I'm in my fifth year of coaching competitive club volleyball at a club that regularly has teams in the top 10 of the region. Previous to coaching I taught high school marching band in Oklahoma for 5 years while I was in college. The marching band that I taught was a perennial low finisher and had never made finals in the state competition. When I was finished there they were top 6 in the state. I loved teaching that marching band and in hindsight I think one reason may be this: I never had to deal with parents. I never had to listen to complaints about their child being in a lower band or not making a higher chair. I'm sure the complaints were there but I, as a marching tech and consultant, didn't have to deal with them. I was able to go and teach and apply my expertise to the students that I loved teaching. I had no stress in that job and it was one of the most rewarding things I've been blessed to be able to do.
Before I start I want it to be known that I love coaching volleyball. It has meant that at times I haven't been able to hang out with my friends as much. I haven't been able to play in as many leagues. It's given me many late nights and a lot of early mornings. I don't get paid as much as I could if I went to another club. I do more free lessons with my girls than paid lessons. I offer up my time an hour before every practice to do skills sessions with my girls that I also do not get paid extra for. I have spent many hours talking to my girls and parents when they have questions, even when I don't want to. I've spent the last month or so attending another coach's practice because I told my girls that I'd put in the extra work to become a better coach for them. I promise I don't say all of this to brag about what I do for my girls, but rather to illustrate how much I love coaching them. I'd do anything for my girls and they are my number one priority when I step in the doors at my club.
I like to believe that I'm doing at least a decent job if not a good one. I know the game, I study the game at all the levels from junior high to the pros, I attend junior high and high school matches in the fall, I read volleyball articles about playing and coaching, I love the game, and I treat my girls the way I would want to be treated. I've had pretty good success with my style of coaching. Recently, after a coaches clinic with Dr. Terry Liskevych, I decided to sit down and actually write out my coaching philosophy. Without going into too much detail some of the main points are these:
- Treat the girls in a way you would want to be treated
- Teach them how to win, as well as how to lose because they will be doing both
- Put their safety as my number one priority
- Teach them how to have character on the court, and the bench
- Foster a passion for the sport
Nowhere in my philosophy did I feel the need to include things that would include the physical aspect of the sport. I saw this as a given. I will teach them how to play and be the best player I can help them become. Before I can do that I need to make sure that I'm following the guidelines I have set for myself in my philosophy of coaching. Of all the beliefs that I have about coaching, I feel that fostering a passion for the sport is paramount. Without a passion, everything else becomes much more difficult, and sometimes impossible.
I'm very passionate about not only the sport of volleyball, but coaching the sport. If I can get a girl on a court with passion for the game, I can coach her. A girl with great athletic talent but no passion is very difficult. Passion is what fuels everything I do and I do what I do because I love it. So my first plea is this: make sure your daughters have a passion for what they are doing. The passion must be theirs, not mine, not yours, not their friends. I'm not sure if passion for the sport can be forced but I do know that it can be nurtured or destroyed. As a child, my parents forced me to try different things whether it be sports, music, or art. They never pushed me more towards one thing unless it was the thing that I chose. They did not try to live vicariously through me in my endeavors. They allowed my passions to be mine, not theirs. This is not to say that they did not support me, I always knew that they were behind me 100%, win or lose. This is a big reason as to why my mom and dad are two of the most amazing people I know. I unfortunately see both parents and coaches pushing their children or players at the expense of their passion for the sport and often times their own well being. Winning is nice, and I coach my girls to win as many games as possible but I won't even have the chance to see them win if they quit the sport. Please make sure that they love what they do. Allow them to choose what they want to do. I'm not saying at all that coaches or parents should sit back and let kids make all the decisions but please when you do make a child do something, make sure you are doing it for them. Everything I do on and off the court regarding my girls is for them. It's not to feed my own ego, to show off how good I am at volleyball, or to satisfy ulterior motives.
Without a passion for the sport, we're just going through the motions.
I am the head coach of my team. It is my team and I run it as I see fit. I understand that I have several things I must accomplish throughout the season. I need to get my girls ready for 9th grade volleyball. I need to teach them as much as I can about the sport. I need to teach them how to play their position but also to be flexible enough to play other positions if need be. I need to win as many games as possible. I need to teach them how be gracious winners, and not to be sore losers. I need to be their biggest advocate. I need to make them the best player I can. I need to monitor how they feel about the progress they and the team are making. I need to address any questions or concerns they have. I need to establish a good coach-player relationship with my players. I need to look at the needs of the team. I need to watch and coach 10 different girls and not place one above another. I need to foster their passion for the sport.
Those are just to name a few of my responsibilities as a head coach. I do not teach life values to my girls, it's simply not my place to do that. I tell my parents every year at the parent/player meeting that I will never try to be a father figure to their daughters. There have been numerous times that I've wanted to make a comment about how some parents are treating their daughters but I have never voiced this concern, it would be an inappropriate violation of boundary. I do this out of respect that I have for their parent-child relationship. I also ask that they respect my coach-player relationship and let me coach my players. They are your daughters, they are my players. I have a lot on my plate when I design my practices, create lineups, make decisions at tournaments, and just deal with the responsibilities I have as a coach. My second plea is this: please trust me to coach your daughter and trust that I know what I am doing. I know there are a lot of bad coaches out there as any profession will have its bad apples. If I am doing something that is putting your daughter in harm's way, then I give you permission to tell me what to do. If you have a concern, question, or complaint, tell me, but don't attack me, don't assume you know what I'm thinking, don't insult me, and do not talk negatively about any of my other players. The best way to approach a coach about a concern or question is this: ask what you or your daughter can do to achieve their goals, whether that be more playing time or more focus on a particular skill. Ask me why I chose to do what I did, believe it or not I have reasons why I do the things I do, why my lineups are the way they are, or why I make the decisions regarding playing time. Do not tell me what you think I should do. Even if it is a valid piece of advice, I don't want to hear it from a parent. I've gone to my director and other coaches at the club and asked for advice several times. I am not afraid to admit that I need help sometimes. But much like you wouldn't like me telling you how to raise your kids, I don't like being told how to coach my players. I had a parent say that they didn't feel that I was coaching to win enough and sure enough, they had a recommendation. Their recommendation was to do something that was against the rules. They weren't suggesting I break the rules but rather they didn't know all the rules and didn't realize that I couldn't do what they were suggesting. After politely telling them that I'd love to do that if it wouldn't cost us a point and kill the play, they got pretty quiet.
My girls know that if they're on the bench, the best way to get on the court is to hustle even more at practice, to try even harder, to show me through their actions, not their complaints, that they want to be on the court. Everyone wants to play more, I already know that, you don't have to tell me that your daughter would prefer to be the libero, or serve more, or play all the way around. Telling me that your daughter wants more playing time is like me telling you that you your children want to feel loved. One problem that I run into is this, a parent complains and a change is made and people assume that the squeaky wheel gets the grease every time. What they don't realize and see is when I say no to requests. So far I have given a player a chance to prove to me that they can serve at a high level in tournaments by showing me their progress in practice. Here's what I've said no to: a player who wanted to set, a player who wanted to play outside instead of middle, a hitter who wanted to be a DS, a parent who thought that their daughter should play front row, and a request to play around. Nobody sees me say no to these requests because I didn't feel it was in the team's best interest to make those changes. There are far more squeaky wheels on my team than greased ones.
What the Team is made of
My team is made up of ten girls, two coaches, and the numerous parents who are paying for their children to be there. No team is as successful when there are divisions among the team. I need the parents on my side. I don't know how many times I've been trying to get a player to do something specific on the court only to find out that they're aren't doing it because their parents are telling them something else. Parents see their kids way more than I do, I won't win that battle of who gets more attention. When I lose that battle, your daughter suffers. She suffers because I'm telling her what to do because it fits with my plans for the team and if you tell her otherwise, she's playing for you, and not the team. I need my parents to stand by the decisions I make and show their daughters that they support me. If you don't, how do you expect your daughters how to respect authority figures. Again, if I'm doing something to harm your daughter, you may come to me with your concern and I will do everything in my power to address that concern. But don't do this in front of my players, I don't need them learning that they're allowed to question everything that I do. When they do that they start coaching themselves and you're now paying the club so your daughter can be self taught, she can do that in school or at home. My third plea is this: please support me as your daughter's coach. I need you on my side. I will be on your side when it comes to parenting. I've seen the limited progress a girl makes when a parent is against me. I had a player on my team who, because of her mom saying negative things about me, did not trust and support me as her coach. When she wasn't making the progress the other girls were making her mom asked that I make her the team captain so she would feel better and maybe try harder. I told her that I won't make anyone a team captain if they never smile, are visibly lazy during practice, never encourage the other girls, do the bare minimum, and walk away from me in mid sentence. The mom again got very quiet, said okay, and walked to her car. I feel for her daughter because the lessons she is teaching her daughter is to not trust the coach and expect unwarranted rewards. That girl made the least amount of progress on my team that year. I can only imagine the progress she could've made if she trusted and supported me.
I was an assistant my first year of coaching and then was given my own team the following season. I much prefer head coaching because I get to reap the rewards of working hard. The nice thing about being an assistant was that I didn't have to deal with the parents. There have been a few times this season that I've considered just being an assistant next year. It's just not worth the stress sometimes. As the head coach I'm the face the girls see and pay attention to the most during practice. What a lot of people don't understand is that when I'm stressed because I have to deal with naïve parent who is questioning my coaching, the girls suffer. They don't suffer because I consciously go out of my way to punish them, but I'm not myself when I get stressed. I don't have as much energy and I know I look like I'm upset. Now because of your hindsight coaching comment of “well you should've changed the lineup and not let that girl serve”, I'm stressed. When I'm stressed, your daughter, and the other nine on my team, get a lackluster coach and a mediocre practice that you are paying for. I heard about some comments being made last year from parents that a particular coach needed to make better coaching decisions. What did that coach do? She went and qualified for nationals and won the American Division National Championship. I shudder when I think that some of these parents had the audacity to question what this coach was doing.
I understand completely that you want the best for your daughter, I want the best for her too. In order for her to get the best from me, I need the best from the parents. If you don't trust the coaches and want to run a team, please fill out a coaching application and run your daughter's team next season. If not, let me run my team. Please make sure that your daughter's passion for the support is hers. Foster that passion, I'm sure it would be frustrating to spend as much money as club volleyball takes only to see them lose the passion and quit. I heard a story about a girl who was offered a full ride at a Division I school and she said she'd take the scholarship and play on one condition: that her father never attend a game. In his attempt to push his daughter to be the best, he lost sight that she was a person and not a machine. He neglected her feelings and only acted on his own.
Please trust your daughter's coach. Trust that we didn't just grab a random person off the street to run a team. There are times that clubs and schools will pick bad coaches, if this is the case there are appropriate ways to handle such a situation. Please support the coach. If a child sees a parent not supporting the coach, they will very often follow suit. In order for me to do my best job, I need your support. I need your daughters respecting authority figures. If I have done something to lose your respect, then I will apologize and try my best to right my wrongs. Please let me do my job. I would be willing to bet that my goals for my players are very similar if not the exact same as your goals for your daughter. I want to win games. I want to play at a very high level. I want my players to enjoy the sport. I want my players to passionate about volleyball.
I know I speak from a limited perspective as I do not have kids. I've spent the last five years watching my girls and seeing how they interact with coaches, players, and parents. I can often point out the ones who will succeed more because of how they interact with others and how their parents interact with them. I don't claim to be an expert on parenting, but I do know how to coach. I've seen the helicopter parents who hover so closely to their daughters that they don't every have a chance to just be themselves. They don't have the opportunity to learn conflict resolution because there's a parent with a list of things they want changed before the player can even realize that something's wrong. I've seen this and have never, and will never, tell a parent that I think their child isn't learning valuable lessons I need all of my girls to know. I don't interfere because that's not the place for me, I'll be on the court if you need me.
Dr. Terry Liskevych was running a coaches clinic and made the statement, in front of an audience of only club coaches, that he felt that club volleyball was a detriment to the sport. I think we were a bit surprised and taken aback. I'm thinking, “we give you your best players and teach them how to play at a much higher competitive level. What do you mean we're a detriment to the sport?”. A friend of mine who is the director at another club asked then, “what can we do as club coaches, to help you out as a college coach?”. His terse response: just make sure they still love the game. Wow. From the man who used to coach the U.S. National Women's team, he's pushing that we just make sure they still love the game.
I'm trying to teach my girls how to love the game. If good coaches are leaving the sport because it's just too much to deal with the parents, how can one expect their daughter to love the game as much as they can?