Nov 21, 2018Bond & Compete
As Head Volleyball Coach at Glendale (Ariz.) Community College, Lisa Stuck has led her team to nine regional championships and nine NJCAA DII tournaments. In 2014, the Gauchos won the national title, the first in program history, and Stuck was named NJCAA DII National Tournament Coach of the Year. Last year, she was inducted into the NJCAA Volleyball Hall of Fame.
Stuck was an All-American player at Arizona State University and a member of the USA National Team after graduating. Prior to Glendale, she served as an Assistant Coach at Mesa (Ariz.) Community College, the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Northern Arizona University. In her two decades at Glendale, she has compiled a 502-221 record and been named District Coach of the Year nine times.
Here she reveals her keys to success, how she motivates today’s student-athletes, and developing team chemistry.
What is your coaching philosophy?
I want my players to be fiercely competitive. A big part of accomplishing that is practicing with a high level of intensity. I also put a lot of emphasis on developing team chemistry and having fun.
How do you go about developing team chemistry?
My strategies have adjusted with today’s generation. I focus a lot more on having fun. If kids aren’t having a good time, you’re not going to get what you need out of them.
I usually start and end each practice with something a little different. During warm-ups, we play competitive games that are not necessarily related to volleyball and are often designed to build trust, such as pairing up teammates and blindfolding one while the other leads her through an obstacle course. Then we’ll end practice with a competition that’s focused more towards volleyball. One of their favorites is something we call Ultimate Frisbee Soccer Football, which is basically a combination of all three sports but played with a volleyball. The players all look forward to it.
These types of activities provide a little extra motivation to work hard during practice, but they also create a good experience. The memories players take away from collegiate athletics rarely revolve around what the score was against a certain team. They’re about having fun and building lifelong friendships. When my players leave Glendale and reflect on their time here, I want them to wish this was a four-year school instead of a two-year school.
Are there things you do outside of the gym to help the team bond?
We do a lot of small things. Sometimes we’ll surprise the team by taking everyone out for pizza. On Halloween this year we had our players partner up and buy an outfit for each other at Goodwill, with a $10 limit. They had to then wear their outfits to a team dinner. It was classic. They’re going to remember that for a long time.
And every Monday night after practice our players have a team dinner, with a different teammate hosting it each time. It’s just for the players. The coaches aren’t part of it, and that’s important. As coaches we’re part of almost everything they do when it comes to the team, but this is something that’s theirs and they’ve taken ownership of it.
What brought you to Glendale?
After I graduated from Arizona State, I worked for an airline for a while. Then a friend of mine started coaching at Mesa Community College, so I went there and helped her for four years. From there I had a couple of short stints as an assistant coach at Division I schools. I was at UNLV for a year and Northern Arizona University for about three years. But I had really enjoyed working at the community college level. It brought me a lot of fulfillment. I wasn’t working with elite athletes, but I found it was much more gratifying to take kids that weren’t expected to do much and make them into a great team.
During my last year at NAU, the coach at Glendale told me she was going to change careers and that her position was a good opportunity if I wanted it. I did want it, so I applied and was hired. Since then, I’ve had opportunities to coach at a four-year school again, but I’ve chosen to stay here. I like the training cycle at the community college level — you have more free time and balance than in Division I. It’s allowed me to spend more time with my family and do things I enjoy outside of volleyball.
Has the prevalence of social media prompted you to change the way you coach?
I’ve definitely had to adapt to the distractions that cell phones and social media have created. Kids have shorter attention spans, so you have to make sure that your practices are crisp. That means structuring them in a way that garners the players’ attention. My drills are now shorter and some of the scoring criteria for them has changed. The difficulty level has stayed the same, but we spend less time on each activity. Quickly moving from drill to drill is something that I’ve always done, but it’s become even more important with today’s athletes. Otherwise you lose their attention.
What was it like to capture the program’s first national championship?
It was probably the most gratifying experience of my coaching career. We were under .500, we barely made it into our regional playoffs, and we weren’t expected to do much there. But we came together as a team, caught fire at the right time, and upset a lot of teams. And because the tournament was here in Arizona we were able to pack the gym with all the support we could have needed. It was an incredible experience.
What has helped you to have a long career and avoid burnout?
I truly enjoy coming to work every day. We have a great athletics department and I have a great staff — many of them have been with me for the past 10 years. We’ve become really good friends and I lean on them when I need to.
It also goes back to my passion for the game. I’m a very competitive person and bringing a group of kids together and watching them become young adults is very rewarding for me. I haven’t found a job outside of coaching that gives you that same feeling.
Image by Pierre-Yves Beaudouin