BUT NOBODY IS GOING TO OUTHUSTLE US…. That has always been my motto, so much that some of my teams have heard it so many times in huddles they say it in their sleep I bet.  What I have to say with great pride is how I saw my son put words into action last week in the first Princeton victory over Penn State in 36 meetings – I think Cody was about five years old the last time the Tigers defeated the Nittany Lions.

You see, when you choose to do a team sport, the outcome is simply out of your control. You can play your best ever, as Cody did the weekend before getting 26 kills and hitting .553, but this is a TEAM game and the Tigers lost 0-3. This time the TEAM won, with everyone playing in the positive, and the Tigers won the serve-serve reception battle. Stats show 11 aces and only 16 errors compared to Penn State’s two aces and 11 errors. What does not show in the stats is the number of overpasses the Princeton serve generated, which were turned into one contact kills by the Tigers at the net, something I would estimate to be six for Princeton and a couple for PSU.  Thus the reception percentage for the Tigers was .978 vs. .864

This however is especially about hustle – for it makes up for many a mistake. It is in every player’s control – how far and fast you are willing to pursue a teammate’s errant pass – and it ties into one of the most important articles I feel I have ever written – “From Positive to Perfection.” When you dig or pass a tough jump serve, you can pass it low 30 feet, and everyone watches it zoom by, or you can make a 30 foot error and dig/pass the ball up. Tony Ensbury, the Princeton libero, is superb at this – moving into the danger zone with no fear and doing whatever it takes to make his dig go UP as the photo which then gets us back to hustle…for Cody went from right front to into the Princeton Band in the stands waaaaaay beyond left back.  “Relentless Pursuit” it is called, and you can see it in any of the “X” Digs in “Y” Minutes video clips on YouTube.

My second favorite statement to develop in athletes and their leadership skillsets is “Hustle beats talent when talent doesn’t hustle.”  I have written before about “What a Player can Control” – but the incredible importance of hustle just cannot be overemphasized. It is an attitude. It is something as a coach you can catch them doing right, praise, and even celebrate and honor. I carry a roll of 2” wide painters tape in my coaching tools and we will stop practicing at special times when a player exhibits the level of hustle or learning that deserves recognition. At the point of action, for instance a distance of pursuit off the court that is wonderful, I put down a “Hollywood Star” – the painters tape first and a written note by marking the name of the player, date, and reason for the star.  A round of applause and then we continue on with practice, looking to catch them doing things “extra right.”  The first time a player rips a jump serve, or successfully performs a new skill in training can also be a reason for a Hollywood Star. As most programs share the court, you can peel the tape off the floor at practice’s end and mount it on posterboard to keep, or “store” them inside the pole padding, or on the wall of the storage closet.  In both beach and other training, I have also tapped a players arm, catching them being good, with a dry erase marker during practice, and see who I caught hustling, or leading in other ways the most.

The other idea I have used is “Glow in the Dark Stars,” as volleyball players do not have helmets. You can get them online in containers, small to large plastic stars.  You take a fine sharpie and write on it the date and reason, and give them out at the end of practice. They are for when you have seen the effort desired, new ideas or leadership shared, a new skill finally attempted or achieved, or whatever else matters to you as a developer of better people.  They get put up in their bedroom and shine each night showing when you caught them doing things right, long after the season is over. Indeed, I have had players scrap them off the wall/ceiling and take them to college.  

One of the unique things about our sport is that while the court itself is defined at 9x18 meters, once the ball is served, the playing space turns into the whole world – or until a wall, bench or crowd stops you. This first picture I took of Cody running into the Penn State bench from his side of the court, was followed just a few points later by him making a 75 foot dash into the Princeton Band the other way.  Then still in the same set, my friend John Titus took the second picture of Cody pursuing yet another errant dig into a group of John’s 15 and under team who came to learn from the match.  So who led Princeton in digs that match? Yeah, Tony and Cody…as defense is how you get a lead in our sport, by digging—setting---and killing the ball, you get what we used to call a point, not a sideout.  Cody got two of the three up, not the PSU bench attempt, and none of those saves counted as a dig – it is just a teammate doing one of the most important parts of the game of volleyball – BETTERING THE BALL. This too is hustle, saving or setting an errant pass or dig, and making it better, or saving/killing an errant set from your setter or any teammate doing their best with the second contact.  GREAT teams better the ball.

One of our best USAV coaches at the Juniors level, BJ Leroy, says his hustle line is "The easiest thing to do in this game is work to work hard… hitting, serving passing digging blocking setting are HARD…Hustle is easy.”  In the end, this is really about developing character and leadership in each of your players. I can tell you that Cody’s teammate Tony, who made our USA Junior National Team last summer, came in to those practices an hour early, and stayed after practice was over, to get more reps and learning. I know that George Anders writes in his book The Rare Find (thanks djc), that Michael Jordan, yes, THAT world’s best basketball player ever, when he was a freshman in college would ask scouts questions like “What should I do to get better? What do you think of my game?” Working hard in something you love makes it easy. Keep the flame of wonderment, joy and curiosity alive, even when practicing, and keep learning from every mistake that is simply part of the learning process.  

In closing, when you get out there and do things that matter, you will no doubt have doubters, critics who will even hide behind the anonymity found online. Take heart in a leader who came long before you and shared these important words, and keep striving to do what is right in worthwhile causes that you love- both on and off the field of play.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
― Theodore Roosevelt

So be true to yourself, focus on hustle and effort, be honest, sincere and humble – to others…but most of all TO YOURSELF. In the end, that is what matters most.