by Lauren Tashjian
Welcome to Valley Playoffs. It is win or go home. Our team has dropped three passes in a row and our setter has completely shut down mentally: slumped shoulders, head down, and quivering lips. Tears are about to roll down because we believe the season is over. You are our coach and you call a time out and gather us in a huddle. What do you say to us? How will you react to what is happening on the court?
Communication is the interchanging of thoughts, opinions, and information. In volleyball, communication is one of the most important keys to winning. Volleyball is a mental game. Sure, it’s a physical game: players get tired, sore, and injured. But, when you’re tired and discouraged, who keeps you motivated? The coach does. How the coach communicates with a player and the team in a stressful situation determines the mental strength of the team.
I strongly believe coaches should get mad. They have every right to; they teach you repeatedly what to do in practice and some players still can’t perform the way the coach wants. I have had five different coaches in my four years of volleyball. Every coach did something different. I’ve dealt with timid, lenient, passionate, angered, and spiritual coaches. There’s a difference between yelling with hatred and yelling with passion though. Even though coaches have the right to get mad, showing anger gets you nowhere. It frustrates the coach, the player, and it causes tension with the team. In order to get a positive reaction on the court, talking with passion is your best bet. It shows they care. They yell because they want you to get it right so badly. They love the game and want you to perform to your best ability because they know you can do it. With anger, there is no hope. Although volleyball is a challenge, the game should be a challenge; meshing with your coach shouldn’t be the challenge.
Coach Ken Clyburne, Immanuel High School’s volleyball coach of 20 years, gave me a different outlook on the game. He put the importance of the mental and physical game into perspective. Coach Clyburne showed passion, spirit and hope the entire volleyball season. He was willing to do anything for us to play to the best of our abilities and UNDERSTAND the mental game. He didn’t want us to just win; he wanted us to further our success. Clyburne wanted the girls to learn lessons for life, not just volleyball. The biggest lesson he taught me was that it’s not over, whatever it may be, until you tell yourself it’s over. You just have to constantly battle with your mind to keep going.
Being the girl with no confidence and a big attitude, I gave up way too easily and then got frustrated when I couldn’t perform in the next play. Clyburne constantly reminded me that the game isn’t over; he needed me in the game and so did the team. In the 2012 volleyball season, we made it to the semifinals in valley. Seeded at number seven, we were looked at as the underdogs. We traveled to Bakersfield Christian to play the number two-seeded team. Everyone looked at us like we were a joke. But, Clyburne thought differently. By the end of the night, the seventh seeded team had destroyed the number two-seeded team. Even when the team was at its lowest point, he had so much faith in us. While the team had no faith, he knew that we could succeed and he always let the team know how much faith he had. It was the most encouraging thing to hear.
During the 2012 season, we had an emotional and spiritual coach as well. Luke Chow, first-time coach, had to deal with probably the most emotional team to ever go through Immanuel High School. But, he upheld his part and did his best to lead the team spiritually every day. In a recent interview, I asked him how he led the team spiritually. “I really tried to take part in the devotions every day,” said Chow. “I was able to relate the Bible passages to our game and always remind the team the purpose of me coaching is how to lead the girls into being spiritual women. I did Bible studies as often as possible. It is my first year coaching so I’m still finding what kind of coach I am, but I wanted to start with being a spiritual leader. Even on the court, I tried to encourage and be loud; I tried to instill what I believe spiritually into the girls.”
I also asked my teammates to answer a question for me: “How does the coach need to approach you in order to motivate you and get you to respond in a positive way?” While none of them responded with the coach getting up in their face and yelling, eleven out of the twelve girls responded that they want to be spoken to calmly, but sternly. When being yelled at, the player shuts down and responds negatively, causing them to perform poorly.
The way the coach communicates with the players affects the way the girls play. Communication is key; volleyball is a mental game. In order to perform top notch, the coach needs to communicate effectively, in whatever way that may be.