As a high school coach, it’s way too easy to only focus on your team. But when you connect every level of your program, each athlete knows they’re part of something bigger.
One of my biggest struggles during the volleyball season is finding the time to get to know all the players in my program.
And it doesn’t sound so ridiculous once you understand our coaching staff only includes one coach who teaches at the school. Everyone else, including me, teaches at other schools. Also between our different schedules and the pressure of winning, you can easily get so busy you forget to even look up.
Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know the kids who will be the future of your program.
On any given year, I have 48 kids in my program spread over our four teams, freshmen, reserve, junior varsity and varsity. We’ve always put a focus on connecting as a varsity team, with team bonding days at the beginning of every season. It wasn’t until my third year of coaching, when I finally felt on top of things enough to be able to see outside what my team was doing, that I took a look at the other teams.
Guilt hit me hard—I couldn’t tell you all of the players names. I couldn’t tell you what position some of them played, and honestly, I didn’t know much more than a jersey number for most. I felt like I had done my program a disservice and missed the opportunity to get to know the kids who would be the future of my program. I decided right then I was going to make a change.
I sat down with my assistant and we decided if we wanted to build something great, we were going to make an effort to get to know all the kids. We also started brainstorming how we could help the kids get to know each another across different teams. You’d think everyone would know everyone because they all went to school together, right? Not true! Millard North High School (Neb.) has more than 2,500 kids across all the grade levels. We needed to make it easier for them to interact.
We started off easy, walking around to other courts and greeting the players, helping out in a drill, or just making an effort to ask the kids how their day was. Then we started doing more.
We made a volleyball program shirt and gave one to every player. We asked them to wear it on the same day—Wednesdays quickly became program shirt days. And we added program game days. A few times a year, we all come together and play games. Whether it’s 3-on-3 or 2-on-2 volleyball, or we mix it up with baseball or trivia, we make sure to find fun ways to get players from different teams together.
As we continued to get better at it, we started running skills courts with separate groupings. For example, on a set day of the week, all the setters in the program go to one court to have some position-specific training, while the rest of their team works on another drill of some sort.
It might seem minimal or silly to focus on, but this has helped our program tremendously! Now the girls really look forward to our game days with every team. This gives the older girls an opportunity to display their leadership skills, and it gives the younger girls role models to look up to.
Getting together as a program helps every player feel valued. They know they’re part of a greater good. It’s also helped our coaching staff. We know our girls better and we’re better prepared to build rapport with all the players, even ones on other teams.
Lindsay Peterson has been a varsity head coach for eight years. She played for the University of North Alabama, helping them win the DII National Championship in 2003. Peterson has led her Millard North High School team to the state championship tournament seven times, winning in 2016 and 2018. She was named one of the top 40 coaches in the country by the AVCA, and Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald.