Dear Women’s Coaches,
You know who you are and whether this is addressed to you. You continue to fail to fulfill your responsibilities to the sport of volleyball. The job of elite coaches is not to remain on an island, to merely win matches or maximize your program’s budget or your personal salary. If you occupy a prestigious position, you have a much greater responsibility–and I believe at least 90% of you are failing to meet your responsibilities.
- You have a responsibility to grow the game.
- You have a responsibility to help other coaches whether they are novices coaching 12u teams; club programs with prospective elite athletes; or your peers who may even be competitors within your conference or region.
- You have a responsibility to look out for the long-term health of your athletes.
- You have a responsibility to insure the long-term mental health of your staff and athletes.
Growing the game is not just about appearing on ESPN or winning titles, having your players make Olympic squads. Growing the game is not about holding huge camps and charging massive amounts of money to fund ‘volunteer’ coaches nor is it the ‘personal attention’ small camps you run where the only attendees are recruits you are interested in. This is not selfless, this is selfish.
Growing the game is about reaching out to Boys and Girls clubs to show kids the power of team sports, the fun and CHALLENGE of volleyball. It’s about Starlings volleyball clubs. It’s about doing this for the sake of the game, not mandated community service. You should grow the game because you are at the top of the game in America, the coaches people are supposed to respect and emulate, the people with the greatest reach and ability to drive volleyball’s popularity further. Charging hundreds for camps limits the reach of the sport–makes it elitist, following the sad path baseball, softball, tennis, and golf have already tread. We need camps for those who do not have money, who do not have access to quality equipment, those who are not 6’2 or taller. Growing the game is working with the 5’1 kid with limited ability but passion for the sport–that’s the person who will eventually be your official or become a high school coach.
You have a responsibility to help coaches get better. It is disgusting to see the condescension you show towards others who are not D-1 coaches or have no High Performance experience. I have watched you end conversations immediately as soon as you find out the other person has no athletes you can recruit, you stop answering their questions or give flippant answers. This is unacceptable and you should be ashamed. Those novice coaches want to get better–and they face challenges with that age group you have no idea about and may not even be able to handle yourself if roles were switched! I know multiple stories of contemptuous attitudes when asked questions like “Why do you prefer swing blocking to standard blocking?” You were asked an honest question because that other coach considered yours an expert opinion–if you truly want respect, you’ll give it back (actually, you’ll give it first if you’re actually a great coach).
You have a responsibility to help other coaches. Few of us have full-time staffs to work with us, the ability to dedicate hours to thinking/working on volleyball. Few have access to the video and computer data available to crunch numbers and bring our understanding of statistics to a par with the metrics of baseball and basketball–in ways all coaches can benefit from. You have these things–full time assistant coaches, administrative personnel, the works, and yet–prying information from a collegiate D1 or D2 coach is more difficult than breaking into Fort Knox.
You have a responsibility to your athletes to look out for their long-term health. The rate of joint surgeries on women (in the US) in their 40s and 50s is skyrocketing and they almost all have one thing in common–they played a high-level sport at the collegiate and/or pro level. This is on you. I accept we know more now about training and therapy, but it is unacceptable to overuse athlete bodies for the sake of the scoreboard. If an athlete is hit by a hard-driven ball in the head, you don’t leave them in the game–you remove them and put them through a concussion checklist. Surgery rates on young athletes have already skyrocketed–this is on you as well, demanding young people specialize, give up multiple sports, practice four days/week, play every weekend. Young people need rest. If young people are sore–it is YOUR responsibility to sit them, not to say ‘Play through it’. Playing through minor injuries or through exhaustion leads to major injuries, but those don’t effect your bottom line, so why worry–there’s another elite kid out there waiting to step in.
You have a responsibility, too, to your athletes’ mental health. Are you giving them time off? Are you forcing them to make volleyball their top priority? That should never be the case. It should always go Family -> School -> Volleyball. Confusing their priorities causes unnecessary stress and anxiety. How many athletes are transferring? How many from ‘elite’ clubs are quitting, choosing not to play in college because you’ve made life miserable for them? Do you get embarrassed telling kids they need to skip Homecoming or Prom to show their commitment to the sport? (Sadly, no.) This is not about mental toughness–this is mental/emotional abuse. It’s unacceptable. You are the person families chose to look out for their child who may be far, far from them at college. Act like a trustworthy person. Be a role-model. For the good of our society, it is better to have 12 average players who are all academic all-Americans than a team of Olympic-caliber players who cannot spell their names and are kept eligible through creative, shall we say, means. If you’re going to make hard, tough demands someplace–make it the classroom.
And your assistants? Goodness, by mid-spring they will be dealing with illness and exhaustion, forced to fly across the country to all the various qualifiers, pre-qualifiers, jamborees, and whatnot–inevitably to watch the same kids over and over, simply so that prospective athlete sees your program there, so that your OPPONENTS see you there. Have you ever considered your assistants want quality of life? There is more to life than volleyball. There are lazy days at home binging Netflix, there’s something in the old days we called ‘dating’ which leads to things like marriage and families. Are marriages and families healthy when one of the spouses is away so much for a job? Look at the coaches out there–how many have had marriages and relationships destroyed by the demands placed on them by the head coach–whether overt or implicit? How many have never married because of coaching? How many are afraid to get married because they think you’ll take it out on them–that they must fear for their job security in terms of potential relationships.
I’m sorry I have to write this, sorry for more than one reason.
I’m sorry because I can think of nothing else that can ‘move the dial’ in any fashion. I’m one of those coaches you ignore (and freely admit this). You don’t return emails or phone calls, but you will soon enough since I have a 2021 6′ setter who led the nation in assists, was conference player of the year, and will be all-American (And you know what? I’ll talk with you, I’ll help you. Because it’s about the kid and her dreams and goals. It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s about the athlete).
I’m sorry because I feel strongly about this, yet I know it won’t make a difference, that you who are addressed in this will never read it (because it’s written by a juco coach and none of us know anything–that’s why we’re at jucos, right?) or you will rationalize everything you do–that that kid hit in the head wasn’t really hurt, it’s only knee soreness, or that the kid struggling in Bio has access to study tables, so the rest isn’t in your hands.
I’m sorry because I can name hundreds of coaches out there who would kill to be where you are, do what you are doing–and would do it the right way. I’m sorry because there are assistants out there reading this, nodding, who will say nothing because they fear you will hurt their chances of landing a coaching job somewhere else.
Mostly, I’m sorry for the kids. They deserve better from adults.
It’s Christmas season soon enough. Consider A Christmas Carol and the story of Scrooge. We can’t change the past or the present, but we can change the future. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Become the change we as coaches, we as the sport of volleyball, need. If only a few of you show the courage to agitate for change, things can be fixed. One is an idea, five is a group, fifty is a movement, one hundred is change. Please, put the sport first, not your pocketbook or self-interest.
Become. The. Change.