Jim Stone | USA Volleyball National Youth Team
In a week, the “regular” season for collegiate volleyball will come to a close and we’ll enter the NCAA championships. Many of the 64 teams selected for the Division 1 tournament know their chances of going all the way are minuscule. These are much like the odds faced years ago by Chuck Wepner (nicknamed the Bayonne Bleeder for his propensity to bleed during heavyweight prize fights) as he entered the ring against Muhammad Ali. That didn’t keep him from taking his best shot to shock the world, and many of the 64 volleyball teams will have a similar “shock the world” approach when the tournament begins.
Marching conjointly with the championships are the obligatory end-of-season awards for players, coaches, teams and pretty much anybody else associated with the sport. We all enjoy having our efforts recognized. However, it seems that the awards program for the collegiate athletes is beginning to resemble the “every player gets a ribbon” approach of youth sports.
An op-ed piece in The New York Times in 2013 shed light on this trend in soccer.
“In Southern California, a regional branch of A.Y.S.O. hands out roughly 3,500 awards each season — each player gets one, while around a third get two. Nationally, A.Y.S.O. local branches typically spend as much as 12 percent of their yearly budgets on trophies.”
Too many awarded athletes
In volleyball, the AVCA selects 42 Division 1 athletes each year as First, Second or Third Team All Americans. If we stopped there, I’d be fine. But there are also 76 athletes named Honorable Mention All Americans. If my math is correct, that’s 118 All Americans.
I’m of sufficient age where “back in the day” actually means a while back. When I began coaching at Ohio State in 1982, there were 12 athletes recognized as All Americans and 5 athletes named Honorable Mention All Americans. Although they were few in number, I can attest that each of those athletes was very, very good. I’m sure some good players that year were not recognized as All Americans. But, hey, in that era, being good was not good enough. If you were to be selected as an All American, you had to be great.
For a moment, let’s look at this award aggrandizement in mathematical terms. Assume that most of the 118 athletes recognized last year as All Americans played in programs that were ranked in the top 100 in the country. One would assume that an All American is a member of a decent team. So those 100 teams each have 6 starting players. My guess is that an All-American player is a starter, so 118 athletes out of 600 starters were named All Americans. That means 19.7 % of the starting players in the top 100 programs in the country are considered All Americans.
That’s not a very exclusive list.
Honor great players by not honoring so many good players
I would assume this expansion of All Americans was done so schools could promote individuals inside their respective programs. But I think there are better ways to market a team or a program than passing out All-American accolades like Halloween candy.
If, within the AVCA award framework, a player is recognized as “All Region,” that’s great. Players selected as All Region should carry that title with pride. But let’s stop the All-American recognition at 42 players. All-American awards should be a distinction reserved only for the “great” ones.
Jim Stone coached the Ohio State women's volleyball team for 26 years and is currently head coach of USA Volleyball's Youth National Team. He is a contributing editor at Art of Coaching.