Volleyball tryouts can be scary – especially if you haven’t played before. Not only do you have to compete with the others there, but you may be worried about the coaches discovering that you’ve never played. If this sounds like you, I’ve got news:
They already know.
While having experience playing volleyball is always a plus when trying out, it’s not the only thing coaches are looking for. Effort, teamwork, and willingness to learn are equally important and will always give you a fighting chance to make the team.
So, how do you make the volleyball team without experience? To make the volleyball team without experience, you need to prepare yourself before with practice, exercise, good nutrition, proper amounts of sleep, research, and talking with the coach. During tryouts, you can increase your chances by being early, introducing yourself, being friendly, listening, and being open.
As a player, a coach, and someone who miraculously made it onto a volleyball team without any experience whatsoever, I am in the perfect position to help guide you through this scary process. While I can’t guarantee this will land you a spot on the team, I do know that if you follow these steps you’ll have done everything in your power and can accept the result with your head held high.
In this article, I’ll discuss:
- My story as volleyball hopeful without experience
- Knowing where to start
- Things to do before tryouts
- Tips to do at tryouts
My Story: Making The Volleyball Team Without Experience
When it comes to making a volleyball team without experience, I must be the king.
I started playing in high school when I tagged along with some friends to tryouts. I was hopeless, knew none of the rules, and just tried to copy what everyone else was doing. That said, the coach must have seen something in me and added me to the team anyways. I loved it.
A year later, my family moved and I had to quit volleyball. I never forgot my love for it and ended up trying out for the team when I got to university. Once again, I was hopelessly lost and had forgotten most of the rules, but enthusiastic about being given the chance. And yet somehow, once again, I made the team.
Six years later, I’ve been part of two top university teams, spent two years on a national team, and won six medals for indoor and beach. They say dreams really do come true.
Making it through tryouts without experience is never easy, but if you want to play badly enough and are willing to learn, anything is possible. I’ve had the unique experience of being on both sides of the coin: the beginner and the coach, resulting in a list of tips that may help you succeed.
Whistle’s blown, article’s started. Let’s get you to tryouts.
Know Where to Start: Middle School, High School, University
The first step to making the volleyball team without experience is knowing where to start. This advice goes for hopefuls of any level: middle school, high school, club, college, and even those transitioning into the professional leagues.
But, let’s clarify. What are you trying out for? Is it a club team, a school one? When is it, and how much time do you have? Depending on that answer, you can begin to plan the steps towards tryouts and joining the team.
Many middle schools only have girls volleyball available, so boys will have to select a club team if it’s available.
The earlier you start, the less difference in skill exists, the easier it is to join a team, and the more years you get to play!
Most people pick up volleyball in high school. This is totally fine, and you’re not behind the skills curve at all.
Most high schools have a Varsity and JV squad, and some even have Freshman teams – trying out for the JV or Freshman team (if available) will give you better odds to play as you’re competing against others of your same level of experience.
For university, it can be challenging. At this point, many players have been playing throughout high school and have at least four years of experience behind them.
Many universities in the US have highly competitive first team programs that recruit players from across the country to come represent them. For these teams, joining without prior volleyball experience is almost impossible.
The good news is, there aren’t many elite volleyball universities around, and most normal universities either have lower level teams or social clubs to keep playing volleyball. Tryouts for these teams are more lenient and have their own competitive seasons which can be a great experience and allow you to develop your skills and gain experience.
In short, research what you’re getting into before you set your heart on it. There will always be a way for you to play volleyball, whether it’s a social club or competitive team, but if you jump in blindly you may be setting yourself up for failure.
Section 1: Before Tryouts
There is a long list of things to do before tryouts for any athlete – let alone one without any experience.
The goal here is to familiarize yourself with how the game works and prepare your body to perform its best to give you the highest possible chance of making it onto the team.
Tip #1: Practice One Thing
Practicing your skills before tryouts is a fantastic idea, but most people without volleyball experience try to do one of two things: nothing, or everything. Both are incorrect.
Look, it’s hard enough to master passing, serving, and hitting with a coach and several years to work on it, let alone trying to do it in one afternoon by yourself with a soccer ball. It’s not going to work.
Instead, focus on one thing to master from this list: passing, serving, or hitting.
I recommend serving if you’ve played tennis, hitting if you play basketball, and passing if you haven’t done either of those things. These are movements that your other sports have naturally prepared you for, so lean into your pre-existing skills as much as possible!
As a coach, I am always most impressed with players with good passing skills as it takes the longest to learn and shows control of very subtle motor skills.
While all three are best taught by a coach, passing is the best to practice by yourself because you can toss the ball to yourself or off of a wall and focus on keeping it going.
Passing is also important to develop teamwork and allow your team to actually play the game, both of which are positives that coaches will be looking for. Be sure to create your platform correctly and aim with your shoulders.
If your height is your main advantage, find time to focus on jumping.
In tryouts, you should focus on spending as much time on the net as possible, blocking and spiking and generally putting your good genes to good use. While height isn’t the most important thing for volleyball, it’s the one thing that cannot be trained so never underestimate your value.
Aim to practice every day for at least half an hour. The longer you go, the better!
Tip #2: Exercise
In the week leading up to tryouts, perform some kind of exercise every day – ideally a block of light, fun exercise followed by a targeted routine.
Whatever you choose to do, focus on duration over intensity and continue just past your normal quitting point. Be careful not to push yourself hard enough to sustain any injury as this will stop you from trying out!
The purpose of this training is to increase stamina, warm your body up, and prepare your lungs for tryouts.
Tryouts involve intense sessions over a couple hours where those without stamina quickly begin to lag behind. Proper breathing and a basic familiarity with your current levels of exhaustion will help you last longer and look more alert during tryouts, as well as performing better!
Find something that you enjoy doing and make time in your day to do it: tennis, swimming, or football are all great options.
Ball sports are particularly useful for this as they begin to train your hand-eye coordination and reminding you of the significance of keeping your eye on the ball. Running also is a great option to do solo. This will be the light exercise portion of your preparation.
Next, begin your targeted routine. Legs, shoulders, and core muscles are the three muscle groups most important in volleyball, so I highly recommend you choose to train these!
The primary difference in how you approach this is whether or not you have access to (and know how to safely use) a gym. As most of you without experience also won’t have had strength and conditioning training either, let’s focus on what you can do from home.
For legs, squats are the best. If you have dumbbells or other weights at home, feel free to use them for extra resistance up until your comfort level. Mix up your free squats with jumping squats, remembering to move from low-to-high as much as possible. This will open your hip flexors and benefit your mobility and strength the most.
For an additional challenge, try one legged or Bulgarian split squats with an elevated rear leg.
For shoulders, dedicate some time to pushups. This will train your chest and shoulders alike, and help you overcome the common mental hurdle of “pushups are hard”; this will benefit you when the coach asks everyone to drop and do pushups in tryouts.
Next, find a set of weights (or heavy book) and hold it at arm’s length in front of you. Raise and lower it from legs to eye level until failure, and repeat the set as much as you like. If you find it too easy, try something heavier, and vice versa. This will directly target your shoulders, and is an easy way to prepare yourself to block, spike, and set.
Lastly, core. There is no shortcut to a good core workout, so commit yourself to a solid superset of sit ups, heel touches, mountain climbers, and planking. If you’re loving the burn, throw in some pikes and flutter kicks as well – your core will thank you.
Many volleyball teams participate in weight training programs, or strength and conditioning. If you make the team, you must be willing to keep up with their standards of fitness or risk getting benched. Beginning this journey before tryouts will give you a step in the right direction.
Tip #3: Nutrition
Eating properly is often disregarded as mere “common sense”, but you might be surprised to discover the numbers behind your meals. Not eating properly can lead to muscle fatigue, a weak mentality, and general sluggishness – none of which you want to bring with you to tryouts.
While many people may know this already, nutrition has been one of my own struggles as an athlete, and something I believe is worth addressing. Aim to eat a full three meals a day, with a healthy balance of carbs, proteins, fats, fruit, and vegetables.
If you don’t know what that looks like, here are some examples:
- Eggs, bananas, toast
- Greek yoghurt, strawberries, pancakes
- Grilled chicken (or nuggies!), steamed zucchini and mushrooms, and wild rice
- Salmon filet, potatoes, carrots, and cucumbers
- Ribs, mashed potatoes, green salad, corn on the cob (or beetroot)
- Pad thai, spring rolls, and oranges
Throughout your life – and especially leading up to tryouts – having a good relationship with your nutrition is incredibly important. Energize yourself with wholesome food and fuel your path to tryouts with three meals a day, and your chances of making the team will improve.
Tip #4: Sleep
Another section that may be overlooked as “common sense”, no aspiring athlete should ever overlook the importance of a good night’s sleep.
Not being well rested can lead to exhaustion – mental and physical – and a lack of alertness. This reduces your reaction time, something that is incredibly important in volleyball. It can also cause yawning which may make a bad impression on the coach at tryouts, telling him that you aren’t interested in what he has to say.
In order to be alert, energized, and able to react quickly, aim to get around 8 hours of sleep in the days leading up to tryouts. Sleeping too short won’t provide the proper amount of rest you need, while sleeping longer has been shown to be inefficient for the body’s circadian rhythm.
It’s not enough to just sleep 8 hours the day before tryouts either. Changing your sleeping pattern suddenly can throw your body off-kilter, resulting in a “restless sleep” and eliminating the benefits you sought to achieve. In some cases, this can actually affect your balance – a disaster for volleyball tryouts!
Before tryouts – and in life – try to achieve around 8 hours of sleep each night in order to be more productive, efficient, and accurate in your activities the following day.
Tip #5: the Rules
Read the rules! This one’s a no-brainer, but it’s so easy to forget to do in one’s enthusiasm.
Wanting to make the volleyball team is one thing, but not having experience puts you at a natural disadvantage to those who know what’s going on. In order to bridge this gap, I highly recommend you familiarize yourself with the basic rules of volleyball.
Don’t worry, there’s no need to delve into the minutiae (unless you want to) – just the basics are fine.
Here’s a useful video that explains the basic rules with some demonstration.
While the majority of the volleyball world plays under international rules (FIVB), the US and a very few other countries follow USAV/NCAA (for college) regulations. These differ from the FIVB rules only slightly at the technical level, and as such shouldn’t be something you need to worry about yet. Just be aware that they exist, and you’re already way ahead.
Here is the link to FIVB’s site and the rules of the game if you prefer some more detailed reading. They have helpful links in several languages, and the sections can easily be navigated.
Tip #6: Watch Volleyball Content
One of the best ways to prepare for tryouts – regardless of experience level – is to watch the experts at work. By this I mean, watch some volleyball content out there, whether that be matches on YouTube, tournaments in real life, or even anime – Haikyuu is excellent!
Experience is gained from time spent around and playing volleyball, so one easy way to begin catching up is to immerse yourself in its world.
This will accomplish several things, including verifying the rules of the game, demonstrating what excellent volleyball should look like, and providing some entertainment! This will help you understand what’s going on during tryouts more and give you a boost in confidence.
I recommend watching these two matches to get a feel for different levels of play:
Stanford vs Wisconsin: Women’s NCAA National Championship Finals
Poland vs Brazil: Men’s Volleyball World Cup 2019
Tip #7: Talk to the Coach
You’ve eaten properly, gotten sleep, researched every aspect of volleyball and kept up with your personal practice . . . there’s only one thing left, and it’s the most important of all.
Talk to the coach.
It might be terrifying, but especially when you’re coming into tryouts with no experience, talking to the coach is important. Whenever possible, such as when trying out for a school team, try to talk to them in person or – failing that – email them.
Be upfront about your level of experience, and ask for any advice before tryouts – they might have something specific in mind they’re looking for, or something that can help you. You might be surprised at the result.
A basic email may look like this:
Dear Coach _____,
I wanted to inform you that I plan to try out for the JV volleyball team this Friday and that I’m very excited for the opportunity!
Although I don’t have any past experience playing volleyball, I have been interested in it for a while and think that my experience doing _____ would make me a good addition to the team.
Do you have any advice for something I could work on before Friday to help prepare me for tryouts?
Remember, this isn’t your opportunity to beg them to allow you onto the team – only to express your intention to try out.
This will communicate to the coaches that you are excited for the opportunity and are willing to work hard to earn your place on the team – both good things. With any luck, they will remember your name and take your experience into account during tryouts themselves.
Being the first to reach out is respectable and brave, and the action of someone who seriously wants to play volleyball. And at the very least, doing this will give you a rough idea of who’s in charge at tryouts and what their temperament might be, information that may help you on the day.
Section 2: During Tryouts
You prepared yourself as much as possible for tryouts – well done. You’ve done everything you can and should be proud of yourself. Now, it’s time for the real challenge.
Tryouts may be chaotic, but there are several tips to keep in mind that have nothing to do with your volleyball ability that may help your chances. Keep these in mind as you go in, and hopefully you’ll not only walk away as part of a team, but with a few new friends as well.
Tip #8: Be Early
First things first: be early.
My high school volleyball coach used to say that if you arrived on time, you were already late. Aim to arrive 15 or 30 minutes early and make it a habit; use the time to stretch, put your shoes on, and reflect on the other things you did to prepare for today.
Arriving early shows that you are punctual and reliable, creating the best first impression possible. I know several coaches that reject any latecomers immediately and turn them away, so whatever you do, don’t be late!
Tip #9: Introduce Yourself
The first thing you want to do when you get to tryouts isn’t to throw your bag down and sit in a corner, it’s to introduce yourself to the team captain, coach, or other team members that are there. And since you’re early, you have time!
For some tryouts, they have a desk just as you walk in that gives you a number, others have no frontal presence at all, but there’s almost always a small group of team members standing on court or warming up with a volleyball who will be helping run the session. Approach them and introduce yourself.
You only need to be brief: you name, the fact you’re here to try out, and what they would like you to do. Just like with talking to the coach before tryouts, this shows them that you’re eager to be there and that you respect them as members of the team. This will help them remember you as tryouts continue, giving you a better chance of success.
For better or worse, adjudicators tend not to reject players they see making mistakes during tryouts – it’s the players they don’t see doing anything, the ones their eyes skim over that don’t make the cut. Making the team and coach aware of your arrival will help alleviate this problem.
Additionally, it also gives you an opportunity to ask any questions or express any concerns that you may have. Be bold and take advantage, this is the only opportunity you’ll get before it starts!
Befriending a regular is great because they will help guide you through tryouts, especially if you don’t have any experience. This will be much less nerve wracking, but don’t make the mistake of getting too comfortable – it’s still a test and they are evaluating your every move.
Tip #10: Be Friendly
Not all of us have the gift of gab and shining social skills, but it never hurts to make an effort now and then either. Tryouts are one of those times.
Make a concerted effort to be open and friendly during tryouts, talking with the others there (only when the coach isn’t speaking!!) and using their names in drills. Compliment them, call for the ball, and celebrate when things go well.
This will show you to be a good team player and someone who works well with others.
Volleyball is a mental game as well as physical, and teams that work well together always perform better than the lone wolf carrying his pack of squirrels. Even without experience, coaches will value this ability enormously.
Tip #11: Listen
I’ve made a few jokes in this article with some lighthearted comments, but if there’s one thing you should take seriously, it’s this:
Even if you don’t know it, chances are your coach has done some incredible stuff in his or her time. Maybe they’ve led your school’s team for two, three decades through several championships, or perhaps they’ve graduated from a D1 team as their star setter back in their day.
Either way, your coach expects respect when they’re talking, and they deserves it.
Even if everyone else is talking, when the coach starts speaking, shut up and listen. The faster you do, the safer you’ll be in his books.
I once had a coach who waited for the group trying out to stop talking and, when they didn’t, he walked out. The next day, only those who had paid attention made the team, no other questions asked. That’s how highly he valued respect. After all, if they can’t listen to basic instructions during tryouts, how are they going to listen to him during a match?
Listen during tryouts. Follow instructions. Run when the coach calls you over. Show effort.
Listening properly will also keep you from drowning in uncertainty during tryouts. Volleyball drills can be notoriously confusing at times, and knowing where to go and when will serve you well.
Tip #12: Be Open
Last but not least, be open. Be willing to try new things and play new roles, even ones you haven’t practiced.
Sometimes the coach’s idea for where you should play and your own are not the same, and this is ok. Don’t allow yourself to get stressed or nervous, or convince yourself that he doesn’t think you’re good enough for the other position.
Believe me, none of those negative thoughts even crossed his mind. All they’re thinking about is where you can use your talents best and will have the most impact.
If a coach doesn’t want you on his team, they won’t make the effort to shuffle you around and pull you out of your comfort zone. They only do that when they want to make it work, or see what your potential is.
The advantage to you is that you don’t have any experience whatsoever: you’re a blank canvas.
That means that wherever you end up, you can dedicate your entirety to becoming the best at that role, without having to relearn anything. And hey, that’s pretty exciting.
Trust that the coach knows what they’re doing, and be open to their suggestions for a different approach. The more enthusiastically you can jump between roles, the happier the coach will be overall, I promise.
That’s it! You did it. By now, you’ve done everything you can to prepare for tryouts, and it’s time for a break. If you’ve read this far then you must be serious, and I’m very impressed at the effort you’ve put in. Now go out there and crush it at tryouts!
And whether you make it or not, be proud of yourself for the things you accomplished. Whether you know it or not, you’ve already taken a huge leap towards starting your volleyball career, and I can’t wait to see where you end up.
Come back and tell me how it went.