Every time I step in the gym, I treat it as the first time.
I greet 30-plus players by name and give high fives, ask them how their days are going, and find out if something big in their lives is coming up so I can ask them about it later. I make things fun for them because not everything needs to be so serious. We can still compete and focus while having a laugh now and then.
It is my belief that players may be more willing to put themselves out there if they know the people around them will not judge them. This goes a long way in improving the mindset of someone who may have a fixed stance on a particular subject.
For example, a fellow coach and I were demonstrating what the non-hitting arm should be doing when hitting. We asked for some volunteers so the teams could watch what some hitters were doing. Crickets, of course. In their minds, who would want to get up in front of a group and perform poorly?
Rather than call up players and embarrass them, my friend and I took turns hitting and demonstrating every single thing we could imagine girls doing with their non-hitting arms when spiking. The entire gym was drowning in laughter! After a dozen examples, players were lining up to demonstrate.
By the end of the night, we had corrected several arms. By putting ourselves out there as regular people, we were able to guide and assist. I believe the greatest gift that a coach can give is that of charisma. If the players look up to you, trust you, and believe in you, they will follow you.
A common occurrence in our gym is a player struggling with her serves. Most of the time, it is corrected by showing her proper footwork. More often than not, her mindset proves to be the biggest obstacle. After 20 serves with the proper footwork, this young player tells me, “I can’t do it this way. My serves are worse.”
I assure her that if we stick with it, things will improve. Ten minutes later she is all smiles as she is on her 20 serve in a row over the net and in. Her mom is going crazy, and as she serves the last ball into the court I remind her that 10 minutes ago she was telling me “I can’t.”
In my gym, I notice that players who have the fixed mindset are those that lack confidence in themselves. They may feel they are inferior to others in some way. I have learned that by making that player feel comfortable they are more willing to increase their comfort zone.
I was wrapping up a private lesson with one of our younger players, and she was really starting to come around. We were working on serving and passing. The older girls started to show up for practice and she started to tune out. She started to watch the older girls and began to pace herself so she didn’t look bad in front of them.
I called two of the older girls over and told them my partner and I wanted to play them. The older girls were a little shocked but up to the challenge. My young friend was more surprised that I would be willing to play with her against the older girls. I gave her no instructions — I just wanted her to play and have fun. I let her do all the serving for us. She started out slow, unsure of herself. Nervous and still concerned with why we were doing this, we kept at it.
Five minutes later she started to have some fun, and realized she could do it. After all, coach was here and had her back. Ten minutes later it was six on two. The entire 17s team was on the court taking on me and my 12-year-old partner. My partner was diving all over the floor making great plays. She was telling me, “Put it straight up!” She was having a blast.
The last play of the game was her making a great dig on one of the older girls. The girls came over and gave her high fives, cheering the play. She walked out of the gym that night with a huge smile. That is what it is all about for me.
I take my responsibilities as a coach very seriously. I started playing volleyball when I was 20. I was never actually coached, and because of this, I always doubted myself when planning a practice. I would watch videos, lean on peers for advice, sit in on the practices of other coaches, all the while trying to learn as much as I could.
I finally decided I needed to go right to the source, so I signed up and took a CAP I course with USA Volleyball. CAP I led to CAP II, which will soon lead to CAP III. This constant, never-ending search for knowledge that I now have is so that I can not only be a better coach but also a better person. When moments like these with my young players appear, I can be better equipped to help and guide them to find success, whatever and wherever that may be.
Always encourage your players. Allow them to make mistakes. Don’t hold them to perfection, just ask them to be better. I have told myself that I may never be surrounded by amazing athletes or players who are 6-feet tall. I may never have a terminal killer or a super-fast middle.
That cannot change who I am as a person or a coach. What I will always have is a passion for this game. I will always have encouraging words for those that need them. I will always have a way to make the work feel like fun. I will always be willing and able to explain the same thing nine or 10 different ways so that everyone understands what it is I am trying to say.
I am here to grow this game, to grow mindsets, and to show players of all ages and skill levels that they CAN. As a coach — that’s what I do.