Over the past couple of weeks we’ve put together a road map for young volleyball players who want to compete at the highest levels, from selecting a club team to picking a college. Though a lot of people don’t realize it, there is a career path for those players talented enough and interested in playing professional volleyball.
People were always asking me what was next during my senior year at Nebraska. It was always a dream of mine to play at the professional level so that is what I pursued. To play professionally, you’re going to have to go overseas. There are leagues all over the world, but not in the United States.
After my college career was over in December 2012, I went to Puerto Rico to play right away in January. The season there is four months, so I was done in May at which point I trained with the U.S. National Team. It’s an opportunity that can offer exposure to international scouts and better contracts, but it’s by invitation only.
I returned to Nebraska in the fall of 2013 to finish school, competing with Team USA in the under-23 World Championships along the way, then it was back to Puerto Rico in 2014. After my season was over there, I went to Switzerland in August to play and then returned to Puerto Rico for a third time at the start of 2015. My professional career ended that year after I injured my wrist.
Professional volleyball is different from any other level in a number of ways. The ball is different (it’s dimpled so it handles and flies differently), the stats are different (some leagues only count assists for clean kills, no tooling the block), some of the rules are different and you’re basically playing year-round.
Depending on the league, contracts can range from $15,000 to $1 million. In addition to a salary, players usually get an apartment and car included in their contracts, and then there are bonuses for signing and winning league or tournament championships. Players interested in playing professionally typically sign with an agent who will have access to and a history with professional teams around the world.
Outside and right-side hitters are in the most demand and command the highest salaries. Team owners like players that can score points, and are willing to pay for them. Middle hitters are next in the hierarchy followed by setters and liberos. It can be very hard for liberos to find contracts. Kayla Banwarth, one of the best liberos in the world and an Olympic medalist, had years where she struggled to find a pro team.
Depending upon the league rules, there may also be rules governing how many foreign-born players a team can have at one time. When I played in Puerto Rico the limit was two, but Switzerland’s league had no restrictions. Most leagues include somewhere around 10 teams and the seasons can be as short as two months or as long as nine.
While professional volleyball may not be a big part of America’s sports landscape, Nebraska volleyball still takes great pride in preparing players to play professionally. In addition to all of the hard work that goes into competing at the highest level collegiately, there are many behind-the-scenes things Coach John Cook and his staff are doing to get players ready for the pro ranks if that’s what they want to pursue.
And when they make it, it only makes the Huskers more attractive to another generation of young players.
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