'Your club is so much different than the other clubs'

By Jeff Smith

I was cheering on my older daughter and her 17 Smack squad at a Windy City Power League tournament in January when a mom came up to me and began talking about Serve City.

Near the end of our conversation, she said something that reminded me of Mark Twain's famous quote, "I can live for two months off one good compliment." 

"You know," the mom began, "your (this) club is so much different than any of the other clubs."

Piquing my interest, I asked, "How so?"

"It's just such a friendly atmosphere. I love that parents can come right up to the coaches and leadership like yourself and talk to you guys and you're all so approachable. And the parents of the players talk to each other, too. It's not like that at other clubs. Serve City has such a community feel to it."

Needless to say, this mom made my day -- or, really, my week.

But, rather than dwell on that compliment, I think it's important to ask how can we all learn from it and put it into practice throughout the season? How can we ensure that this statement is true of all our teams at Serve City -- and all the time?

1. We're all in this together

It can help all of us to realize that we're all on the same team, figuratively and literally speaking. Yes, we each have an agenda. Let's be fully open and honest about that. We're all human. As a father, I come to tournaments to see my daughters play. But, having said that, I think it's also true that all of us also want to see our kids' teams succeed, play well, compete and enjoy the game. When one of my daughters' teammates makes a great play, I can't help but clap for her and yell out some praise. I think most of us feel the same way. If we can remember this, it lets everyone's guard down and helps us connect more.

2. Coaches: Parents are people, too

As a coach for coming up on 20 years, I see both sides of this equation. As a parent, it's tempting to wonder what the coach is thinking and why they are doing X, Y or Z. As a coach, it's tempting to put up walls between myself and my team's parents to protect myself from a dad or mom who may want to ask me difficult questions like why I started player X over their daughter.

I think the key here is to respect each other's roles and boundaries. Coaches shouldn't be questioned about playing time within 24 hours of a tournament. That's a rule in our club handbook. Parents should be seen as advocates and not adversaries by coaches. When we can respect one another and let the coaches coach, the parents parent and the players play (and even the officials officiate), we can all enjoy the freedom to be ourselves and connect with each other as members of the same team.

3. All read off the same script

Serve City's motto is Love, Relationships and Excellence. The word order is intentional. Love comes first. Coaches are expected to love their athletes above any other responsibility they have. Athletes are expected to love their teammates (and their coach) first and foremost.

Relationships will then flow out of that culture of love. Relationships matter more at Serve City than anything else. That includes relationships between players, between players and their coach and between parents, coaches and players.

Excellence is intentionally listed third. Do we want our teams to learn, grow, compete and excel on the court? Absolutely! But not at the expense of love and relationships.

When athletes, parents and coaches all accept and practice this motto, we all are on the same page. When that happens, we all treat each other differently. Community takes place. Mutual respect arises. Common values take shape. And we all become of the same mindset at tournaments, the one location where we all come together. For example, we all focus our attention on supporting the athletes and the team and not on merely cheering on our son or daughter. At the risk of getting a bit too sappy, selflessness takes root, and community is born.

4. It takes a village

Fulfilling the mom's quote at the start of this blog post truly requires a team effort. Coaches, athletes, parents -- all of us have to put this into practice for us to be a club that feels like a community. If one group doesn't do its part, the whole community feel will quickly fade away.

Coaches: Take time at each tournament and before or after each practice to talk with parents. Don't hide three courts away until your team is back on the court for its next match. Treat parents as partners in this venture of helping athletes reach their highest potential on and off the court.

Parents: Reach out to your child's coach. Connect with them when the opportunity presents itself. Thank them for their investment in your child's life.

Athletes: Express gratitude to your parents for all they do for you, including sacrificing a few hours of their rare free time to watch you play. Thank your coach for their dedication to your growth as a player and as a person. And cheer on your teammates and get to know them and support them, not just the teammates you know from school, either.

Thanks for the part you play in the Serve City community!

Jeff Smith is Serve City's volleyball region director.