By Dennis Belaire (Wixom, Mich.), USA Volleyball CAP Level II Article

It was the deciding set of the silver division championship and I had just called a time out to settle down my team of 12-year-olds. We had faced this team earlier in pool play and we split that match 25-27, 25-19. Both teams were evenly matched and we had expected the championship match to be extremely competitive just like it had been in pool play.

We had battled hard in this championship match, winning the first set 25-20 before losing the second set 24-26. Even though we had lost the second set, we remained confident that we could better the ball better than the other team to earn a three-set victory.

We won the coin flip and, of course, elected to serve. My best server went back for the first serve of this deciding set and hit it long and out. They jumped out to a quick 0-1 lead. Was that missed serve an omen? It sure seemed like it because that was when the wheels seemed to start wobbling. That missed serve may have loosened the lug nuts, all bets were off.

Our opponent had an extremely talented server who had a wicked float serve that was about as hard for us to hit as a well-thrown knuckle ball is in baseball. Before I could bat an eye, they had gone on a 6-0 run! This is when I called a better late then never time out, hoping more to disrupt their server’s momentum than to gain ours. Coming out of the time out, we managed to get the ball back and were trailing 1-6. But, as fate would have it, we gave the ball right back to the other team and it was 1-7. Then they scored another point and at 1-8, we switched sides.

We were down by seven in a deciding set to 15! Things looked bleak and the kids were hanging their heads. We weren’t making the plays we had been making earlier in the tournament. Balls that landed in for us earlier in the day were now landing out and those we wanted to land out were landing in. Despite our best efforts, we were being soundly beaten.

As a coach of young athletes, one of the things that bothers me most is watching those teams who are winning, or who have won, that really don’t know how to win. In my opinion, learning how to win is just as important as learning how to lose. Being a good sport extends from the lows of defeat to the highs of victory. Our opponent on this day was one such team. They weren’t displaying what I would consider good sportsmanship on their way to victory. As they got a bigger and bigger lead, their mood grew more and more gregarious. Players were laughing out loud and were clearly heard talking about their eminent victory. Yes, have fun while you play. Of course, smile and be enthusiastic. Celebrate a good play and support your teammates. Don’t be afraid to win, but, know how to win and don’t rub the nose of your opponent in the loss either. You should be careful, especially if the match isn’t quite over.

As luck would have it, we slowly started to scrap and claw our way back. Soon, after several spirited rallies and amazing plays on both sides of the net, we found ourselves trailing 10-12. This is when our opponent called a time out. Because we were at a tournament venue where there wasn’t enough space between the courts to hold the team benches, we were forced to sit at the end of the courts. After switching sides at eight, our opponent happened to be seated at the end of the court where most of my players’ parents were seated. They heard almost everything that was said in my 0-6 timeout call and now, their 12-10 timeout call.

We finished the set by taking a well earned victory away from our opponents by a score of 15-13. It was an incredible come back made by an incredible effort from some incredible kids. This was truly a victory worth savoring and one of my proudest coaching moments.

But, how did we earn that victory? Was there an obvious turning point in that final set? I didn’t think so until afterwards when I was talking to the parents. They told me what the opposing coach told her team during their 12-10 timeout. She reminded them that they had lost a match earlier in the same exact way by building up a big lead, then losing it and the match.

When I heard this, I immediately contrasted in my mind the comments of their coach during their timeout with my own comments during my 0-6 timeout call. Not that I’m a genius or the best coach in the world, but, all I did was remind the kids of the practices we had in the week leading up to the tournament. I asked them to think about how well those practices went, how loud they were, and how much fun we had in those practices. Then, I told them that, regardless of what happens when we step back onto the floor, make the rest of the match as much like those last practices as possible.

The other team had been reminded of their previous failure while my team seemed to be playing looser and having more fun. The other team started to play not to lose while my team started to play to win. Now, do I think that my message during my timeout turned the tide in our favor? Maybe a little bit. Do I think the message their coach left with her team during their time out helped turn the tide more in our favor? I am absolutely 100% convinced that it did.

What made me choose the message for my time out? In all honesty, in retrospect, it was because of all the USA Volleyball training I’ve received, along with the countless articles I’ve read over the years from a host of different resources at USA Volleyball and elsewhere, I’ve learned that during time outs you want your team to focus on the outcomes you want your team to achieve. Not on the ones that have already cost them a victory. When I started coaching back in the 1990s, before all my USA Volleyball training, I know my 0-6 time out would have sounded more like my opponent’s time out.

After hearing what our parents had to say about the other coach and her comments, I can only say to her, if she’s reading this article, it was you that cost your team a victory against us, not your kids. In all likelihood, it was you that may have cost your team a victory during that earlier match you mentioned during your 12-10 time out. Furthermore, it is a shame that you placed such a heavy burden onto the shoulders of your team at such a critical moment and it’s also a shame that you have not recognized the effect your comments had on your team during that time out.

I really never have thought about the influence this training had on me until after this match. It has been one of my many coaching aha moments and I have USA Volleyball to thank. The training and information I’ve received has proven invaluable. It has shaped and reshaped my thoughts and philosophies. I owe my coaching reputation to the training I’ve received from USA Volleyball. The best kind of training is that which kicks-in without so much as a second thought. I didn’t pre-plan my time out speech, it just happened.

For those of you that are new to coaching or are contemplating additional training, I would strongly urge you to actively pursue the training offered by USA Volleyball. You might be surprised one day when you call a time out in a critical situation with the match on the line…