Originally published in 2011

So dear team, our club season has come to an end, including my time to be in practice and competition guiding your development and training. It is time for you to coach yourself, figuring things out implicitly, with a little bit of guided discovery from a crafty mentor as a partner or opponent. Mybeplay as much doubles with a passionate partner as you can. Then your school season will begin with the same interest of your parents, but the increased challenge of your classmates watching you perform.  I believe you are ready…Why?

You know how to serve better – With the help of the radar gun, simplified motion and deliberate practice, you are hammering volleyballs over 60 feet cross court with very few errors. You know how to serve the spaces and make the ball float, jumper or not. Your toss is low and consistent, and if you miss, it’s usually out long, not into the net or wide.

You know how to serve receive better  - Sure your old pair “ball control” partner passing habits creep in sometimes, but by and large, you know that the ball is to be passed up, five or more feet off the net and keep your arms at an angle to make that happen – not passing too tight or over the net. From speed ball, through monarch of the court, to serving and always passing those serves during the “serving” segments, you saw thousands of serves come flying OVER the net, not tossed or passed to you from in front of the net, and are better at reading and moving to all those different serves.

You know where and how to dig, and keep getting better at reading -- You are not afraid of the floor, and you are understanding that coaches want two players to read and save a ball together, rather than have nobody going for it, and letting the ball hit the floor. Keep up the three-person pepper so your habits and reactions never dig the ball back to a partner, but instead dig it halfway to that attacker. If you are in pairs, keep digging the incoming ball up, not back to your partner. Coaches at every level want diggers who only know how to dig up to their other five teammates and never over the net to the opponents to reload. Sure, digging (and even passing) balls over the net on your first contact might fall for a point against weaker opponents, and have fans cheering too, but the team and coaches seek those who read and dig up, not over the net.

You know how to spike better -- You know how to not hit the way you are facing – and do it by jumping in the right spot and time, no matter what kind of set you have received because you have pass-set-hit so many times. You make most your hitting mistakes OVER the net, thanks in part to playing over the ribbon, speed ball, monarch of the court and spiking over the net height wall stripe. Sure you still have the habit of hitting down that comes with traditional wall wrist snap spike training and pepper from before, but those errors are diminishing. The habit is still there, for one never “replaces” a habit, they just do more of the right thing more and more until the motor program you tap into is almost always the better choice or error, the good mistake if you err, every time. You also know better how to acknowledge that when as a hitter you get to pound a quickset, or any set you get to crush, that we turn to our setter and then the passer and thank them for the chance to terminate.

You ALL know how to set better -- We did not spend time letting only one setter develop this season, while the rest of you spiked and did other skills. You ALL learned how to set a hittable ball, and about half of you learned more on how to run an offense. When you spiked, then set, then chased after the ball, I understand that there was a lot of randomness and variability you were dealing with, both in front and back sets. As we had short, medium and tall setters, even more variability was being experienced. You never hit off of a consistent, albeit very 'un-game-like,' toss by me.

You learned to be crafty and skilled free ball attackers -- Unlike in hitting, I did toss to you some, but only for you each to hit aggressively over on a “free” ball.  You got really good at that, something more to be proud of, for you will score points at the next level a lot with your successful and tactical play

You block better – You blocked thousands of live attacks this season, learning what it takes to stay out of the net nearly every single time. You increased your knowledge of WHEN and WHERE to jump with short, medium and taller attackers, no matter if they were off the net, inside, or hitting a “perfect” set. You blocked hundreds of balls, and…you made your opponents change their attack, even if you did not touch the ball every time – you got them to hit out, tip into the net and hit a less favorable or powerful shot. Sure enough, some bounced funny and off of you or ran along the net like a squirrel on a power line, and fell on our side. The thing is, you regrouped and let such bad breaks not affect you, but focused on your next block or play knowing such things are just part of the randomness of the game and that your time to squirrel an attack, over the net of course, would come.

You have run a 6-3, 6-2, and 5-1 in competitionYour next team might have a different serve receive pattern than ours, but you know to let the setter get it, running through even if needed, unless the setter yells early for help. Our setters know how to hit, and with all of you hitting, you know how to hit middle and right side, not just “the outside.” You likely will go to a 5-1 offense when you hit the school season, as most coaches don’t have the luxury of having three or more talented setters, but we did…and that is how we trained for the next level. 

Continue to focus on what you can control – your hustle, your attitude, your serve. To some of you, this also means stop spending time with the Angry birds, and the “Yeahbut” birds. When your next coach gives you a tip, or suggests a solution to a problem you might have shown on the court – getting angry or saying “Yeah, but…” is not the right response. Listen – it is information, not criticism, if your coach cares about you. Your next coach might not know regression to the mean as well as you, and yank you out if you make repeated errors. They might be louder than me in a time out, or talk too much about something you already know well, but just misjudged is all, or they might yammer about technique when you just mis-timed the ball unintentionally. They might even yell a lot at you from the sidelines as you perform, unlike dance, music, or tennis teachers. Nevertheless, this is your new coach, and you will learn new things from him or her, for they have insights and ideas that will click with you, and help you get better.

You know, it is easy to be a commentator, or even a blogger…telling what happened, even though the pros you see on television, let alone the fans in the stands, are accurate in their predictions maybe half the time is all. Ignore the spectators who tell you “We need a pass”… “For gosh sakes just get it in…” and “Stop screwing up,” etc. They are not playing, you are. Remember my dear team, you have chosen volleyball – which simply is far harder to do than the sport of basketfootbaseball. They get to hold on to the ball, catch and throw it. You never can, except to get ready to serve. Imagine what our game would be like if you got four chances to score a point….or strikes and balls before the server actually got to ace the passer…or simply could hold onto the ball for a few seconds when you were a bit confused as to what to do next. Nope, that’s not going to happen. Every contact of every rally you are challenged by physics to keep the ball off the floor and, to time your moment of contact off of your body to deflect it on the next correct flight path – you are like a fighter pilot in skill demands, before computers came into play, having to shoot down a ball in flight – every time you dig, pass, set, spike or block. You are way more than an ace player when you fly all over the court – you are astounding, acrobatic, amazing athletes. 

Spend your time ahead focused on your form as much as you do your skills. Spend time learning more about the mental game that is played on that court between your ears. Keep developing a coachable and true team attitude – getting the farthest ball when having to collect up the balls… running in every time a coach calls you in…paying attention to your coach in any talk or time out…cheering your teammates on when you are on the bench, rather than worrying about your playing time….and bettering the ball every chance you get, rather than complaining about a teammate error.  Play doubles when time, friendships and weather allows. Your season to strive for is ahead, not past – no one gets good resting on their laurels, and new starting spots are waiting for those who DO things, not complain. And while achievements are great, you also began to contribute back to our game, by coaching younger players during your own practices. That which you teach, you learn, and there are lots of younger players who were given the gift of being able to be taught by you as you learned. You also gave back to the kids in Haiti, working the Haiti Street booth and helping those kids from afar through both their bracelets made and giving them volleyballs for the Leave a Ball Behind Program. By giving, you get so much more.   

So at your next stop along the Citius, Altius, Fortius path…. dig and pass it up, serve it hard and flat over, swing fast and quick, set it off net and hittable, keep anticipating and reading, and out hustle and play your game. I wish I could say with all that you will be winning, or playing error-free, but while we seek that through all the deliberate practicing done, losses and errors will happen. Indeed, this next step up, the balls will come faster, the shots more varied and your reading and timing will be challenged – the joy of PLAYING should not be threatened by the fact that mistakes – even streaks of errors, will occur. It happens to every player on their journey, so take a deep breath and strive to contact the next ball, the only one you can control, as best you can. And smile. I am, as it was a special season with special players, who are going to make a difference on each and every team lucky enough to have you as the next change of seasons comes….