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The Pressure to Give a "Verbal" Commitment | Written by Jim Saari, SSVC College Recruiting Coordinator

An increasingly prevalent phenomenon going on in the world of college recruiting is an athlete being asked to give a "verbal commitment" to a particular college program. Although this has always been used to some extent, schools are now asking ever-younger athletes to make a verbal commitment, some even in their sophomore year of high school.

Many college coaches, even those asking for such a commitment, are disturbed by the pressure this places on players at such a young age, not to mention their parents. Some college coaches seemingly do it for pride-sake, saying things like, "We're all done recruiting for the next three years," while other coaches may just ask for verbal commitments out of laziness. Unfortunately, many college coaches, who may not wish to participate in this practice, are forced to do so or risk losing athletes to other programs.

This current trend in recruiting can lead to all sorts of problems:

  • Some athletes bloom later than others and may have been able to secure a scholarship to a better school/program if they had waited.
  • The verbal commitment an athlete made as a high school sophomore may come in conflict when the college an athlete dreamed about attending comes calling later.
  • The college coach asking for the verbal commitment gets fired or moves on to greener pastures. Is the athlete bound to attend that school based on a promise made to a coach who is no longer there? What if the new coach does not wish to honor the agreement made by the previous coach?
  • Some college coaches abuse this honor system, getting three girls to make a verbal commitment when only two scholarships are available. The coach decides later which player to inform that their deal will not be honored. Luckily, coaches like that are rare.

As parents and athletes, there are things to remember about a verbal commitment. It is NOT a legally recognized contract. This differs from signing the National Letter of Intent, which will be discussed in another article. Technically, until the national signing day for a sport, a college coach cannot make a formal written offer of a scholarship to an athlete. Verbal commitments are a system outside the system, so to speak.

Ultimately, you must do what is best for you, or, as a parent, what is best for your child. I would advise you to not give a verbal commitment without careful and thoughtful discussion about the ramifications of that decision. Explore and examine information about the coach and the school from various sources. If possible, visit a school before providing a verbal commitment to see firsthand what the campus looks like, where you would be living, etc. Talk to players on the team about the coaching staff, time commitment, team chemistry, and other issues. Ask the coach directly what the verbal commitment means to him or her. Will the coach stop recruiting other players for that scholarship if you make a verbal commitment?

You may wish to place a condition on your verbal commitment. For example, you are really hoping to get an offer from your favorite school, but will verbally commit to the school asking for that on the condition that if you get an offer from your #1 choice, you will choose that program instead. Be aware, though, that some coaches will put the offer in an either/or format, such as, "If you do not accept this offer in two days, I will go to the next prospect on my list."

The recruiting process can create a lot of pressure on athletes, parents, and coaches. I would encourage you to seek a realistic appraisal of your talent from your high school and club coaches, including asking what level player does the coach project you to be able to compete? Some players will need to evaluate their financial situation. You may choose to "walk on" (no scholarship) to a college team rather than accept a scholarship from a school you really do not want to attend. Some may feel compelled to accept the first scholarship offer they receive because they cannot afford to attend college without this aid and want to put "one in their pocket," so to speak.

Having been a college volleyball recruiter for many years, I did not like it when a prospect backed out of a verbal commitment when a better offer came along. But, again, you have to do what is best for you. I say this warily for I am a person who really appreciates honesty and openness in all things.

Having alerted you to some of the pitfalls in the verbal commitment process, I hope you enjoy the recruiting process. You should feel flattered whenever anyone notices your talents. Many prospects make a family project out of the process, involving their parents and siblings, thus creating some family bonding moments. Feel free to talk to any Capital City staff about the recruiting process. We are fortunate to have a wealth of people who have seen all sides of this process. Good luck!