by Jeff Smith
Before you go to your team's next practice, answer the following question:
When your volleyball career is over, how would you like to be remembered as a player?
The purpose of that question is to get you thinking about the kind of legacy you want to leave as a volleyball athlete.
- What qualities do you want to be known for as a volleyball player and teammate?
- What accomplishments do you want to achieve?
- What is your personal mission statement as a volleyball athlete?
Your answer to that question should drive your effort, attitude, work effort, passion, choices and actions on the court at every practice and tournament you play at this season and for as long as you play this magnificent, one-of-a-kind sport.
This question influences me every day that I don a coaching hat. I've coached volleyball teams for 20 years, ranging from 18-and-under to grade school, from indoor to sand, from national/travel to regional teams and from school to club. No matter if I'm working with experienced high school seniors or rookie fifth-grade players, my answers to the legacy question help keep me focused on my personal mission statement:
No matter if I'm subbing for a team or coaching a team of my own, I want my passion for the game to be clear and contagious. I still remember my first club coaching experience. I was coaching a 16U team on the first day. The girls started practice with a serve and pass drill, and I was standing on the sidelines near the back-row passers. Shortly after the drill began, I started doling out positive reinforcement with each quality pass they delivered, striving to be very specific in my praise.
"Way to use your drop step, Jane."
"That's how to hold your finish, Lisa."
"Great job of staying low in your passing stance, Mary."
At first the girls started peeking at me like I was some alien life form but quickly grew to enjoy the feedback. (Encouragement is indeed oxygen to the soul and provides a confidence boost that young players need to receive often.) Most of the coaches in our club only spoke to the players during drills to point out the mistakes they made and how to correct them. I think it's important to do that but is even more valuable to reinforce the positive decisions, habits and techniques that players exhibit in order to further encourage those very things and to create an atmosphere in your gym where good volleyball play -- and players -- are celebrated.
Volleyball gives coaches an opportunity to connect with kids and teens in meaningful ways, and it's nearly impossible for me to avoid getting emotionally invested in supporting their development as athletes and as people.
In short, anything worth doing is worth doing with passion.
I believe God has given me a love for volleyball and an understanding of how to teach the sport that I've been entrusted to share with athletes. I want to be a good steward of that gift and seize every opportunity to teach, inspire and help athletes grow. When I'm visiting one of our teams' practices, I usually warn the coach that I'll be jumping in at least once to teach a skill, tactic or strategy. I can't help myself in that regard, and I want to be purpose driven whenever I'm in the gym.
Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better. That's a statement I feel compelled to share with as many young athletes as I come across.
In today's technology-saturated culture, we are all used to getting things instantaneously. But volleyball doesn't work in that manner. The sport takes years and years of painstaking practice and mindfulness to develop the skills and understanding needed to excel. It's also a sport that you'll never master, never perfect and never stop learning new things.
Becoming an excellent volleyball player is the gradual result of always striving to do better. I like to ask athletes to focus on getting "3% better" at volleyball each time they practice. It's akin to answering this question: How do you eat a two-ton elephant? One bite at a time.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave as a player five, 10 or 20 years from now?
Jeff Smith is Serve City's girls club director.