season we would not under any circumstances talk to that player about playing for our club” shares MVP Volleyball Club Director Mike Pridavka. “As soon as a season ends we will talk to athletes for the following season if they are interested or we’d like to have them tryout for us the next season.

M1 Club Director Doug Bergman has been at M1 for 21 years and does not believe in recruiting. “The best form of that (recruiting) is how well you coach. If you are in the gym, training, running good clinics, and kids are leaving learning something. Best form of selling product is in your own building. You shouldn’t have to scour bleachers and watch all the matches, junior club volleyball doesn’t need that. Sell in your own gym.”

Another JVA club in the South adds “It is an epidemic here in our area. We have one club… that will do anything to get a player to participate in their programs. One of our 13U players received over 10 emails and countless calls from parents and the Director of that club to join, to the point it became very uncomfortable and confusing for the family in less than a two day period“.

Jodi Schramm, Club Director of Premier Academy shares “My philosophy is that it is my job, as a director, to put a product out there that people want. It is my job to create a program and a culture that people want to be a part of and that people want to stay in. If a player is easily recruited away from our club and decides to play for another program, then that player/parent didn’t fully believe in our product or process. The only time I have an issue with a player being recruited by another club is if a director/coach uses inappropriate means to contact kids, say through social media, etc. which I personally feel blurs the line between adult/children communication.”

Lainey Gera, Club Director of Actyve Volleyball: “A lot of our kids are pulled in multiple directions around tryouts but that’s the nature of the beast right now. We host clinics beforehand in hopes of having the opportunity for all athletes (returners or new) to have a chance to get to know us. Our culture, our coaches and the overall vibe of what it would feel like if you played for us for 9 months. But at the end of the day we don’t really know which way they will go until the day of tryouts/the Letter of Commitment is turned in with ALL signatures.

Responding to Illegal Recruiting of Players

There are regions that are predominantly AAU sanctioned with little USAV influence, for example, Michigan and Indiana. There are not currently any specific rules in place regarding recruiting players. These regions have referred to a handshake agreement where the clubs are not supposed to recruit athletes who compete for another club. If a family approaches your club then you can communicate with them.

Have a discussion with the family.
One JVA Club Director says illegal recruiting is very common among the competing clubs. “Unfortunately, we have a situation where kids feel handcuffed by their high school program. They are afraid of losing their shot at a varsity team if they don’t follow the varsity coach. And given behavior that I have seen from some high school coaches, I don’t blame kids and families. I do my best to talk through things with athletes (if given the opportunity) and help them evaluate and decide what is best for them. But often we don’t know until after the fact. second rule help your athletes move on from mistakes.”

Reach out to the other club
Doug with M1 directly calls the director. “Last thing you want to do is recruit a kid due to losing respect. Number of years ago there were emails and letters going out to athletes, so I had to call people (directors) on it, but that has mostly stopped.”

Jim Neave with Wisconsin Jrs adds “If I have heard that it has been done illegally, I call the director of the club and ask her/him directly. This has happened very few times over the years and each time it was found that there was no illegal recruiting. What I have found is that much of the recruiting is done by the players and parents themselves, which is not illegal.”

Tryout Rules:

Typically clubs adhere to the rules of the USAV region, which is the governing body. In some areas where USAV is not present, there may not be any rules regarding the beginning date(s) for tryouts in their region. It is then up to the clubs in the area to cooperate in holding tryouts around the same time.

Dave Bayer, Milwaukee Sting: “There are defined tryout periods in Wisconsin/Badger Region that the club directors all agreed upon. To my knowledge everyone adheres to those rules. In Wisconsin/Badger Region there are no rules against recruiting.”

Actyve Volleyball Club Director Lainey Gera: “Each athlete has to sign a letter of commitment the Monday after tryouts. Once that is signed they are legally bound to that club and can only join another club if they request a release which then needs to be approved and signed by SCVA and the club they signed a LOC with. SCVA does a good job of tracking LOC’s and holding people accountable. Since it is legally binding the athlete, they make sure every player has one completed with all signatures requires.

However, in some cases it is the wild, wild west. A few years ago, the larger clubs in Michigan would set their tryouts opposite of each other so athletes could attend both tryouts and the smaller clubs would schedule around them. However, it only took one rogue club to hold their tryouts earlier than everyone else, forcing the other clubs to follow suit, earlier and earlier. Tryouts now begin in July and continue through October. The top-level teams are set during the summer tryouts and the regional, in-house teams are filled in the fall. Vince Muscat of Michigan Elite, jokingly stated that is how he is able to increase his salary. But seriously, he said it is crazy and a lot of work.

Meanwhile, on the west side of Michigan, the clubs all work together and have tryouts during the same time in the late fall, after the high school season.

Jodi Schramm, Premier Academy: “Because we are on the border of Ohio-Michigan, we do things slightly different than other areas. In Michigan, there are essentially no rules for recruiting players. In Ohio, a lot of clubs are USAV clubs and governed by the Ohio Valley Region. Premier Academy is not a USAV club, therefore not governed by the OVR. The OVR policy states that clubs may actively/openly recruit players when their club season is complete or from July 1-31, whichever is later. They can also actively recruit players as soon as their high school season is complete in the fall up until their club season begins. On August 1st, all recruiting should cease to allow players the chance to enjoy their high school season free from club involvement. The OVR also has early invites that allow clubs to sign players in the month of July that played for your club the year before. Once a player is signed, they are held to that commitment if they play for a club that is an OVR club. However, if they choose to play for a club that is not governed by the OVR, then their contract cannot be enforced by the region. Michigan players can sign contracts or be recruited at any time by any club.”

A Club Director in Indiana replied that there really aren’t any guidelines. “It is a free for all. We’ve had players offered and promised spots before tryouts start and the players never even tried out at the club that offered them.”

Linda Rodl, AZ Desert Sky: “In AZ we have a 10 day Open House window where players can “shop around” but each Club may host only 6 hours of Open House gym time for each age level during that 10 days. You may not offer a player a place on a team prior to tryouts. we all sign off on those rules as Club Directors. The rule of offering is not followed in this area by some of the major competitive teams – they walk on it and the AZ Region turns a blind eye to it. Since I will not ethically allow my coaches to promise a position/team we loose some of our better players to another club near us.”

Players Accepting an Offer and Changing Their Mind

Jodi Schramm, Premier Academy: “I have only had this happen one time and it was about 4 years ago. We told the player that she would not receive a refund for any monies already paid and also asked the club that recruited her (and that she eventually went to play for) to buy out 50% of the balance due of club fees the player had on her account. We then put those funds into a scholarship fund that we have for players that struggle financially to play club. I felt that it was the best way to handle the situation.”

Jim Neave, Wisconsin Jrs: “Yes, we have had players accept a position with our club and then decide later that they want to play for another club. It is not common for players to ask for a release. It may happen within days or weeks of tryouts or it may happen any time during the season. If a player that has committed to play with us asks if they can play for another club we will grant them to do so. They will be responsible to fulfill their commitment of fees and once they have we will release the player. Having an unhappy player will not be positive for the team, club, or the player. Again, I would call the director of the club the player wants to move to and make them aware of the move and that we will be releasing the player and the conditions of the release. When players from another club wish to move to our club it is the same protocol. I call the director to be sure that the player/family has satisfied all commitments before the move can be made.

Mike Pridavka, MVP Volleyball: “We have had kids accept offers and then go somewhere else. This is a problem and is usually due to pressure put on kids that if they don’t accept the offer on the table that they won’t get a second chance to play for that club. We let them go because it is ultimately the kids choice. If we are already in season, that is a different story, we will not let them out of their contract.”

Indiana Club Director:  “If they haven’t signed their player contract, there’s really nothing we can do. If they’ve signed we pursue their financial obligation as it costs another player an opportunity.”

Actyve Volleyball Club Director Lainey Gera: “We have had a handful of kids accept verbal offers from us and then change their mind an hour, 10 hours or 2 days later. That’s why it’s so important for us to get paperwork filled out and submitted as soon as it is allowed. It’s tough to deal with but at the end of the day we want kids who want to play for us and not look back at the decision they made. Again, it’s a 8/9 month season, so we want the kids to be happy and for their hearts to be in it as well.”

Linda Rodl, AZ Desert Sky: “In AZ if they accept our offer, they cannot go to another club and sign with them unless we release them. They do have a 48 hour right of recision after signing. If they go elsewhere, notify us of their decision to withdraw from our club within the 48 hours, we must accept it and move on.”

Wes Lyon, Munciana: “If an athlete comes to Munciana mid-season, we contact the originating club to make sure that it is o.k. and the family is not leaving the club with fees due. I feel that the clubs in the area would do the same.”

Wes also adds” “It should be the quality of training and the culture of the club that should be the most important consideration when selecting a club.”

Working Toward a Solution

JVA recommends that the clubs follow the policies of the region they reside related to recruiting rules and tryout rules. When we get a call from a club director wondering about a player changing clubs, we ask the two clubs to work together. The new club should make sure that the player/family has communicated with their original club and is not leaving the club with a debt. In some areas of the country, clubs have a reciprocal agreement that they will not accept a player that owes money to another club.

All JVA members agree to the JVA Member Code of Ethics upon joining. Part of that code states:

We will conduct our business affairs in the best interest of the association and our sport. We will comply with the laws governing our business without exception. Where there is any doubt, we will follow our fundamental sense of right and wrong.

We compete fairly and honestly. We do not engage in unethical, anti-competitive or illegal business practices. We will deal fairly and transparently with our customers, suppliers, competitors and agents. We will strive to serve as role model for other clubs, JVA and our sport.

As we strive to better our sport and the conditions to run our businesses, we must insure that we are holding ourselves to the highest standards possible. Most, if not all of the club directors interviewed for this article made the same point in regards to losing players due to recruiting: it should make you evaluate what your club could do to offer a better product.

If a player is “recruited” by another club, we feel it is our responsibility to look at what we did not do to keep that player.” ~Dave Bayer, Club Director of Milwaukee Sting.

In addition, club directors and coaches should be an example for the athletes and families to follow and teach them the importance of commitment and trust. In many cases it is harder to take the high road, but we encourage our members and the junior volleyball community to set a positive example, build bridges and strive to make your product the best it can be.

For related reading for Club Directors click HERE

About the Authors

Jenny has served as the JVA Executive Director since 2010. She co-founded Milwaukee Sting VBC in 1989 serving as director, head coach and board member through today. She served as Operations Director and then Executive Director of Badger Region Volleyball Association from 1998-2010. Jenny is passionate about junior volleyball and sees the JVA as a vehicle to improve the junior club experience for club directors, coaches and the club member families.

Briana has been with the JVA since August 2011. Bri enjoys interacting with passionate junior volleyball club directors and coaches on a daily basis, as well as building relationships with partners who share the same vision and goals of the JVA, and are all about giving back to the juniors. Bri has 12 years of coaching experience at the grade school level all the way through the college level. She was a four year starting setter at Ohio University from 2001 to 2004, where she garnered an All-American and Conference Player of the Year honors. She then continued her career competing professionally in Paris, France.