Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category


Timeout for Crazy Time

Crazy time is when you only see five players on the court and the libero is hiding behind her teammates at the end of the bench.

Crazy time is when a freshman you wanted to redshirt has to play because of an injury and she can’t get out of the way of the setter in transition.

Crazy time is when your best player forgot her uniform and you have to decide whether to teach her a lesson or have a chance to compete.

Crazy time is when an experienced player continues to attack the ball without varying her point of contact, placement, or arm-speed.

Crazy time is when your assistant coach signals for the serve on the wrong side of the clipboard.

Crazy time is when a setter tries to make the most spectacular set in every situation.

Crazy time is when there is a head coach, two assistants and a volunteer coach on the bench and one person is doing all the talking in a timeout.

Crazy time is when “startled” appears to be your teams’ base position.

Crazy time is when the AD and the SWA sit together at home match where you beat your rival and neither comes down to offer congratulations.

Crazy time is when you find out a club coach is encouraging one of your players to consider transferring to a “power five” program.

Crazy time is when an SWA encourages a player to come to the SWA with her problems rather than having the player talk with the head coach first.

Crazy time is when the opponent releases into a rotation defense when you are out-of-system and your left side player keeps tipping over the block.

Crazy time is when the opposing setter, not much bigger than a marble, two shoots the ball for a kill at a critical point in the match.

Crazy time is when any player makes a goofy mistake then turns to her teammates and says, “My bad.”

Crazy time is when you have 10 more kills then the opponent, twice as many blocks, two more service aces and you are down 2-0 because your players can’t get out of their own way.

Crazy time is when you focus on strategy and tactics and your players don’t know who is going to pass the ball in the gaps.

Crazy time is when a head coach communicates out of frustration rather than choosing a posture, tone and language that will give a player the best chance to adjust and play with confidence.

Crazy time is when there isn’t a core group of people on the court that you can coach rather than manage.

Crazy time is when you tell yourself the lie; the behavior on the court doesn’t reflect my coaching.

Terry Pettit – www.terrypettit.com


Coaching The Coach In The Mirror

There are three benchmarks that many coaches look for when evaluating a recruit: talent, attitude and effort. To that I would add a fourth, the willingness of an athlete to be uncomfortable as she develops. This combination usually leads to an exceptional player.

As coaches we don’t think of ourselves as performers. We consider ourselves teachers and leaders, and yet I believe that holding ourselves to the same standards that we use to evaluate a player is a reasonable way to measure our preparation and work habits.

It is a cliché to say that coaches work hard, but there is at least as much variance in how hard and focused individual coaches work as there is between athletes in their commitment and preparation to reach a goal.

There are head coaches who are working fifteen hours a day to make a program better, and there are coaches checking in at 10:00 a.m. and punching out after practice. While there are some successful coaches that can error on the side of thinking too much about their program, (I can think of one head coach who cannot sit through an entire movie without thinking about how to make her third rotation stronger) I know of very few consistently successful high school and college coaches who are not out-working their competition.

Are their programs that begin with significant advantages? Yes. It is easier to interest a recruit in Stanford, Texas or Florida then it is to some of their competitors. But even at those schools sustained success is not as easy as it would appear. If Stanford were to put together two or three consecutive seasons where they did not compete for a conference championship it would dramatically impact their recruiting. Recruiting is very fickle. It is not always where you are ranked that is important but the direction that public opinion believes you are moving. Two recruiting mistakes in the same year combined with an injury can send a program spiraling to a different level.

We all know how important a positive attitude is for the people we are coaching, and each of us could list at least a couple of players who never reached their potential because of their sense of entitlement or the fact they just didn’t get it. The same can be true of coaches. There are assistant coaches who believe they are not getting the opportunity to become head coaches because of their gender, when in fact, it is there decision to see themselves as victims that prevents their development.

There are head coaches who take far fewer risks then they ask of their athletes. In scheduling, networking, and recruiting they choose to play it safe. Why go after the better players when I am more likely to be rejected? Why schedule stronger competition when we are more likely to be defeated? Why network with peers when it is more comfortable to communicate with people I already have a relationship with? Why develop an offense different from other teams when if it doesn’t work I will look foolish? Why work at increasing our attendance when we have so much competition from professional sports? Why continue to work at building something remarkable when the person I report to is only interested in us being competitive?

Many of us could not respond to the same demands and expectations that we place on our student athletes if an administrator placed similar demands on us. We ask athletes to be uncomfortable every day. We ask them to set stretch goals and to lay a foundation through strength training, nutrition and conditioning that will give them the best chance to reach their target. We ask them to stay in town during the summer so that they can develop a sense of purpose with their teammates, and we ask them to work camps so they can understand the game from a different perspective. We ask them to refine fundamentals, and if we are a great coach, we never stop asking.

What do we ask of ourselves? How uncomfortable are we willing to be? Do we travel each year to spend a couple of weeks learning from our peers? Do we spend a month during the spring visiting junior programs within our region? Do we develop local and regional coaches? Do we develop relationships with better coaches that will impact our scheduling? Do we watch men’s volleyball and try to determine what aspects of the men’s game we could apply to our own? Do we hire assistant coaches with talents better than our own or do we choose comfort over talent? Who do we ask to help us to hold ourselves accountable?

Talent, effort, attitude and the willingness to be uncomfortable are characteristics that are just as important in coaching as they are in a prospective team captain. So consider strapping this compass to your wrist. Did I work as hard today as my middle blocker? Did I take more risks than the freshman that I am teaching new footwork? Am I as open minded to new ideas and fundamentals as the setter I trying to retrain? Do I reflect the passion that I want from our libero? Am I projecting an attitude that the culture we are building is getting better every day, or am I caught up in a cycle of defeatism and victim-hood? We all know the athlete who spends more energy trying not to work hard then it would take to embrace the opportunity. Sometimes we can be that person. — Terry Pettit


Four Lives That Mattered

      My father and three close friends died this past year. Jeff Schmahl was a colleague, confidant, frequent golf partner, and the father of HuskerVision; Weyland Beeghly was my roommate at Bethany Theological Seminary who entered the foreign service and served at the American embassy in Moscow while writing and singing songs about pig farming; Harold Andersen was the former publisher of the Omaha World-Herald, a lover of poetry, Augusta National, and one of the most generous and welcoming people I ever met. My father was my mentor, best friend and the foundation of our family.

I had the privilege of talking with Jeff, Harold Andersen, and my father shortly before their deaths. Weyland had suffered Parkinson’s disease for the last ten years that he believed was caused by the former Soviet Union shooting radio waves into the American embassy over several years. He had a disarming wit, and in my mind was one of the unsung heroes of his country, quietly going about his work of estimating the crop yields in the countries he was stationed. My last conversation with Weyland was in late October, and he was growing more frustrated as the disease prevented him from doing simple tasks even though his mind could recall the smallest details of our friendship. He died on December 10 from complications in surgery. We walked down Michigan Avenue together in 1968 protesting against the Democratic National Convention powerless beyond our choice of shoes.

Jeff died of pancreatic cancer, and in his last year and a half wrote a powerful blog titled “The Last Train” about his passions, his family, and his battle with the “Big C.” His work ethic, his values, his commitment to his family and friends were inspiring. The toughest thing about Jeff’s death was that chemotherapy had seemed to give him a reprieve until everything turned at the end. In our last conversation, two weeks before his death, we set a golf date for September.

I called Harold Andersen on my way to the Final Four in Omaha. He had just been released from the hospital, and he answered the phone with a strong, enthusiastic voice. We talked about the movie “Spotlight” which I encouraged him to see with his wife Marian because it focuses on the value of investigative journalism. We talked about poetry and the chances of Nebraska winning a fourth National Championship in volleyball. We agreed to talk again soon, after the championship.

He died the next day and his obituary noted that he was considered a “giant” in the newspaper industry. The University of Nebraska had no better friends than Harold and Marian Andersen who gave continuously to provide for a better university.

My father died of a weakened heart at 93 with my brother Jack and I in the room and my daughter Emma having held his hand for most of the morning. He was a remarkable man. Anything that Jack and I learned about coaching was through his mentoring. His wisdom was exceeded only by his humility. When he was in pain during hospice we wished for his death to come soon, but as soon as he passed I wanted to talk with him and continue to do so. Without his presence, I have gone through weeks of not quite knowing who I am.

What these four people had in common was a love of face-to-face conversation. They loved language, ideas, and they didn’t have to have the same opinion as the people they had coffee with or played golf with or went for long walks with. They didn’t see themselves as the center of the universe but they didn’t suffer fools either. They considered themselves lucky and when I was in their presence I did too.

— Terry Pettit


Playing Football With The Amygdala

I have never seen anything like the drama that is taking place in college athletics this morning. By Monday morning a half dozen teams could end up in different conferences which in turn will bring about more change in the coming weeks, proving that institutions of higher education have the power to create as much turmoil based on greed as Wall Street.

It is highly unlikely that any swimmer, gymnast, volleyball player or 400 meter runner will be better off from this. Coaches and student athletes in Olympic sports will have to travel greater distances, miss more classes, and spend more time traveling than in practice so that more football games can be televised for more money. The increased competition means that the money will be spent (not invested) on increased travel salaries, facilities and expectations. All of this is taking place at institutions that have a stated purpose that includes helping young people develop the skills and judgement to make good decisions.

We can talk all we want about how athletics builds character, but when we make institutional decisions that are based primarily on ego and greed we are modeling the opposite of what an education is supposed to be about. Perhaps we need a new motto: The brain goes inside the helmet. – Terry PettitCharles Schulz


Deliverance, Volacanoes, and Journeys

In May of 1975, five graduate students in creative writing prepared to bed down for the night in a barn loft just above the banks of the Buffalo River in North Central Arkansas. As we unrolled our sleeping bags onto the wide pine planks of the loft, we talked about the recently released movie Deliverance, and the canoe trip that we would begin in the morning on one of the most beautiful and wild rivers in America, a trip that was only possible because spring rains would provide enough water to prevent having to portage the upper sections of the Buffalo and enough clearance to make the rapids navigable downstream.

The woman unrolling her sleeping bag next to me was Carolyn Wright (C.D. Wright), a classmate in the poetry workshop who would later go on to a prominent career as a poet. Decadent in the best sense of the word, Carolyn told interesting gothic stories about her childhood, and while many of us in the workshop focused on trying to say something meaningful, she had the talent and good sense to focus on language that was rich as liquor.

For a while we discussed James Dickey’s screenplay and whether or not the violence that occurs in the Deliverance was an accurate depiction of the Deep South. Most of us thought that some of the characters bordered on caricatures, even though they gave shape to the sense of evil that permeates the novel and makes a flawed movie one of the few that I have watched several times over. One of us observed that if you’ve ever been in a canoe with a friend or lover, you know that trouble doesn’t come from the outside, but inside the canoe.

Just as we were about to fall asleep, I turned to Carolyn and told her about a book I had read the previous week, Malcolm Lowrey’s Under the Volcano, a novel that held whisper respect among our fiction writing friends. The story takes place on the Day of the Dead in a small village in Mexico that lies in the shadow of two volcanoes. The main character is an alcoholic English counsel, who hopes to reconcile with his beautiful wife. I will say nothing else about the book other than you must have patience to read it, but if you do be prepared to go through the windshield in the final pages.

That evening and the following day on the river is the last time that I saw Carolyn Wright that spring. When I returned from a road trip two weeks later where I found a teaching job in North Carolina, she had read Under the Volcano, and left for Mexico the following day, where she stayed for much of the summer in a small village that is the setting for Lowrey’s novel. I have always thought her response to the novel was one of the most powerful things I had ever heard of.

By now you are wondering what this has to do with coaching. There are few things more powerful in our lives than a journey into the unknown. Sometimes the journey is prompted by a story. Sometimes it’s two weeks in a Volkswagen looking for a job, taking on a river in a canoe or a trip to Mexico.

The journey and the time away from the usual coaching concerns is as important in a coach’s continuing development, as training and recruiting. Each time we put ourselves in a new geography with different metaphors and language, we learn a little more about who we are, and when we return we are better prepared to adjust and move on.


Good Coaching Focuses on Process, Not End Result

From Talent and The Secret Life of Teams

I have a friend who tells me that in 1953 he could fix about anything on a Chevy with a combination wrench. Those days are gone.

So are the days when organized sport meant the kids in the neighborhood gathering at the end of the block, without their parents or other adults, to negotiate who would play on which team, who would be chosen last, and who would play right field.

Some people argue that in moving to a culture of spontaneous play to a culture of organized sport, we have improved the technical skills of our kids, while stunting the growth of other skills, such as negotiation, initiative, communication, and the ability to solve problems without adult intervention.

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