I coach a team of 10-11 year old girls for a dedicated volleyball club in New York City. Parents bring their girls, ages 10-18, to this club with the intention of winning tournaments and signing scholarships. I’ve even had parents of my 11 year-old players pester me about their college recruitment. What my players, parents and club directors don’t know is that as a coach, I don’t aim to create championship 11-year old volleyball players. I aim to create a positive sports environment and act as a mentor for my players when they need one. I use the sport my players and I both love as a tool to build and instill the characteristics and traits that create great 11-year old girls, and here are the secrets on how to do it: Secret #1: I create an encouraging team culture I shape a culture for our twice-weekly practices around encouraging your teammates, whether they are on your side of the net or the other. This takes time—especially in a sport where each point is scored by a ball hitting the ground and a player making a mistake. Instead of individual goals, I set team goals. Instead of having each girl get 5 serves over the net, I say lets get 50 serves over as a team. This teaches players to set goals and to work together to achieve them.
Secret #2: I make practices fun If practices aren’t fun, players won’t come. It is that simple. My players are at the age where most females begin to lose interest in sports because it just isn’t fun anymore. Instead of starting practices with lectures or drills, I begin my practices with Taylor Swift blaring and an intense game of tag. I make every drill or activity into a game, and use music when I can to keep the environment fun and relaxed.
Secret #3: I never reveal my favorites We coaches do have favorites on our teams. The challenge is to treat each kid like they are your favorite. I believe in getting to know each of my girls. I distract them from conditioning exercises by letting them tell me about what is going on in their life. At Friday practices, we do abdominal exercises while each girl waits anxiously for her turn to tell the team about her exciting weekend plans. I urge players to tell me some inconsequential detail about their lives, this way if they have something serious come up, they won’t feel uncomfortable talking to me about it.
Secret #4: I arrive at every practice over caffeinated. All of that energy has to come from somewhere. Really—It helps.
And here is the secret even I didn’t know—while you’re busy teaching all of these things, the championships often happen along the way. We finished the season as the top 11 and under team in the tri-state area and went on to Nationals to finish 13th in the country.
My girls haven’t figured it out yet—this secret plan I have for using volleyball to shape them into better people. A few parents have though—seeing positive changes in their daughters since they began playing on the team, and they don’t seem to mind.
Alex Bondy Graphic Design & Brand Manager Up2Us