By Catherine Pottle (Club Arrowhead, Peoria, Ariz.)

It’s game point and the match is on the line for the Region Championship. Suzy is the libero for the Hot Tamales. She knows the ball is coming to her, and her team is counting on her. Her passing has not been what she is capable of, but she is trying her best.

The ball is served right to Suzy - her perfect pass to the setter gets set to the team's best hitter for a kill and the Hot Tamales win the match and are Region Champions! With chaos and screaming, everyone is giving high fives to Sarah who killed the ball, and to Liz who set the ball. Yet, no compliments or high fives for Suzy, even though she set the play in motion with her perfect pass. Why is it so hard to give credit where credit is due?

Sue Gonzansky says it best in her book, Volleyball Coach’s Survival Guide:

    “The pass starts the offense, without a pass there is no offense. The setter struggles to set up a hittable attack. The goal of the passer is to receive the serve and free ball, and direct it accurately and consistently to the setter. The perfect pass is one that allows the setter to run the offense and utilize all set and attack options. A team that cannot pass accurately will not be able to effectively execute its offense.”

The passer seems to be the unsung hero in the game of volleyball. Everyone only sees the way the ball was killed by the hitter, or the great hands on the setter. Coaches could make a big impact on their players if they would implement the compliment sandwich (i.e. a positive of what they did, a negative of what they did or how to make better, followed by another positive) and give more positive feedback to the passers.

With kids dealing with so much peer pressure and problems at home, many come to practice to get away. As a coach, try to be a positive impact on them and let them know you care. John Kessel said much the same in a USA Volleyball Coaching Accreditation Program (CAP) course, “Get to know your players and let them know you REALLY care and want to help them. Find out their favorite color, if they have a test tomorrow, etc.”

We all know the old phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Well sometimes the lack of words is just as damaging as not giving credit to the athlete. That athlete will never know if you approved. Even a simple smile or thumbs up may make their day.

Here are some tips to giving a compliment by Mary Jo Manzanares, who is a public speaker on Leadership (revised specifically for volleyball coaches and players). Coaches can use these simple tips or even help our players put them into action.

  • Extend a compliment about an insecurity. Everyone is insecure about something, and that frequently means we give too much credence to what other people think about us. An example might be if you know someone who is struggling to block. In this example, it might be the 6-foot-tall, 11-year-old who doesn’t like being tall, and therefore doesn’t jump because she is afraid of what others think because she is trying to fit in with the rest of her 11-year-old teammates. In this example, the coach might point out the positive in that she kept her arms up and blocked with two hands this time, not one.
  • Be specific with your compliment. This action not only shows that you are paying attention to the change, but it identifies what really 'WOWed' you. It is a form of sincerity. Example: Way to lock your elbows and take that hard hit!
  • Never minimize the other person. The purpose of the compliment should be to make the other person feel like a million bucks! Sincerity means that your compliment is not some back-handed jab or sarcastic remark. Example: "Way to jump and hit the ball this time!"
  • Respect other opinions. Agreeing with someone is a form of compliment, so if you can echo the sentiments of another favorable statement, it reinforces the original compliment. Example: Both coaches may say, “Suzy way to pass the winning point!” With this being said the rest of her teammates may just fall into line and give credit to Suzy and make her feel like the hero of the week!

So why is it so hard for athletes to give credit where credit is due? It may be because players are watching their coaches and following their examples. If coaches aren’t willing to give a compliment or positive feedback when it is due, why would any athlete care to? As coaches, we need to start setting a better example and showing our athletes how to respect each other and give (as well as accept) a sincere compliment.

Coaches expect their players to have great teamwork automatically without anyone showing them how to do that. What coach would not agree that teamwork is imperative in our sport? As Christine Emmick said, “In no other sport is teamwork as important as in volleyball. If you aren't careful, you can give credit to an impressive outside hitter when some of the credit is due to the setting the team did. Both your outside hitters need to pay special attention to the great sets they receive and acknowledge the work done by the entire team. Serves, sets and attacks make the match, not just the spike that drove the point home.”

As coaches, and for the good of the sport, we can’t have our players “burn out” on volleyball because all they remember is the negative. If we want a good future for volleyball and for our athletes to become life-long players (and coaches) we need to do the following ourselves and encourage our players to: “Remember those people who “made it happen”. Recognize those individuals who “do the right thing”. By doing so you encourage future leadership and participation,” –Author Unknown

So in conclusion, be sure to remember to give your “Suzys” a compliment or thumbs up whenever it is due, and so will your team.