You are here:

Volleyball/What to do with my freakish 9th grader: middle, outside, setter, or right-side?


Coach Houser,

My daughter is 14.  She is 6 feet and a muscular 165 lbs.  She has been playing a for a year and a half. She started last fall as an 8th grader on a freshman team with no experience, then played on a zonal level club team.  This school year she made the varsity team as the only freshman on a top five team in the state. She hopes to make the national level team in club this season.  She has played several positions. Coaches tend to put her at middle as she is very tall and a pretty good blocker. She also gets played outside and right side from time to time.  Her hitting has improved over the last year, but she still gets underneath the ball sometimes.  Because of her height, she always seems to be "playing up," which means a lot of time on the bench.  But this has also resulted in her feeling like she hasn't found her position yet because the coaches keep moving her around. Is this pretty typical to get switched around like this when you are young?  I have read your responses about playing up and agree that her experience in practice with this high level team has been fantastic.

I don't know if she is done growing, but she has a goal to play in college.  I don't know if she will have the size to play middle in college.  I don't know enough about the positions to know if this is correct, but I have heard "if you can play middle, you can play outside or right side, but it is harder to move the other direction." Some of the coaches at her club have suggested that she even learn to be a setter, so she would have a better chance of playing in college. Obviously she will play wherever they need her, but just trying to figure out if middle seems to be the natural place. She just wants to continue to improve and hopefully get court time as she matures.  Any advice you have on positions would be appreciated. Also I wonder if her "still developing" hitting skills may be holding her back. Her varsity coach said he wishes he had more time to work with her on getting that mastered, but the other varsity players are so far beyond that he can't focus on that in practice.  Would you suggest private lessons for hitting or is that not necessary?

Hello Sarah!
Welcome to!  It's great to hear from you.
Here's something that may take the fizz out of everything else I say:  The bottom line is:   What does SHE want to do?    When she tells you that, I think you'll know the direction to go.  
But, let me answer your questions.
* Yes, young tall girls play in the middle.  
* Getting underneath the ball, mistiming when to start the approach, misanticipating where the set is going to land, etc. are all characteristics of a young and/or inexperienced hitter.  She will work her way out of those issues with age and experience.  Age will come.  But, experience has to be located/earned/etc.  She will probably only become proficient hitting the outside/rightside set from thousands of attempts.  
* Yes, getting moved around is typical.  You and her have an option:  Do not play up this coming club season.  Yes, you can tell your club, "We're not playing up."  And then don't.  The club may say, "We will have to put your child where we need her," and then you can say, "Then we'll go to another club.  After 3 seasons on the bench 'improving,' we'd like to see her play some."  This is normal and typical here in Roanoke.  And we try our best to work with the kids & parents to fill their wishes.  We usually can.  
* Playing in college:  She may want to do it now.  She may not in the 10th grade.  She may in the 11th.  From my experience, the #1 cause of burnout:  mean, hateful, cursing, fussing coaches.  The #2 cause:  "DO IT!", GO FOR IT, "YOU'RE NOT A WIMP" parents.  
* Yes, a 6'1" or 6'2" setter is special.  There's one from Roanoke on the James Madison team (Sarah Patterson) and another from Roanoke on the Stetson team (Shannon Craighead).  But they both LOVED setting.  Does your daughter?  If so, she needs to do it NOW!  Very very few girls can start setting in the 10th or 11th grade and make a career of it.  
* So, if SHE WANTS to be a setter (or a right, or an outside, or a libero, etc), then here's one thing I highly recommend:  Tell the coaches who are directing the summer camps she attends that she is an _____.  At every camp.  She's an _______.  And that's the only position she wants to play.  
* I've never heard "if you can play middle, you can play outside or right side, but it is harder to move the other direction."   But I like it!   :)  And it's probably true.  
* Yes, her lack of hitting skills will hold her back.  Yes, I can't work with any of my kids one-on-one when I'm concentrating on us playing 6's. If she doesn't have more OH/Right instruction, then that may probably result in her playing middle or playing none.  Yes, private lessons would be wonderful; but, DON'T go to someone who's going to let her hit for an hour.  That's 300 hits w/o any, "No, do this.  No, do that"?  Nope.  In an hour of my lessons, a girl may hit 150 balls, and listen/learn/watchvideo/etc. the rest of the time. The skill will be demonstrated by me, by my assistants, but YOuTube video, etc.   DON'T pay $x an hour for reps, for practice, etc.  All that should be free.  :)   Pay for expert teaching, advice, etc.  A person who gives private athletic lessons should have a lot in common with your daughter's math teacher:  They should teach, help, fix, instruct, observe, make comments/suggestions, etc.  You can see my staff's schedule at  

I have tried to answer all your questions; but, I may have miss something.
If I have, please follow up, or email me at
Thanks again for visiting.  I hope to hear from you again soon!
Coach Houser

p.s.  As soon as you said "zonal," I was thinking RVC. If that's where you're from, or if you're  If it is (and I'm from Roanoke), you may want to email me in the future at  


All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Tom Houser


I can answer any type of volleyball question: middle school, high school, college, club, coaching, playing, etc. (I am not, however, a athletic trainer! If you have a knee, ankle, back, etc. question, I'm sorry, but please search for another expert.)

I will almost always answer your question within 24 hours.

You may also email me anytime at! I'd enjoy hearing from you!

TEENAGERS: Please check your email tomorrow. I will probably have answered your question by then. :)

In the past 10 years, vball has taken my to San Francisco, Miami, Alaska, Pennsylvania, both Carolinas, and Salt Lake City. We can't wait to come visit you!

Then, one last favor: please grade my answer!


32 years coaching varsity, JV, club.

You can see all about me at There are also free downloads for coaches & parents, and lots of smiling faces for you volleyball players!

BS degree from Va Tech in Math Education. MS degree from Va Tech in Secondary Administration. In the fall, I'll be starting my 31st year teaching high school math!

The Picture!
The picture that you see is the 2015 15's team that I'm fortunate to be a part of. We will participate in 10 tournaments: Monument (Richmond) in January, Capitol Hill (Wash DC) in February, Shamrock (Roanoke, Va) in March and both BigSouth (Atlanta) and Northeast Qualifiers (Philadelphia) in April. My teams have qualified for Junior Nationals in '06, '09 and '12. We can't wait for this season to begin!

Awards and Honors
You can see this by visiting me at , then touch the "Coach Houser" link in the top right-hand corner.

©2017 All rights reserved.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]