Jun 8, 2018A Little Support
Every coach needs a support system. From someone to talk with about the highs and lows of the team to getting help with logistics, it’s impossible to do the job alone.
“It’s a year-round job, even though you’re only in season for three months,” says Kristen Pontes-Christian, Head Volleyball Coach at Pitman High School in Turlock, Calif., and Director of the Turlock Crush Volleyball Club. “That’s why a support system is so important, and it’s been one of the reasons for my success. Without it, I wouldn’t be able to coach.”
“It’s really important to surround yourself with good people,” echoes Cathy George, Head Volleyball Coach at Michigan State University, who notched her 600th career win earlier this year. “There’s just so much more to do now — we all need each other to succeed.”
Pontes-Christian learned the value of turning to others early in her career, when the parents of a likable and coachable player began to pester her about a variety of issues. They questioned the way she oversaw the team and, more specifically, their daughter.
“They sent negative emails to me, one after another. Until that point, I had never had a difficult parent,” recalls Pontes-Christian, the 2016-17 Northern California Volleyball Coach of the Year. “It was affecting me in every way. It got to the point where the issue became so difficult that I was constantly thinking about it. It played with my head and had me questioning whether it was worth it to keep coaching.”
Fortunately, she was not hesitant to ask for help, leaving no stone unturned in seeking advice. “I talked to my athletic director, other coaches, and a former coach about what to do,” Pontes-Christian says. “My support system got me through that and helped me re-evaluate.”
Another source of support is assistant coaches. Austin Albers, Head Volleyball Coach at Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., often leans on Assistant Coach Britney Branson.
“Being a male coach dealing with female athletes, I don’t pick up on some of the emotional things,” says Albers. “Having a female assistant is extremely important for me. Britney is someone I can go to with anything volleyball related, as well as how to handle situations with players. Now, we can shoot looks at each other and know what the other is thinking. It took a little time — a season or two — and then it just clicked.”
George agrees that assistants you click with are instrumental in having the right support, and she takes great care in choosing hers. “You either need to know them or know people who know them, who can vouch for their character,” she says, adding that she prefers to hire former players who already understand her expectations and personality, as well as the team’s culture.
“Also consider how your assistants are going to make you better,” George continues. “Know yourself and what you need in terms of both Xs and Os and other areas. They may know volleyball, but who are they as people?”
Pontes-Christian hired a former player as Pitman’s freshman coach. “If I can get my previous players, that’s huge,” she says. “They’re invested right away, because they understand how important our program is. And I don’t refer to myself as the ‘varsity coach,’ but rather the ‘head of the program,’ which also helps.”
Parents should be included in the group, too. Pontes-Christian now welcomes and includes them, ever since her difficult encounter early in her career. “I learned the importance of asking parents to help with the program,” she says. “That secures their buy-in. They now volunteer in many areas, such as driving players to team functions and spending their free time stocking the concessions stand.”
Players’ families have also become her fundraising arm. “We struggle to get new volleyballs every year,” Pontes-Christian says. “There have been some years when we didn’t get new ones. When I first took over, we had no funds. I didn’t even know how we were going to afford to have a season. Now that our parents are on board, they step in and get us what we need.”