Monday, October 28, 2013

Thank You Fall League Coaching Staff....

Tonight, a gaggle of dedicated coaches who have given up their Monday nights for the last 8 weeks will step on the court for the last time as the coaching staff of the Arizona Region Instructional Fall League.
Players that didn’t play on the middle or high school teams, for whatever reason, came out to Court One and were put together by skill level and every week, were trained in one skill and then played the last 90 minutes of the practice.

These coaches were from all walks of life and in all different places in them.

There is Rob, a 49 year old senior Loan officer and a 16’s club coach who came on board to, “Expand my coaching knowledge.”

Kirk is a 52 year old Auto Claims handler who is an assistant coach for a club team in Phoenix. In his second go round with the Fall league, Kirk said, “I had the pleasure of being a part of the Fall League last year, and I couldn’t wait to do it again! The kids come with such enthusiasm and a willingness to take instruction that it is a great pleasure to be on the court with them. I love seeing them progress from awkward to smooth, from unsure to confident. It’s also a great opportunity for me to meet other coaches and learn some new techniques and drills to bring to my teams. It’s a positive, low-pressure environment where the focus is on learning and playing instead of performance and competition, and the kids respond very strongly to it, which makes it easier and more fun to work with them. What’s not to like about that?

Becca is a 22 year old business development assistant and student. She is just starting her coaching career.

“I'm going back to school for physical therapy, and hope to be a pediatric physical therapist in the future. I thought learning to coach would be a great opportunity so that I could gain experience working with kids in an active, instructional environment.”

Joe is a 49 year old engineer who is also a club coach, but said, “I enjoy working with other coaches to share ideas and coaching philosophies. I also enjoy any opportunity to help a player advance their skill.”

Scott is a retired airline pilot who now calls coaching volleyball his profession. The 66 year old coaches club as well and said, “Anytime I am around coaches or student athletes I learn volleyball.”

Dani just turned 22 and works full time as a registered nurse. “I'm coaching at the Fall League because I love everything about volleyball and want to learn more. Last year in 2012, I was an assistant high school sand volleyball coach and assistant for the J.V. and Varsity Volleyball team.”

Karina is a 43 year old accountant who is also in her second year with the Fall league. “The reason why I enjoying coaching is I love volleyball and want to show kids how to play. I want them to understand the techniques they need to be able to play in college and love the sport as much as I do. Any time there is an opportunity to help kids learn volleyball I am there.”

Elena is a 22 year old student and former player who wants to get into coaching. “I wanted to coach Fall League because I had no idea which age group I was interested in coaching at first.”

Allen is a retired 65 year old who, “Just wanted to build my coaching knowledge.”

Jarrod is 13 year veteran with the Phoenix Fire Department. The 34 year old coaches 7-9 year olds and 10-12 year olds through their schools. “I like it because the girls are already playing for their school pride! I jumped in last winter season to cover for the coach who needed a break. I turned around their record drastically and had a good repoire with the Parents and Players who have requested me back ever since. The Volleyball bug has bitten me hard! I have been putting myself in any and all the Coaches clinics I can find. I took IMPACT at the Volleyball festival and I have been to Volleyball tournaments and camps so I can learn the art of coaching volleyball. This is why I was interested to be a part of the fall league for more exposure. I have enjoyed the fall league.”

Coaching isn’t the glorious profession that we think it is most of the time. None of these wonderful coaches will hold up a super bowl trophy or an NCAA Championship ring anytime soon, but they are here, coaching in the trenches. Not the best players, but players that want to learn and stay sharp. They came every Monday to help kids get better, to make themselves better, and ultimately, help make our sport better.

And that, one and all, IS glorious.

Thank you Fall League Coaching staff.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coaching Pirates...

Situated just a few miles north of the South Dakota border on highway 11 is the tiny hamlet of Hankinson, North Dakota. How tiny? A little over 900 people total in a town that features one burger joint, one restaurant, one park, one lake and a once a year mud bog that grabs the locals’ fancy.

Hankinson High School’s total population would barely fill the stands of a local high school football game in Arizona but there is some nice things going on in the volleyball gym there, and Coach Tera Paulson has begun to script a turnaround that may be the envy of her league.

Paulson, much like the rest of Hankinson, juggles a family, a career and other jobs because, as she says, “Things need to get done.” She is a physical therapist, in her third year as the High School volleyball coach and is also on the board to revamp and modernize the Hankinson library. Her husband Greg owns and operates the town’s only hotel, the restaurant, a laundry mat, is a volunteer assistant with the High School football team, a member of the town’s fire department and a City Council man. Oh yea, their first child is creeping up on 2 years old too.

Two years ago, the Hankinson Pirates won a total of 7 matches. Paulson, a year into her transformation of the program, remembers, “When I first took over the program, we were not competitive and had not been in the top half of our district in about 10 years.”

In the first week and a half of this season, the Pirates knocked off the defending state champions, defending district champions and the preseason district poll #1 team despite being picked #2. “It is funny to think that we are 8-3 right now and 2 years ago we only won 7 matches the entire season!” Paulson says smiling. 

Hankinson has 19 athletes in their program…total. There are no seniors this year but the program fields three teams. There is a C-squad (which replaces a freshman only team), which is 9th and 10th graders combined. Their Junior Varsity is 9th, 10th and 11th and the varsity is 9th-12th with an occasional 8th grader although they don’t have any this season.  

Per North Dakota rules, Paulson juggles her 19 players and gets the most FOR them. The girls can play 6 sets each night so typically C-Squad and JV players overlap quite a bit as they play best two out of three sets and then my younger Varsity starters all play one set of J.V.”

Paulson has created a new atmosphere in the Hankison gym. “I am lucky in the fact that the girls have really bought into my coaching style and work hard and very rarely question what I have to say.” Tera says. “Since I took over the program the girls have started playing in two spring tournaments, they have attended team camp together and I’ve also brought in outside coaches in so the girls can hear new ideas other than mine.”

Paulson also knows that talent is a key to success as well. “I got lucky that I started with a young group of phenomenal kids that are willing to work hard and compete.  It used to be that if you were a senior, you got to start or play a lot.  I have not been afraid to start 8th and 9th graders and now we are seeing the benefit of that experience.” She is amused saying out loud,  “I keep thinking that we are older now but I start two freshmen, three juniors, one sophomore and my libero is a sophomore as well. We are not older, just more experienced.”

Paulson, who spent time in Phoenix coaching some years ago, says the program’s biggest challenge in having so few athletes is getting 6-on-6 playing time. “If I take 12 kids at the Varsity level, that only leaves 7 for my other coach to practice with.  Also, it is difficult to get 12 kids at the same level so that we can play competitive game like drills and challenge the better players. That said, my younger athletes have benefited over the past couple of years because they have been forced to play with the older girls and now again, we are seeing the benefits from that.”

Small town life may cause numbers problems at practice but Paulson relishes the small town atmosphere by the relationships she has nurtured with her athletes. “Absolutely the biggest positive to having so few girls is that I know all the kids in my program.  I know their parents, their siblings, who they are friends with, who their boyfriends are; we are a very close knit group.  Many of the girls will come to me with their issues, problems and emotional needs; not always what I love to hear but at the same time it’s important for them to know there is someone to listen.” Tera sighs, “I clearly recall being a sophomore in high school, getting put onto the Varsity team and all the pressures that came with that, whether real or perceived.”

In a gym culture that used to play safe and hide from challenge, these new Pirates have bought into the jump serve in their gym. “All of our varsity kids are jump serving.  We are only serving around 85% at the moment but the girls have really embraced it.” In a demonstration of the new culture, Tera saw a few of the girls started to struggle a little bit with their jump serves because of bad tosses. “We sat down and discussed whether we wanted to continue with jump serving or switch back.  I had them close their eyes and then raise their hands to answer; only two are not confident jump serving in a match but no one wanted to go back to standing on the ground.” She says proudly, “I thought that was awesome! I was very impressed and very happy that was the response I got. I think over the next year and a half, it will really come around as they gain confidence serving in games. ”

Big picture thinking in a small town has given Coach Paulson a team she sees wreaking some havoc in future. “I don't lose any kids between this year and next year so it should be a great couple of years.”

“I think one of the aspects that I take pride in the most is that the girls know and understand how much I care about them, not only as my players, but also as people.” Paulson explains about coaching her Pirates.  “They see the amount of time I put into planning practices, spring tournaments, camps, open gyms, and other opportunities just to make them better and for their benefit.”