Mike Hebert | Formerly of the University of Minnesota
Two decisions, above all others, await every coach. The first is who the program will recruit to play on the team. The second identifies which players will be selected to the starting lineup.
But these decisions have fallen on hard times recently. Coaches have become overly enamored with the athletic index of their players, choosing to embrace flash over discipline when forming a team. Any coach who understands the full picture of building a winning team knows that developing a player’s abilities on the mental side of the game is just as important as honing their physical skills.
When I say the “mental game,” I mean more than just comprehending game strategy. It may be something as simple as having a player understand the importance of offering a few words of support to a teammate who has just shanked a pass or hit a ball out. I call this a “rescue,” and it’s every bit as significant as a kill, block or ace.
To help you achieve this balanced culture with your team, I’ve compiled a list of 4 types of players you’ll need on your roster and listed key traits that you should cultivate in each of them.
- Every great team has at least one player who everyone considers a “stud.”
- This player is so accomplished that everyone in the gym knows that she/he can take over the match.
- The mere presence of a stud gives your team a tremendous psychological edge.
- Studs may be short on other attributes, but they are physically intimidating.
- Preferably, this player will be a left-side hitter, but anyone can ascend to the role.
- Studs will want the ball at critical moments.
- They will always show up and never hide.
- They will usually be the reason you win a close match.
- They don’t mind carrying a heavy load. In fact, they take pride in it.
- This is a difficult role to accept. It requires a player who possesses an enormous level of confidence that borders on cockiness.
- Every great team is blessed with at least one all-out winner.
- A winner never contemplates the possibility of losing.
- No matter what the circumstances, no matter how far behind, no matter how much bad fortune has come their way, winners play every point as if they have a chance to win the match.
- These players are courageous and take risks.
- Their commitment to winning is infectious, and they often carry the emotional load for their team.
- Preferably, this player is a setter, but anyone can take this role.
- Key ingredient? An unshakeable belief that the team can win under any circumstances.
- This player needs to be a great communicator who isn’t afraid to express feelings in front of teammates.
- Winners make everyone around them feel good about themselves.
- They also are positive and present themselves enthusiastically at all times.
- This player must have enough “game time” to be credible.
- Most important: they believe and they make others believe.
- Most athletes aren’t sufficiently skilled to be studs or psychologically equipped to be winners.
- Yet championship teams are heavily populated with players who fit neither role. Instead, they play a stabilizing role.
- These are usually low-error players who are seldom the primary reason your team wins but never the reason it loses.
- They are often referred to by coaches as role players. They set the stage so the studs and winners can function.
- Stabilizers are motivated to be role players and work within the system.
- They get along with everyone and are great teammates.
- Expectations of them on the court are limited.
- They keep everyone else on an even keel and are quick to snuff out brush fires.
- They are consistent, reliable.
- They assist team leaders in making sure teammates follow team guidelines.
- Stabilizers are a good influence in locker room.
- They have a mature perspective on life.
- A championship team must have a leader.
- Leaders are players who do the right thing and model championship behavior.
- They use the right voice inflection, pick the right time to address a situation, know how to approach each teammate, know how to energize the team when it starts to sag and are in command of their emotions at all times.
- Leaders know what buttons to push when the team needs to be rescued from going down the wrong path.
- They accept the role of holding the team together and yelling when everyone seems to be in full retreat.
- These players must command the respect of their teammates.
- They have the courage to stand alone.
- They are fearless in confronting teammates and situations needing attention.
- They have a skilled liaison between players and coaches and know when to involve coaches.
- Leaders can be a starter or a non-starter. This is a people-skill role, not necessarily tied to play.
- This player initiates comebacks during competition and is fearless and charismatic.
- This player has earned the right to lead.
- The first person a leader has to lead is herself/himself.
- Leaders know their teammates won’t listen if they don’t walk the walk.
- Leaders realize that some people are going to respond and others will be a pain in the ass.
- A leader should never give up on anyone.
- They are not judgmental, and they show an equal loyalty to everyone.
- The leader knows that some people will fight them every step of the way, but they also know that they have to take that player with them.
- Leaders have to make uncomfortable decisions that will cause people to dislike them. Their job is not to be everyone’s friend.
- Their job is to lead.
Mike Hebert is a retired college volleyball coach who coached at Pittsburgh, New Mexico, Illinois and, most recently, Minnesota. He guided the Gophers to a Big Ten championship in 2002 and 3 NCAA final four appearances (2003, 2004, 2009). His Illinois team won 4 Big Ten championships and reached the final four twice: 1987 and 1988.