Being Prepared

By Richelle Heacock, Ashford, Washington

USA Volleyball CAP II Article

Through my many years of playing the game of volleyball, I have had a wide variety of coaches. The majority of my coaches provided wonderful experiences for me that I will cherish forever. A few, sadly, did not. As I now begin my own journey as a coach, I realize how valuable it is to be equipped with the tools to not only teach the skills of the game, but more importantly to treat players in a manner in which they leave the gym feeling valued and accepted. This, of course, comes about by educating coaches at all levels of the game; and this, I believe, should be mandatory.

Volleyball needs a sport-specific training program for coaches at all levels of the game. Certain steps have been taken at the national and state levels, such as CPR and first aid training for all coaches. Improvements have been made, and the National Federation of State High Schools (NFSH) does push for coaches to have a general coaching education as well as sport-specific training. However, this is ultimately a decision left up to individual states. Many states, in turn, give the freedom to their school districts to set their own standards. USA Volleyball, in contrast, demands that all junior program coaches fulfill a basic requirement of IMPACT training. This covers both the philosophy of coaching and proper fundamentals when teaching. I believe this requirement could seamlessly be implemented for all school coaches as well.

This gap in preparation would not happen in any other specialized field or profession. A history teacher does not become a history teacher without the proper certification; nor does a doctor practice medicine without a degree. Even a waiter in a restaurant is given proper training before being expected to fulfill duties on his own. Lawyers, pilots, police officers all need specialized training before beginning their careers in their chosen professions. However, for some reason, the demand of coaching education is seen as unnecessary, when in reality, a coach holds so much responsibility working with young people. Everyone would agree that hiring a person as a school counselor without training would be irresponsible. It wouldn't matter with what age group this person would be working. From elementary to the high school level, this would be considered negligent. I would argue that a coach has greater influence than the school counselor. A coach is in contact with many more lives on a much more regular basis.

When I was very new to playing volleyball, I remember one experience in particular that has stuck with me for many years. My team had an away game. It was the one time in the season that we were to take a ferry to our destination, and as a group of thirteen year olds, we were excited!

The game itself is quite a blur to me now, but the bus ride home is another story. I remember in great detail how our coach called each one of us, one by one, up to the front of the bus as both our head coach and assistant told us everything individually we had done wrong that resulted in our team's loss-things like, "We put you on varsity because we thought you knew what you were doing, but obviously you don't." I felt humiliated. As a coach, I know now that it wasn't her intent to demoralize her team. But through her frustration, and lack of skills, she had done just that. This is the influence a coach has. A phrase that leaves my lips in a moment may echo in my player's mind for years to come, either positively or negatively.

It is an assumption our society holds that if one has been doing something for a long time, that person is an expert. Although many times this may hold true, this blanket statement is incorrect. Just because a person has coached for a long period of time, does not make them an expert. I could coach for thirty years, teaching players the wrong mechanics, and if I never get trained or continue learning the game, I am no more prepared to coach than someone who has picked up a clipboard for the very first time. Education must be done and continually renewed.

USA Volleyball has great accreditation programs in place. These requirements should be adopted by school districts nationwide. Knowledge of the game and how to properly treat our athletes could be universally understood and implemented. If the hiring process included submission of some form of accreditation, such as CAP or an IMP ACT training course with their resumes and letters of recommendation, schools could verify that their applicant had completed the necessary education required. To continue coaching, current certification should be required, or at least, continuing education hours logged. I understand change is a process, and requirements take time to implement. Perhaps a first step in making volleyball-specific coaching education more widespread, is for school districts to give an incentive of some sort for their coaches to do so.

“But what about coaches who are coaching at very beginning levels? Should we still require the same of them?”

Absolutely! Another incorrect assumption is that good coaches are only required at the higher levels of the game. When this statement is accepted as truth, we are prioritizing our athletes in a way that is unhealthy. Inadvertently, we are assuming older, more experienced athletes deserve better coaching than those tiny, inexperienced bodies who are just starting out. Although the "fresh faces" to the game may not need the fine-precision, detailed coaching an older player may need, they do need and DESERVE the best. They deserve someone to teach them how to correctly execute skills and play the game. Young players, especially, need someone to see the potential in them as a player, and the great value each has as the person they are, apart from volleyball. Our foremost concern as coaches should be teaching the love of the game for all our athletes.

As a volleyball community, we need to demand excellence. By requiring all coaches, nationwide to pass an accreditation program before being hired, we can narrow the gap of both coaches and players who fall through the cracks because of the lack of knowledge and tools at their disposal. Coaches deserve to be equipped to coach. Players deserve a coach who is equipped.