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