After 30-plus years of coaching in this great sport, I think it is time to tell you who my favorite player is. Every coach has one, you see, and I am no different.
I have never measured this player’s height, but I know this player has the biggest heart of the team and always plays up to a special stature. She is the one who cares about her teammates, on and off the court; the one who came up with the idea of enlarging her sick teammate’s face to life size, putting it on a stick and making sure it is in every picture taken, team or otherwise, when we went on an away trip.
He is the one who understands the words, Citius, Altius, Fortius. The one I saw with my own eyes, or knew from the changes, was doing something every day to make himself better as a player and a person.
She is the one who goes to the farthest corner of the gym to get that one errant volleyball hiding from others in plain view, always running to retrieve it, and always doing so without being asked.
He is the one who is there five minutes before practice starts and the last one to leave the gym.
She is the one who is a balance of humor and fun, coupled with intensity and full effort.
He is the one who is nice. He understands that winning and losing are temporary, while friendships last forever.
She is the one who could not get the ball over the net for weeks when first learning to serve, who gave the roundhouse serve a go, and in the end, served five-straight points including two aces for the championships.
He is the one who broke a team rule, accepted the punishment without a word of complaint, without blaming others, and who never broke that team rule again.
She is the one who, when she got injured by an opponent under the net, ended up making good friends with that player. She still came to practice and helped while healing, learning the coaching side of things and helping out the team.
He is the one who shanked the serve reception near the end of the game, but did not turn to look at me for answers. Instead, he refocused and passed the last tough serves perfectly.
She is the one who brings up the team spirit, in voice, attitude, humor and support; who goes for every ball and gives full effort in every drill and game.
He is the one who owns the record “wall ball” mark for the highest on-the-wall spiking error in the team’s history, some 35 bricks high, and we still smile about it. She is the one who uses words better than I can, sharing with me great inspirational quotes, giving teammates empowering nicknames like “Terminator” and “Crush;” contributing a great “cue word” for teaching a skill to her teammates.
He is the one who sits out without tantrum or torment, being a team player on and off the bench, letting the coach play others as determined by the coach’s plans and totally supporting and encouraging those starting, if it was his turn to sit.
She is the one who asks me, “Coach, how can I get better at ?,” and who doesn’t ask what she is doing wrong, but asks, “Coach, what do I need to do right this next time?”
When asked what it takes to win an NFL Super Bowl, more than 90-percent of the general managers said one word, “talent.” Not every coach gets talent in the door every season, but I hope you each get a chance to have a favorite player every year. These players have taught me a lot about what matters in the game, beyond winning, and what matters in the heart of an athlete. Remember, it is not an “athleteo” or an “athletea.” Sport does not know gender when a real athlete steps on the field of play. Help them play and enjoy.