Have you ever been in a situation where you're in set 3 in a best-of-3 volleyball match and you're down by 9 points? It seems an impossible feat to imagine battling to a tie, let alone a win. This is a difficult spot to be in as a player, but for a coach, this is the time to kick it into overdrive and give your players the fuel they need to get their head back in the game.
As a longtime coach, these are the moments that I shine. Not just anyone can step in and find the exact words to fill up a 30 second time-out that can turn a team around; but I can, and I do and that's what I'm here to share with you.
The first step to creating inspiration and passion in a team is knowing your players. This doesn't mean knowing their positions, whether they like to hit outside, or if passing is their thing; it's about really knowing them. How do they think? How do they feel? What kind of player were they in the past? Who are their past coaches and how have they influenced your players' development? And more importantly, what are their weaknesses on and off the court? What does it take to get in their heads and make a difference in their aggressiveness on the court?
Sometimes just a few trigger words, depending on the player, will bring them back in the game, but usually it takes more than that; it takes perspective.
Recently, my girls played in their first in-season major tournament at a college in Rhode Island. First match began at 8:45am and by 1:30pm we ended up 1st in our pool and 2nd overall in the tournament out of 16 teams. It wasn't an easy feat, most of the matches were battles, where my girls won by a by only a few points. As we looked at heading toward the quarter finals I could see worry on a few of their faces; considering the more they won, the better their opponents would be and they were growing tired. Before the quarterfinal match began I took them all aside; asking for 100% focus and attention. I told them to relax, to remember their basics and then I went around the circle reminding each player of their strengths. Abby has a great weak side swing, Lauren can pass even the hardest of hits, Lily's hands can put up a set that makes even the worse passes look perfect, Meg's outside hit is unstoppable, Liv's middle slide still remains unblocked this season, and so on.
When a team is in a tournament situation, with numerous teams, every one with a different pre-game chant, ace cheer and fans, it can get very confusing and more so intimidating. It's important as a coach you isolate each player and give them something to feel confident about. Remind them why they made your team, and why they are truly amazing players. Tell them to focus on this aspect as they go into the competition. Because no matter who they are up against, even the best team in the world makes mistakes and if your team is smart, they let that opponent make those mistakes; every side-out is a point gained in volleyball.
I can conclude with this: as a player, when you're down the most important thing you can do is focus. Focus on yourself, where you are on the court and what your duties are as 1/6th of a team on that court; don't let your teammates down and always show off a confident and happy face. When you're teammates are down, they will look over at you and if you look scared, worried or unhappy, it will carry over to them and onto the other players as well. As a coach, you must also focus, but instead of focusing on yourself, you must focus on all your players, find the weak link and give her the boost she needs to carry the team. Give them perspective; for example "Yes we're down by 9 points, but we're the 2nd best team here and we want it more!" And most important, make them laugh. A physical smile puts subconscious positive energy into their mind replacing thoughts of doubt or depression, so be funny, be upbeat and show them what it takes to get out there and get things done!