Feb 9, 2018
All For One

An important goal for all coaches is to get players to bond. The best teams are in sync on the court or field, which starts with interactions away from the game.

“I want my players to feel more tired from talking than from playing,” says Stephanie Rivera, Head Volleyball Coach at Lutheran West High School in Rocky River, Ohio. “If they don’t talk on the court all the time, I feel like we’re a sinking ship.”

One way she teaches players the art of communication is through speaking assignments. Because Lutheran West is a private religious school, one player per game shares devotions (usually a scripture passage or poem) designed to inspire the team before taking the court. Rivera says this allows the girls to articulate their thoughts in new ways and helps them realize the value of unveiling personal feelings.

Brennan Dean, Head Volleyball Coach at Torrey Pines High School in San Diego, does something similar. He texts his players leadership articles or relevant thought-provoking videos, and asks them to text him back five sentences that sum up their reactions. The next day, they discuss it as a team. “Kids are often more mature than we think, and they want to be challenged,” he says.

Beth Launiere, longtime Head Volleyball Coach at the University of Utah asks players to change roommates every road trip and bans cell phones at team meals, which last a minimum of 30 minutes. Even if players are done eating in 20 minutes, they are required to stick around and chat. “We very intentionally eliminate technology at these times,” Launiere says. “The magic happens when they are forced to sit there and talk.”

At Emory University, Head Volleyball Coach Jenny McDowell uses a big sister program in which a senior is paired with a junior, a junior with a sophomore, and so on. They are encouraged to talk one-on-one once a week. The goal is to help players feel more comfortable with each other and practice their communicate skills.

“Does all of this help us win?” asks McDowell. “Who knows? But, to me, this is about helping players develop life-long skills and become better people.”

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