After watching the collegiate mens volleyball National Championship this past Saturday I came away feeling extremely motivated, but not for the reasons you might think. The match was closely contested between Long Beach State and UCLA and played at the highest possible level (both teams attacked at above a .300 average and had sideout percentages around 67%). In the end, Long Beach State came out on top 15-12 in the 5th set.
As the final point was won, and the cameras captured the pure joy and elation of the Long Beach State players and coaches I couldn’t help but watch in the background as UCLA picked themselves up off the floor after leaving everything they had out there. The Bruin coaching staff gathered their players in a huddle as the Long Beach fans rushed the court and they spoke to their team.
This was the moment that inspired me. How should we as Bay to Bay coaches react in the situation of our team falling just short?
While reflecting on this question, I couldn't help but think of the vulnerability each athlete experiences in competition. Whenever an athlete steps on the court for a volleyball game, they are immediately thrust into a situation of uncertainty. They are matching their skill with the skill of an opponent, and there is always a chance that you can fall short and lose. Does a loss mean the end of the world? Of course not, but it can be harmful to a developing young man if they (or their coaches) approach it with the wrong mentality. If we as coaches place all of the importance on winning at all costs, then our players will also adopt this same mentality and anything short of winning is reflection on themselves.
In her book Mindset, Carol Dweck dives into some extremely interesting topics regarding the development of youth and (you guessed it) their mindset growing up. When a young athlete is praised with statements like "you are so talented”, or “you are really good” we are unintentionally discounting the process that it took to get them to that place. What happens when that same player loses? When things get more challenging and that player hits a snag, their confidence can hit rock bottom. If winning volleyball matches means “you are so talented” or “you are so good” then what does losing a match mean? Does losing mean "you are bad" and "you are not talented"?
This type of communication and thinking is called a “fixed mindset”. When things don't come easy, players with a fixed mind set will look for a excuse to justify why something went wrong. It is our job as coaches and parents to help athletes understand that their self-worth is not directly linked to the outcome of a game, and instead foster a growth mindset. What are some examples of developing a growth mindset?
Teach our players to love challenges. Reward players for trying and failing. Remove their safety net and help them become comfortable with the uncomfortable.
Teach our players to be intrigued by mistakes. Rather than looking at a mistake like an embarrassment, encourage players to look at them like a puzzle to be solved. The puzzle may take some time, but in the end they will figure out how to place the pieces with your guidance.
Teach our players to enjoy effort and learning. Former Pepperdine volleyball coach Marv Dunphy has a great quote that says: “Athletes are at their happiest when they are improving”. Rather than seeking out praise, players will seek out a way to solve the puzzle in front of them.
The mission of Bay to Bay Volleyball Club is simple: Develop quality people through the sport of volleyball. When our players graduate from college, it is not their ability to jump serve that is going to take them far in life, it is their ability to build and repair their own self confidence that will translate into all aspects of their life. The ability to have that kind of influence on a young man is a special role that we as coaches and parents should be proud to carry, and to never take lightly.
"Develop quality people through the sport of volleyball"
No matter the occasion, whether it be the National Championship or a scrimmage against a team in our club I hope our Bay to Bay players continue to see that their self worth is not attached to a match result, but instead to their effort and willingness to be vulnerable. Winning is a byproduct of hard work.
Upcoming Bay to Bay Events:
Summer Team Add-On Day (Saturday, May 12th)