There's no reason a middle can't be a great defender or passer, so let's not pigeonhole them.
In the club volleyball world it's common to have trends from year to year, and more specifically, from age group to age group. Within a club, city or region, some age groups are deeper than others; one age group may have a glut of outside hitters, while another may be very strong at libero. And these trends change very little from year to year.
One overarching trend that has very little to do with age, however, is a lack of dynamic and athletic middle blockers. And it is not only a trend at the club level, but at the collegiate level as well.
Speaking to several college coaches, one summed it up this way:
"About seven or eight years ago, there was a growing trend in junior volleyball where club and high school programs began trying to convert players from middle to outside to have more depth of bigger & stronger players on the pin that could terminate. A lot of this trend was in response to college teams looking for such players. Basically - everyone wants the terminal arm on the outside and there are only so many of those type of kids to go around. The issue we're seeing now is that fewer kids either want to play middle and/or are being persuaded to play the outside hitter position in the hopes of playing at the higher levels in college. The irony is that, since many young middles have been converted to pin hitters over the past several years, there is now a shortage in quality middle hitters to recruit for the college level, and a significant amount of college programs are seriously recruiting middle hitter prospects now that they wouldn't have considered recruiting several years ago."
The question is, how do we respond at the junior level? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Train athletes to be complete volleyball players. Sometimes players just want more opportunities to be on the floor, but coaches can get locked into the notion that the libero goes in for the middle blocker . . . but why? There's no reason a middle can't be a great defender or passer, so let's not pigeon hole them. Give your pin attackers reps in the middle, and give your middle blockers reps on the outside and right side pins. Design your drills so that players are playing various positions and train every skill.
2. Encourage athletes who enjoy playing the middle blocker position to stay at the position. In economic terms, this is a market place that has a glut of one product and a lack of another. Good athletes can take advantage of this and create opportunities both at the club level and at the college level.
3. Educate athletes on trends and facts at the college level. Yes, some 5'10" athletes may be too small to play middle blocker at a Power 5 school (even though this isn't necessarily the case). But there are roughly 500 DI, DII, and DIII collegiate volleyball programs, all needing quality middle hitters. There are thousands of quality 5'10" outside hitters . . . however there are not thousands of quality middles!