EXCEL Pride

I recently received an email from the North Texas Region regarding civility and good sportsmanship.  In the email, the region gives pointers for how to handle parents and players that are emotional and may not be making the best decisions regarding actions towards coaches, referees, or other teams.  I found it interesting that the region was sending out this email, as good sportsmanship and civility are two things that clubs have been trying to teach since what seems like the beginning of time!  However, you may be reading this and think to yourself, “But I know of some coaches who don’t exude these two characteristics!”  This is true; unfortunately, at times even coaches lose their cool and make poor choices.  Part II of my Excel Pride Blog Entries is to give helpful tips on how to be a good sport and a great teammate, regardless of you, your child, or your team’s situation.  Part of having pride in your club and your team is the ability to uplift the team and club, not drag them down due to your own selfish interests.

Parents

I am not a parent yet, but in my time as a coach and teacher, I have learned that parents hurt when their child hurts, parents get excited when their child gets excited, and parents get angry when their child is angry.  Basically, parents emulate the emotions that their children are feeling.  This is not always a good thing when it comes to sports.  A typical club team will have 9-12 girls on the team, and only 6 play at a time, which means that inevitably almost half of the team will be on the bench at any given time.  Now, when I have kids, I’m sure that I will think they are the best at everything they do!  But the reality is that they probably won’t be the best at everything.  Parents have the ability to make or break a season for their child and their team.  Volleyball is a team sport and everyone knows that when signing up to participate; so why do we have such an issue with playing time?  I’ve come up with a list of tips for parents when dealing with adversity during the season.

1.     Support the coaches’ decisions in front of your child.  They are sponges and soak up everything you say!  A child will feel pulled in two separate directions when coach and parent say opposite things.

2.     Relax!  Especially at the beginning of the year; there is A LOT of season left to play!  If your daughter isn’t seeing a lot of playing time right now, encourage her to keep giving it her all and to keep making small improvements.  If your child’s lack of playing time is not only getting her down but KEEPING her down, encourage her (not you!) to talk to the coach about what improvements she can make, but also, what role she should embrace on her team. 

3.     Breathe!  This is very similar to #2, but specifically for matches and sets, when you might disagree with how your daughter is being utilized.  I have a different game plan for every match, and the personnel I put on the court is different match by match, because the teams are different and therefore the match-up is different.

4.     Keep your negative thoughts to yourself at tournaments.  Be a reason the team is gelling, not a reason why they are having issues.  Go back to the old adage, if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say it at all.

5.     If an issue arises that really does need the attention of the coach, schedule a meeting; go in open minded and not angry, and allow all parties to speak their sides.  If it’s about your daughter, have your daughter present in the meeting, and encourage her to lead the meeting.  This is an important life skill that is never too young to learn! I once had a player-led meeting with an 11 year old, and I left very impressed with her ability to communicate honestly with me.

Athletes

I remember when I was a junior in high school—the big recruiting year!  My club team had been Open division qualifiers since we were 14, and that year I expected a similar experience, as we returned our coach for the 3rd straight year, and only had a couple additions to the team.  After training as a setter (the position I had played since I started volleyball) during pre-season practices, I found myself playing right back defense during tournaments…no setting.  I was devastated.  I had no idea I was the back-up setter that season, after running a 5-1 since I was 14.  I allowed myself to be very bitter, upset, and emotional that entire season.  I was just a jumble of negativity both on and off the court.  I became burnt out, and questioned my love for the game and my future in the sport.  In the end, a long talk with my mother convinced me to keep up with the sport, we won the Missouri State Title my senior season of HS ball, and I ended up playing college ball at a DI school.  Looking back, I could have chosen to make my junior year a good one, but I didn’t.  I worried about the things that I had no control over, rather than focusing on the things I could; namely, my mindset.  I tell my HS athletes that are in the recruiting process that picking a college is a lot like how I view picking a husband—I don’t necessarily think that there is only one in the world for us.  But, we make a decision and then we go make that a GREAT decision.  We have the power to make our situations positive no matter what goes on that we can’t control.  Here are some tips for athletes that are running into adversity.

1.     Communicate.  Recently one of my HS athletes was venting to me her frustrations in club and said that the coach didn’t communicate with her throughout the match like I did in HS.  I said, “Did you tell her that you respond well to constant communication?”  She paused and then admitted that she hadn’t said anything to her coach. Coaches are not mind readers!  Great coaches understand that not everyone responds to the same type of coaching, just like teachers know that not all kids learn the same way. 

2.     Know your role.  Are you the backup setter?  Then you work your tail off every day to beat out the starter; you push her to get better, plus you are giving your coach confidence in playing you.  Are you the most vocal?  Then lead, dang it!  Are you the go-to on the court?  Then you need to prepare yourself to play as consistent as you can, taking necessary steps to be prepared for every match, and understand that if your team is struggling, it is YOUR responsibility to step up and be the difference.  Don’t like your role?  Work to change it!  Don’t complain about it, keep your mouth shut and work. Your coaches will notice!

3.     When you leave a practice or tournament, institute a “no volleyball talk” rule.  If you had a rough weekend or a rough practice, the last thing your psyche needs is to keep harping on it.  Move on, focus on something unrelated to volleyball, and understand that it is only a game, and there is more to life than just volleyball. 

4.     Understand your worth.  Not just on the volleyball court, but in life!  Life is too short to focus on the negatives, and again, take a negative and MAKE it a positive.  You are worth so much more than just a spot on a team.  You are a daughter, an athlete, a student, a friend, a sister….I could keep going.  If you experience adversity on the volleyball court, remember how miniscule that moment is in the grand scheme of things.  It will help you brush it off and move on. 

Coaches

In my years of coaching, I would say that adversity conjures up two major emotions inside of me: anger and fear.  If we lose because of a terrible call (although right now I am breaking my own rule of never blaming the outcome of a match on the ref!), or there are hecklers in the stands, or the other team’s bad sports (I could keep going…), I get angry.  I am EXTREMELY competitive, so I have to remind myself in times like that that I am the adult here, the one acting as the role model for my team, and how can I expect my team to act a certain way if I don’t emulate it first? 

Fear is another emotion that I experience when faced with adversity.  A parent wants to schedule a meeting, you hear through the grapevine that the parents are talking amongst each other about your coaching abilities, you find out that a girl on your team broke a major team rule that requires discipline, etc.  I could go on and on about adversity that coaches face throughout the season.  What am I scared of?  The unknown.  How is the parent going to react?  Why do they think I am a bad coach?  What repercussions am I going to have to deal with when I discipline the athlete? These are all questions that go through my head that has been known to make me fearful of confrontation.

Tips for coaches facing adversity:

1.     Stick to your guns.  You set team rules for a reason; stick to them.  The easiest way to lose the respect of your team and parents is to bend rules for some and not others.  Also, do not let outspoken parents sway you when it comes to making match decisions.  Playing time is earned!

2.     Take one for the team.  Do not allow your emotions get the best of you during the match.  Your girls are looking to you for guidance, and racking up yellow cards or getting kicked out of a match is not the example you want to set for your team, just like you do not want one of your athletes screaming at a ref about a call, you have to pick your battles wisely, and react appropriately.

3.     Allow for communication.  If a parent contacts you, don’t blow them off!  Return their call/email, and even though confrontation isn’t fun, encourage face to face conversation.  This minimizes the possibility of misinterpretation or miscommunication when it’s done via email or text.

4.     Be a role model to everyone around you (and that includes parents!).  Those that watch you coach and interact with your team should be able to say nothing but positive things about your character.  Think before you speak, and think about what’s best for the team before you act on any impulses.  This doesn’t mean you can’t get on to your players, but always have a reason for WHY you do what you do.  Be able to explain your actions and decisions.

Again, there are a lot of different parts and people that make up a club season.  Only when all parts work TOGETHER can a team truly reach their potential!  One of Excel’s goals as a club is to have pride in all facets of the club: the team, the individual athlete, the families involved, and the coaching staff.  We want people to have a positive experience with their time at Excel, and pride is a major part of being satisfied after a club season is complete.  Being proud of your club is choosing to act the right way, whether people are watching or not.  Adversity is inevitable, but it’s how we choose to deal with that adversity that really defines us and our pride for Excel.

- Erin McClanahan, Assistant Coaching Director