Updated: Apr 6, 2020
Juniors coaching is an art. For any of you who have attempted it, you know that there are so many moving parts it will make your head spin. The biggest key to success, in my eyes, is the environment you create within your program. Having coached for multiple clubs and schools under the leadership of different club directors and athletic directors, I never found a place that allowed me to be myself as much as I can at RPM Sand. Ryan Mariano has done a fantastic job of creating an environment that truly fits my style as a coach.
If you ask anyone who has played for me, or any of the parents whose kids have played for me, they will all tell you that my biggest weakness as a coach is that I am not hard enough on their kids. Ironically, they will also tell you that my best quality and the quality that makes me the most successful as a coach is that I am not hard on their kids.
As each of us makes our way through the coaching world, we develop our own style. Some are the "get on the line" kind of coaches. They use a commanding presence to garner the respect of their athletes. There are PLENTY of coaches that works for. My style just never was that. I earn the trust of my athletes by allowing them to see that I am vulnerable. I tell them stories about time that I failed rather than times that I succeeded. I try hard to paint a picture in their minds without really saying it that when they are out there on the court that it isn't 2 on 2 beach volleyball because I am on their team. I only show disappointment when they disrespect me, their teammates, their opponents, or the game itself. Otherwise, I just help them to find the positives that come out of each match to try to build on. With new athletes, it always takes them a while to understand that I am truly never mad at them and never disappointed in them for the loss on the court. They know that I am their third teammate and that I will do everything in my power to help them to reach their goals. I told an athlete today at a tournament, "Ok, we are going to do this together. You work on overcoming your frustrations on the court and leave the rest to me. If I can get you out there with a clear mind along with the strategy I give you, we are going to be really tough to beat."
The environment is our club is unique. One young lady described it to me today. She said, "it's crazy coach, we come in and work hard and grind because we want to, not because anyone makes us." Ryan has created that environment and that's why I love working for him and why i flourish as a coach under his direction!
The two young ladies in the picture below have been a pretty unique team for me. a few years ago, they were just another team on the beach. They were solid volleyball players, great kids, and hard workers, but they hadn't found that "something special" about themselves yet that set them apart. It was the beginning of the summer in their second summer of 16's and all of the big national championships were happening. All of a sudden in the middle of some of the best competition in the country it clicked. I finally figured out what made them tick. It was trust. Since then these two have had an unrivaled belief in themselves.
It was the quarterfinals at the AAU National Championships. They had gotten out to a pretty rough start. The format was one game to 28 to see who moved on. They were currently down 21-4. They had battled a really tough team the match before and as you looked at them out there, they kind of looked like they were out of gas. When they called their timeout they came in and both just looked up at me. They didn't look frustrated, they looked sad. I just told them, look, we are probably going to lose this game and you know what? That's ok! But what I don't want you to do is go back out there and had this game over to them. You have had an incredible run this tournament. You have played so well! I don't care what the score is at the end of this game, but when you come back in here and we talk again, I'm going to ask you a question. I am going to ask you, "are you proud of the way you finished?" If you can tell me, "yes", then you know that I will be proud of you too. This has nothing to do with strategy. It has to do with you two being able to be proud of yourselves.
Well, I was right, they lost the game. They left absolutely everything they had out there in the process though. When the other team called timeout at 26-24, they had huge smiles on their face. They came into the timeout and all I told them was, "there, see, there's my team!" we proceeded to lose 30-28. We lost that match, but what we gained in that moment is something indescribable. None of us knew it at that moment, but something so special had happened. Those two athletes found what they were capable of.
Anyone on the beach that has had the chance to watch them play will tell you that they are NEVER out of a match. I know that a lot of coaches say that about their teams, but more than any other pair that I have ever seen play the game, this is true. In games to 21 against some of the best teams in the country, I have seen them come from down 20-13 to win, down 18-8 to force a third game and win. In third sets in back to back matches they came back from down 14-10 to win and down 14-11 to win. Their belief in themselves is pure magic.
So I will leave you with these few things.
1. Juniors coaching is an art.
2. Environment is everything.
3. The way to your athlete's best self is through being there in the tough moments to show them that you aren't disappointed in them and that you will go battle with them.
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