I have written more than once about focusing on what you can control. This choice is important not only in sport, but in life itself. My dad always said life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans, a quote also attributed to other people. Robert Burns penned one of my favorite poems about change in 1785: "To a Mouse, on Turning up Her Nest with a Plough” (He also wrote the song we often sing on New Years Eve – Auld Lang Syne). These are the last two parts of his poem. 

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

Life, as in sport, is lived in the present. You can’t control the past, nor the future; but too often we fear or belabor them both. We must learn from this present given, so we are stronger, smarter, better teammates, competitors and members in society. During training, a coach wants you to practice deliberately – mindful of what is going on. The example I often use with my players is handwriting – it is something you have been doing for years, decades most likely, but is it readable to others or just you? If you were told you were going to be an architect and had to have perfect writing, you would start concentrating again and change. Just doing something does not make it change, you must be mindful about changing.

Would you parachute? What if the most important person in your life depended on you jumping? We each can achieve so much more in life if we just commit to jumping – with a parachute of course. I once tweeted the quote at left from Sir Richard Branson. We often are afraid of change, yet that is all life is.

What I love about volleyball is the complete team sport that it is. You cannot compete, let alone win, by playing alone against any good opponent. We must be thankful for those opponents who are better than us, for they push us to a higher level of performance, and of living life.

This principle I am now following as I walk a new pathway of grief, as my loved one just passed away suddenly this week.  I lost her to the opponent alcohol, but for some of you it might be drugs, or cancer, or just the randomness of life that makes a car crash happen in a place that just 2 seconds later would have been safe. Caca occurs. You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them, Maya Angelou once wrote, while Kahlil Gibran taught me that “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Inseparable, together they come, and when one sits, alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.”

I choose to control what I can control and help proactively teach coaches to be better coaches, so they can better impact the lives of their athletes. Not that I won’t also help others fight their addictions, but I believe good mentors, parents and coaches give the blank slates of children immensely valuable lessons as role models on the nurture side of nature.  I choose to meet my loss head on, and live my life even more passionately – for that is what anyone who truly loves you, wants you to do when they are gone. When you lose a teammate to injury, you can see, hear and feel them in real time from the bench. When you lose them to heaven, I know if you listen hard enough, you will still hear them imploring you to live.

I must give special thanks to the aptly named Rise Volleyball Club, led so well by Loren Anderson. In everything we do, we must be compassionate, and the best we can work to see things through other’s eyes. As an example of best practices in compassion, by a very, very good coach, I share this timely message:

John, those who know me well know that I am pretty bad at expressing the empathy I feel.  In such I hard time for you, I wanted to tell you how much you have meant to me and my program.  I started my volleyball club because of your "tryouts and our deepest fear" blog in 2010.  I have followed your blog and teaching for years, and while we have never met, the few phone conversations we have had are special moments for me.  I asked a couple of my girls, who have heard your name a thousand times in our gym, if they had the chance to say anything they wanted to John Kessel, what would they say:

"Dear John Kessel,  I know you have no clue who I am, but you have made a tremendous impact on my life and my identity as a volleyball player.  My name is Mali Sawyer, and I live in Eagle, Idaho.  Living in a small town in Idaho limits the opportunities for good volleyball.  I started playing in 7th grade with lessons once a week and that sprouted into being in the gym every day for countless hours.  Loren Anderson has been my coach for roughly 5 years now.  Your name has been mentioned in camps, clinics, and practices numerous times.  You inspired Loren to start his volleyball club, Rise, which has been pretty much my life for the past 4 years.  He has used your coaching style and advice to teach hundreds of girls how to get better at this game we both love.  For me, it means much more than just a team to represent and play for.  Rise Volleyball is my family.  They have been with me through my parents divorce and my journey through high school.  It is the most constant and healthy part of my life.  I have learned to be a better person and player through Loren’s inspiration from you.  I am incredibly thankful for the way that you inspire and continue to inspire coaches and players all over the world.  In an indirect way, you have changed and shaped my life in a huge way.  Thank you for everything you have done for the volleyball community, and I can’t imagine what I would have done without you and Loren in my life.    -Mali Sawyer"

 "Hello, my name is Serra Anderson and I am a senior at Rocky Mountain High here in Meridian, Idaho. I have been with Loren for about 5 years now playing both club and in clinics. Ever since I started playing for Loren and attending his clinics, his passion for the sport began to grow on me and still continues to grow. Being in Rise Volleyball Academy since the beginning, a man named John Kessel was constantly being referenced, whether it was an article Loren had read or a video he watched. I had no idea who this man was. Throughout the years, this man was referenced more and more and began to learn more about this man. Being coached by Loren, it became apparent how truly inspired he was by you. This in turn, created more inspiration by myself and the other girls in this gym. I’ve come to realize how crazy it is to think that a complete stranger can have so much impact on my life. I cannot stress enough how thankful I am for all that you have done and continue to do for the sport of volleyball. You have not only inspired me but the other girls in this gym as well. I am one girl from Meridian, Idaho whose life is impacted by what you teach and I am sure you have done the same for players and coaches around the world. And for that, I am extremely grateful.”

Thank you John for being an inspiration... and know that you are thought of daily here. I wish you well in such a tough time, and ask that you let me know if I can ever return all the kindness and inspiration you have sent my way.

Tonight, I will be with my amazing daughter, and two dear friends, Matt and Dana McShane. Their home burned up in just 8 minutes just a year ago to the Black Forest fire, one of the first homes to turn to ashes of the 500 lost. It is what it is, and their new home is nearly finished on the same spot in the forest, amidst the burned tree trunks, as life returns on the forest floor and in the new seedlings. We will no doubt cry together listening to Sarah McLachlan at the most beautiful place on earth sometimes – Red Rocks Music Amphitheatre. The last time I was there was with my partner Tammie, to listen, past midnight, to her favorite singer, Lyle Lovett. Many of you might have met her, as she journeyed around the world and the USA with me, and was there at my table at my Hall of Fame induction. She was a gentle, caring soul who loved being part of the volleyball family. This time at Red Rocks, the skies will be crying a bit too most likely, while I will be no doubt shed tears to songs like “In the Arms of the Angel”…and “I Will Remember You… I choose to build on the love I have shared, and to do my small part to make a difference, and I hope you choose to focus on what you can control and do the same.  So be compassionate and say you love someone. Life is short – Play more… and for those of you who love music, playing and change – Playing for Change is a website I have mentioned before. Hear their newest, Guantanamera, sung by 75 different Cubans around the world. RIP T.

Growing the Game blog

I recently was at the NCAA Finals for Women’s D1 and four words jumped out at me that I have always found of importance, but which were being repeated in session after session. To hear others using these four  words in genuine ways, makes me think we have turned a corner in volleyball. Now, many coaches around the world are making the changes needed to become better teachers of the game.

One of the words was “Gamelike.” For too long coaches have said “this is gamelike” when in reality it was far from it. It reminds me of a YouTube drill I chanced upon years ago where one group was kicking volleyballs, as the other group was at the net, standing backwards. Their job was to shuffle in front of the rolling volleyball to stop it from crossing under the net, by intercepting it with their heels and/or calves. The coach kept saying “this is gamelike” as this most un-volleyball-gamelike charade went on, believing, I would have to assume, that if he said “gamelike” enough, the viewers would believe him. After all, since it was on the Internet, it must be true.  At the convention however, more training examples being shown were actually gamelike.  Still, too many partner examples shown for my personal motor learning science based beliefs, but definitely more gamelike training overall.

The other two words were a phrase “Growth Mindset.”  Readers of my blog became aware of this important pair of words years ago, when I first shared Carol Dweck’s research. At this convention it was a strong topic of discussion and reference, and that is again great to see, for it is important in developing better learners of anything, including sport.

The power of our words, as it is the most important part of our coaching impact, that of giving feedback, is worth more study by all coaches. In our IMPACT manual I have shared for over 25 years why we need to change the words “Don’t” – to what you want, as you can’t teach a negative; “Try” as it gives the person an excuse for not doing it, as Yoda knows full well; “But” – for it shuts the door on whatever words you shared just before that word, while “and” lets the words still be heard; and “Can’t” for there is nothing you will ask them to do that is impossible, it just  has not been done 10 of 10 times yet. It is likely they will start at 1 of 10…however, it can still be done.

The word was Mastery. When I was writing the first IMPACT manual, I sat in a kitchen area of Bill Neville’s home, with him and Mike Flemming, I knew the word I wanted was IMPACT, as that was the intent of this must take course,; to impact coaches in a positive way,. I was not sure what words to make the acronym from.  I think it was Mike that found the word Mastery as we were going through the dictionary to find the best words for each letter. And once I heard it, that was that. Karch speaks to the USA Women’s National team training athletes about just getting a little better every day. Others spoke about “the process” – and in the end it came down to focusing every day on mastery, for that is an anchor word to all programs seeking to help athletes be the best they can be.

There are so many other negative, demotivating words and phrases in sport and in life, that we really need to cut out.  There are a couple of interesting gals in the United Kingdom who focus on this area, Liz Green and Andrea Gardner. Liz calls herself a “pioneer of positive change” while Andrea told a short story in a clip called Change Your Words, Change Your World…” thus the title of this blog. 

To see three 1-2 minute clips that Andrea created, their links are shown below. In all three examples, you can see how a change in wording makes such a big difference in the life of the persons making that change.  Take about 5 more minutes to ponder these three, and feel free to share in the comments section any examples of wording changes you have made in your gym that made a difference in your teaching and your athletes’ learning.

Change Your Words, Change Your World

Time to Make a Difference

How Many Balloons have you Burst?