Originally published in VolleyballUSA, 2017
Brett Favre is a legendary quarterback in the National Football League and Hall of Fame inductee, yet he has devoted a lot of his free time into a different sport and in a different role since retirement: being a parent of a highly successful volleyball player who started her collegiate career as a 6-2 outside hitter at his alma mater, Southern Miss, last fall.
In an exclusive interview with VolleyballUSA, Favre provides some valuable insights into how football and volleyball are similar, what it is like for he and his wife, Deanna, to follow their 18-year-old daughter Breleigh around the country as volleyball parents, words of wisdom that he has been able to pass along to Breleigh based on his experiences in the NFL, and much more.
Favre is also trying to cultivate a new passion for volleyball in the south by spearheading a project that he hopes brings more notoriety to volleyball in the region.
A Volleyball Family
Question: You are known as one of the all-time legends of the NFL yet have been spotted around more volleyball courts than football fields recently. What is that all about?
Favre: Our daughter Breleigh has played in the club volleyball system for the last four years, and supporting her and her team is what we have done since I have retired. Deanna and I have enjoyed all of it. We have traveled from Las Vegas, Nev., to Apex, N.C., and all places in between to watch the team compete, whether they be beach or indoor travel tournaments.
Question: How did Breleigh get involved in volleyball?
Favre: Her older sister Brittany played at the high school level, which was Breleigh’s first taste of volleyball. It was Deanna’s and my first taste of volleyball as well. I can still remember when Breleigh first got into club volleyball when she was in sixth or seventh grade and played in Green Bay and Minneapolis. From there it just spring boarded to more and more volleyball to almost consuming her time year round.
Volleyball vs. Football
Question: How does the game compare to football?
Favre: Volleyball is one of the greatest team sports there is. And in team sports, like volleyball and football, one great player can definitely help propel your team to maybe more wins, but it is the team playing as a team that will ultimately win in the end. In fact, I have found that to be true in volleyball probably more so than any other sport. You can’t judge a book by its cover in volleyball.
As a parent, many times I have looked at an opposing team on the court and, thinking from a football mentality, decide that team doesn’t have a chance. They are all short and un-athletic looking. But then they play circles around other teams because they play together as a team even without a standout player. Ability is trumped easily by fundamentally being sound, playing together and relying on the coach’s game plan. This is definitely true in football as well.
Question: What do you like about volleyball as a parent compared to other sports?
Favre: As a volleyball parent, it really has been a lot of fun to watch our daughter, but also been very stressful. Parents who have had children playing organized volleyball, they know. I played in the National Football League for 20 years, and now I know what my family went through watching me play. As a spectator, I can’t control anything and it is a test of my patience. I want to go out there to help and make things easier, but I can’t. I’m just a spectator.
Question: What lessons from your football career have you since passed on to Breleigh?
Favre: Although I didn’t play volleyball, I did play football for a long time at the highest level. I learned that if you don’t work hard, you will not reach the reward, at least not very often. If you don’t work hard, you will never get to the point where individually you can look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘Know what, I did all I could.’ I try to tell both my daughters to never look back in life and question whether they put in all the efforts they could have in anything they do. All you can ask your children is that they give their best, and then when looking back on life, you will hold no regrets.
Becoming a Better Player
Question: How has volleyball helped shape the person your daughter has become?
Favre: Volleyball has a way of weeding out mental and physical toughness traits. It also teaches you leadership, and teaches you how to work well with others. In Breleigh’s case, she is a real quiet, timid, sort of reserved 17-year-old, and that is very different from Deanna and myself. Deanna was driven and a fierce competitor as a college basketball and softball player, but you wouldn’t know that off the court. I think Breleigh is a tremendous athlete, but she is still learning to compete.
Just because her parents competed at high levels doesn’t mean that she has the same mental and physical abilities. Breleigh has worked hard to improve in those areas. It is a test of patience for us as parents because you want them to get it right away. Volleyball is teaching her to communicate; it is teaching her to raise her own level of play but also those around her. That is very good for her.
I’ll share a story with you. In high school, Breleigh and her setter were not always on the same page – they weren’t communicating as well as they could have. When Breleigh got into club volleyball the last couple years, I started learning that the relationship between the hitter and the setter is much like that in football between the quarterback and his favorite receiver. The quarterback and his favorite receiver don’t just talk in the huddle. They talk during the week, they talk during practice, they talk during meetings, they may go have dinner together. They are on the same page.
I remind Breleigh that she and the setter may have different views and likes in life, and that is fine. But when you get on the court, you don’t want to be wondering where her setter is going to set the ball. You should know, and vice versa. Like the quarterback and his favorite wide receiver, the hitter-setter bond is a very important part of success. I think volleyball has taught her the importance of such communication.
Volleyball has also helped me as a father better communicate with my daughters. I try to be fair. Years ago Breleigh asked how she did during a tournament. I asked her if she wanted me to be always honest with her or act how some parents do and tell their child only what they wanted to hear. She told me to be honest with her, so I am always honest with her. If I feel she could have done better, I will tell her that. If she played well, I let her know the same. It’s funny, one time when Breleigh was younger, she asked me ‘Dad, what if I wanted to try out for American Idol?’ I told her ‘Don’t do it. You can’t sing. You are a horrible singer.’
Question: How special is it that Breleigh is attending your alma mater, Southern Miss?
Favre: From day one, I wanted her to go there. Deanna and I went to school there, my mom and dad went to school there, my two brothers and my sisters went there, my younger brother played football there. It is where we all went. But more importantly, I wanted her to have an opportunity to go where she wanted. My gut always told me that if she got offers and Southern Miss was one of those, that is where she would end up.
We went on recruiting visits all over the country with open minds. I was a little fearful for a brief time that she was going to not choose Southern Miss, being rebellious against it because everyone was expecting her to go there. Ultimately, she chose Southern Miss, and we are extremely happy about that. Who knows? The sky is the limit for her if she is bound and determined, I’ll bet she can lead the Southern Miss volleyball team to be its best.
Question: Has Breleigh been able to convince you to play volleyball as well? How about the rest of the family?
Favre: Deanna and I have gone out numerous times and practiced with her on the volleyball court at our house. She wants to practice hitting, and it never fails that Deanna or I will throw the ball up – we will not even attempt the setting – and no matter where we toss the ball, she will argue with us over whether the ball is too high or too low every time [Brett laughs]. I don’t think we’ve ever done it right.
As for playing, Deanna and I, Breleigh and one of Breleigh’s classmates will get out there from time to time and play a little two-on-two beach. Boy, I realize why I retired. My mind tells me that I can do one thing, but the body on the other hand has a different agenda. Sand volleyball is tough.
Question: If you could draft a volleyball team of all NFL players, who would you select?
Favre: I would probably get guys that I played with. For example Sydney Rice – a tall, lanky guy – and Randy Moss as my two outside hitters. I would probably get a kicker I played with, Ryan Longwell, and work on his setting because he has tremendous touch. I think a guy like him would be a great setter. I would get a guy like Darren Sproles as my libero. He covers the court and then some. I would probably be the server. I can’t promise that I can get the ball in, but I would sure knock the fire out of it.
Building a Volleyball Dream
Question: What projects are you working on to grow volleyball in your home area?
Favre: Deanna and I are building an on-campus volleyball-only facility at Southern Miss. Most people would say ‘Of course he is building a volleyball facility at Southern Miss. His daughter is going there.’ However, the plans were already in motion whether Breleigh went there or not. We are both active alumni in supporting the school and athletic program.
Most people would probably assume that all my attention would be toward football, and that is not the case. I want to see our football team do great, but I want to do something different, and something no one else would consider doing. We are in the process of building this facility and it will be really spectacular. It is a volleyball-only facility that will have two volleyball practice courts and a main court with seating for 1,000.
The mezzanine level will be what really sets this whole thing apart from other facilities. It will serve all our needs off the court from hosting recruits, VIPs to watch the game, a study lounge, place to watch match film and more. The facility will have its own training room, fitness and locker rooms. A year from this coming September, we hope to be playing in it.
To my knowledge, there may not be one other school in the country with an on-campus facility that was built specifically for volleyball in college sports. I know there are volleyball facilities that were once basketball facilities on campus that have been turned over to volleyball. But I don’t know of one that is going to be constructed from ground up that will be devoted strictly to volleyball. I may be wrong, though.
I am very proud of the fact that we are kind of setting the standard in an area where volleyball has not been as big. I would like to think we are setting the standard that hopefully others will build upon across the country. Volleyball needs to get the attention that it deserves.