Tears of Joy

By Roger J. Flores
Club Director/Head Coach & Founder of Sportslife Juniors

It is 100 degrees. I am dripping with sweat and as I look out from underneath my facemask, I see before me a 6-7, 340-pound college lineman coming to the line of scrimmage. Down in a stance, so close we can hear each other’s thoughts, we see the snap of the ball and off our day begins. He pulls back in a cup formation with the other monster lineman, and I immediately read, “Pass – Pass – Pass.”

As I go with the “Bull Rush” technique, his massive hands get to my shoulder pads and my momentum stops. I can hear my position coach in the background; “Flores! Get off the block and put some pressure on the Quarterback!”

Next passing play, I go with an inside move only to get pushed into another lineman waiting for me. By this time, coach has worked his way into our huddle, grabbing my facemask with both hands, challenging me in front of my teammates to get to the quarterback.

Next play, I go with patent “O’le move” leaving the bull-like lineman in his stance, get to the quarterback’s blind side, put a helmet in his back and pop comes the ball. My teammates are jumping up and down with excitement. I am pumping my fist in the air and when I look over at my coach’s expression, I can see some “tears of joy.”

WOW, I want more of this.

20 years later, I find myself coaching a girls' junior volleyball team. If we win, we take first. If we lose, we finish second again, now for the fifth time. After a shanked pass, I yell out, (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) 'Hey T-Rex, get your platform to the target!' The next serve drops on the floor and here comes a time out. Players gather around, but not wanting to get too close because they know what is coming. Coach Volcano is erupting, while challenging T-Rex to step up, pass that ball and lead us to victory. As I look around the huddle, I see a group of ladies with tears in their eyes. I am thinking, wow, that speech was so inspiring that they are expressing, “tears of joy.” They get back on the floor and to my amazement after that awesome, motivating speech, instead of playing with energy; they become something I can only describe as “cocoons” on the floor. They were so wrapped up in their emotions that they could not get out of their cocoons and play. We go on to lose that game and I start to wonder if this team’s problem is that maybe they are really just allergic to gold (medals).

Later that season, we are in another tight championship match, so during a timeout, I tell my setter, Gazelle, to set our hot hitter, Wildebeest and to bring us to victory. Puzzled by the team’s uncomfortable facial expressions with the challenge set before them, I go on to watch a set sail pass the antenna, a spike hit out of bounds, followed by a hit into the net. Oh no, silver, again!

During the off-season, I pondered the questions: Why do young female athletes cry? How do you motivate young ladies to play their best?

Recently, I came across two books, “Gender in Competition”, by Kathleen DeBoer & “For Men Only – a Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women,” by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn that answered these questions for me. These two books are a must read and changed my coaching approach. From this study, and although women are very complex beings never to fully be understood, two very important lessons can be learned and used in your own coaching tactics.

Why do young female athletes cry? One of the major reasons that hit me was that ladies need reassurance that you still care for them when you are mad. They need this constant reminder throughout practice, tournaments and over the course of the season. As a male coach, scratch that, as a male in general, this does not come naturally. In fact, males can view this emotion as a weakness. Tom Hanks said it best in that famous movie line from A League of Their Own when he said “There is no crying in baseball.” Well there is no crying in volleyball either, or is there?

Crying, takes me back a few years when my little munchkin was only 3-years old and how much fun it was to give her affection. Boy, she really milked it whenever possible. Whenever I was mad at her, she would cry. I would then quickly come back and hug her and let her know that it would be all right. We would then move forward until we got to the next crisis. Over time, little girls grow up and it is easy to forget what worked as a child can still work when they are young teenagers. Realizing this now, for my junior volleyball players, on and off the court, I am committed to reassure each player that I do really care about them. Caution: It must be genuine as they are really great at seeing through fakes. Once this understanding is established, it is amazing how positive they will respond to what you ask of them, even when you are mad at them. Yes, Coach Volcano still erupts from time to time, but when it does happens, it usually follows with reassuring words of affection.

The second mind-boggling question that I pondered was "How do you motivate young lady athletes to perform their best?" What I discovered is that a lady’s social network is more important to them than being the star player. Every young boy dreams of having the coach tell them to take that last shot as time is running down. I can still remember counting down 3-2-1 and then shooting the ball time after time in the back yard. I do not remember how many I missed, but I seem to remember each one that went in. Boys want that kind of attention.

However, during my research, to my amazement, girls do not. Typically, a young lady does not want to get singled out within their peer group and recognized as the star player, mainly for fear that the other players will no longer like or accept them. It appears that female athletes will play harder for each other than for themselves. When they play for their own teammates and friends, they are reinforcing and strengthening their social network and own importance to the team. Motivate a young lady while supporting their social network will not only take the pressure off the individual players during games, but will give them the correct motivation to be successful.

This season, we found out that the only thing we are allergic to is losing. 50-plus match wins, seven tournament gold medals and strong showings in National & Regional Qualifiers were a nice payoff. I am in no way an expert in the psyche of women, far from it, but I can say that reassuring them that you care for them and provide motivation in line with their social network will help improve you as a coach, a motivator, give them a better opportunity to be successful, and reduce those “tears of joy.”