by Jeff Smith
No matter what team you play for, they need the same thing from you: your commitment to being and becoming the best player and teammate you can possibly be this season.
This is especially true when you play for a team that is entered in a season-ending national tournament. As NBA championship coach Pat Riley says, “There are only two options regarding commitment. You're either in or out. There's no such thing as life in between.”
Playing in a national tournament is a real honor. Four Serve City teams will be competing with opponents from across the Midwest and even the country at the Asics Jr. National Championships coming up in June at Navy Pier in Chicago. (Next year our hope is to field seven national teams.) Last year clubs from 20 states played in the tournament as well as from Puerto Rico.
The level of competition at the top of each age division of the 2018 Asics Jr. Nationals was very strong. Playing on such a national stage is an opportunity and a challenge. It requires excellent preparation. If you’ve never played in a national tournament before, it will be an eye opener.
Since three of our four teams are playing at Asics for the first time, some of our teams will be the most inexperienced teams at Asics. Most of our opponents will feature players who have played in at least one national tournament and, on some 18s teams, several seasons of national competition. They’ll have a key advantage over those teams that are new to the national scene.
I know this from experience. I coached an 18s team at another club prior to Serve City that played at AAU Nationals in Orlando several years ago. Our team finished with a 3-6 record over three days, and we played in the 18s club division, a notch below the open, or highest, division. (Many open division players went on to play Division I volleyball collegiately.)
Competing at AAU Nationals was an inspiring and humbling experience. The level of skill and athleticism was outstanding, the best our team had seen all year, and left us wishing we’d trained with even more passion, focus and attention to detail — i.e., more commitment.
It’s similar to practicing for the year-end school musical or band concert or studying for a final exam. You get one shot at preparing for it, with a limited amount of time at your disposal. The teams that use their limited time to get themselves as fully ready as they can for the moment will, by and large, enjoy the most success, albeit factoring in talent and experience levels, too.
This is why your team needs a wholehearted commitment from you, your teammates and coach. An in-between commitment won’t prepare you or your team for the rigors of a national competition.
Your team gets one shot at the 2019 national tournament. Once the first match begins, you can’t call timeout and ask for an extra couple of practices to prepare that much more for this stage.
The time to prepare, to get ready, is now. That’s why every practice is crucial to that process.
So, what does a well-prepared national team look like?
Practices with 100-percent or nearly 100-percent attendance
Athletes arriving 10-15 minutes early so that they’re ready to start training as soon as their team has the court
Players and coaches giving their full effort in every drill, game and scrimmage, not just “once they’re feeling into it.” Your feelings will follow your actions, not vice versa.
Training marked by the right kind of fun. Fun by national team standards is the joy of learning, growing and improving while enjoying the game as we make each other better — and celebrating each other’s helpful contributions to that growth and success along the way.
A teachable attitude and a desire to be a positive influence on your teammates and team
A growth mindset where athletes are eager to stretch themselves outside their comfort zone, take chances, tackle difficult drills, goals and challenges head-on and learn and refine techniques, skills, tactics and strategies. These athletes fail on numerous occasions on the road to growth but pick up themselves and their teammates and jump back into the fray with the same bold frame of mind.
Teams that work diligently at their skills, systems, rotations and plays until they execute automatically without need to think. They don’t play perfect — no team does — but they train themselves to be consistently in the right place at the right time using the right technique and in the right mindset. Every little detail makes a big difference in a team’s play.
Training with such energy and passion that athletes leave the gym after each practice feeling sweaty, tired, a bit sore and excited about the progress of their team and themselves
Even getting in occasional extra reps on your own time between practices. The more expensive clubs do positional training each week; we have to be creative in training at home or elsewhere to keep sharpening our skills and bodies outside of practice.
Are you committed to being this kind of national player and teammate? That’s what your team needs from you.
Don’t be an in-between team member. Make the conscious decision today to be a fully committed teammate the rest of the season.
Now, giving a full commitment won’t guarantee a slew of wins at nationals, nor ensure that you’ll always play your very best. But it will enable you and your team to experience the most growth in your game and will help your team be as prepared as you can be for this challenge.
One of the most gratifying feelings in volleyball is taking the court knowing you did everything in your power to ready yourself for the task at hand. Win or lose, you feel secure in the satisfaction of giving your all to prepare for this event. You can take great pride in that truth.
When you’ve consistently practiced the way you want to play on this stage, you can relax, trust your preparation, go out and revel in the moment. You earned that right and opportunity.
So train with total commitment as your end goal, and enjoy every intense, pivotal and funny moment of the national season, even each failure, error and drill. And treat the season as a privilege to be part of this process.
Have an amazing spring season!
Jeff Smith is Serve City’s volleyball director.