February 4, 2024

Women's Volleyball Recruitment and Social Media: The New Double-Edged Sword

It’s no surprise that social media has become an integral part of our lives, influencing how we communicate and  even how we present ourselves professionally. In the world of collegiate women's volleyball, social media offers recruits a unique opportunity. Aspiring recruits can now create content to showcase skills, connect with coaches, and potentially secure coveted spots on college teams. As women's sports grow in recognition and marketing spend, their social media expansion seems only natural. However, beneath the surface of this seemingly beneficial tool lies pitfalls that can severely impact an athlete's recruitment journey and career trajectory. 

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Communicating Through a Personal Brand

Platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok provide athletes a global stage to display their talents, engage with fans, and attract the attention of college recruiters. Charlotte Glass, one of the top setters in the country, quickly amassed 37K Instagram followers doing just that. From hype reels with teammates to short-form setting tutorials, Glass crafted a personal brand that highlighted her athleticism and dedication. Duke Volleyball took notice and Glass ultimately committed to the team for 2025. Stories like this one aren’t uncommon. In fact, 83% of collegiate coaches conduct online research of prospective student-athletes to inform their recruiting decisions.

Social media also allows athletes to bypass traditional recruitment channels and directly connect with college coaches and programs. Potential women's volleyball recruits must adhere to the official NCAA recruitment timeline, which restricts communication with coaches until the summer before junior year. After this window, social media offers an outlet beyond email to connect with coaches on a more personal level. Platforms provide a level of transparency that benefits both athletes and recruiters, allowing them to gauge mutual interest and compatibility before committing to a formal recruitment process.

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Navigating Risks

Despite its benefits, social media in collegiate volleyball recruitment carries risks, notably the potential distortion of athletes' abilities and character. As sports commentator Joe Davis points out, athletes may rely on social media for performance validation, leading them to embellish skills to stand out in fierce competition. This can create a false narrative that may backfire during recruitment. Additionally, the relentless pursuit of likes and followers can divert athletes from their primary goal: becoming better volleyball players.

The pressure to maintain an attractive online presence may prioritize aesthetics over substance, detracting from skill improvement. In the competitive world of women’s volleyball, this can adversely affect athletes’ well-being. Prominent athletes like Victoria Garrick Browne, a former University of Southern California recruit, stated that she "couldn’t take a wrong step without feeling like her world was coming down.” Browne struggled with mental health as she balanced social media with her performance on the court. After graduation, Browne went on to share her story on social media with content tackling topics like body image, anxiety, and depression. By pivoting away from the pitfalls of social media and leaning into authenticity, the former college recruit has amassed nearly half a million followers on Instagram. 

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Perpetuating Inequality 

Beyond risks, the influence of social media marketing in collegiate volleyball recruitment can also perpetuate systemic inequalities within the sport. Athletes from affluent backgrounds may have a distinct advantage in funding polished, high-quality content that garners attention from recruiters. Conversely, athletes from underprivileged backgrounds or those lacking social media savvy may struggle to compete on an uneven playing field, further widening the gap in recruitment opportunities. Some volleyball bootcamps, organized by “recruitment specialists” that aim to lend knowledge in harnessing the power of social media, charge a whopping $800 for enrollment. With club play already costing high school athletes between $2-30K a year, lower income students cannot afford this extra edge. 

While social media marketing holds undeniable potential as a tool for collegiate volleyball recruitment, its inherent risks cannot be overlooked. From the dangers of misrepresentation and distraction to the threat of systemic inequalities, athletes must approach social media with caution. By prioritizing authenticity, integrity, and a balanced approach to online presence, aspiring collegiate volleyball players can navigate the complexities of social media marketing while safeguarding their recruitment prospects.

Sources:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PZMgU8EGAk
  2. https://www.ncsasports.org/womens-volleyball/recruiting-rules-calendar
  3. https://www.victoriabrowne.co/
  4. https://sportsrecruits.com/athlete/charlotte_glass2
  5. https://www.instagram.com/charlotteglassvolleyball/?hl=en
  6. https://econtent.hogrefe.com/doi/10.1024/2674-0052/a000060
  7. https://www.stack.com/a/how-to-get-ahead-in-recruiting-without-getting-scammed/

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