is chilly…okay, downright cold. Players walk in from the warm sunshine and put
their jackets ON as they enter and head to the training room to get taped. American
Week seven of an eight week training block with mostly new faces is what head women’s National Team Coach Karch Kiraly is staring down. Players at this level are early, and ready. With the lights still off, Karch goes to his white board and writes down the day’s practice plan.
As the team filters into the three courts set aside for the National Team, the players make their way to the back of the white boards and grab a pen. At the top of the white board is written, “2 Things I Control completely.” The players have initialed and written the two things they want to control in today’s practice. KR wrote “Hold angles- Flean.” NH jotted down, “See the line early, form angle early, good hold.” SG put in blue, “Square up, quick release.” Every player is now invested in what they want to work on in practice as they jog out to the court.
At 8:10 sharp, tutoring begins. Servers are hammering “flean” serves into the liberos and passers while video cameras tape each pass and are delayed so after a pass, the player can see how her platform was, where she took the ball, etc. Feedback is instantaneous and incontrovertible.
On a side court, Karch is giving instruction to Bailey Webster, a 6-3 opposite from the
. She is
uncomfortable in the back row and Karch is working her passing angles. He gives
her help with her arms and keeping her movements efficient and, as he calls it,
“quiet,” all the while repeating passing cues to help confirm in her mind what
her body is doing. He tosses balls at her from across the net, only commenting
on her platform being early: good or bad pass doesn’t matter although he
continually points out the good ones and continues to give positive feedback on
the bad. He moves Bailey from one side of the court to the other and then
places the balls higher over her shoulder in the next round, working on her
platform and footwork. It’s a matter of minutes before seemingly Bailey is a
better passer. Karch blows the whistle and everyone grabs a drink and heads to
the board. University
It’s here every practice that Kiraly has a story or a message for the girls. Today, he relates something his assistant coach, Tom Black has sent him from an Australian educator in the field of Growth Mindsets,
Davies. She and Tom trade e mails regularly and he asked her how to define
success. Karch brought this up the group and as is his way, first asked
questions. What did the group define success as? He didn’t give the group a
chance to be quiet, he called on players individually. After a few answers that
he wrote on the board, he read out loud Davies’ list defining success: Lorraine
- When you embrace a challenge in spite of fear.
- When you persist when your mind silently screams for you to give up.
- When you ask for help when previously it was impossible to do so.
- When you make a mistake and recognize because of the mistake you learned how to make a better choice or a more effective strategy when once you would have covered it up
- When you ask a successful other how they achieved a particular personal or professional success where once their success felt like a threat.
- When you experience failure you recognize failure as a necessary tool for learning what needs to be changed
The team took this in and then Karch said, “Since none of us have ever been able to get this program where we want it, where we think it should be, we all have to work harder. That starts with today and next week and next month.” The players put hands in the middle, yell
and head to
their spots in practice. Even though this group is in week seven of eight, it
starts with today… USA
The warm-up begins with some pepper and works into servers hitting zones to a libero and then attackers off a pass and hitting into a defender. Every drill and contact in the practice is of multiple elements: hitters have to transition AND hit AND block AND then dig a ball. Setters set a ball AND block AND play defense on the same ball. There is no time to waste and in this gym, contacts are king.
The group works on blocking and hitting against the block in a game like scenario after a quick water break. In between the drill written out on the white board, Karch has written in black, “Focus: find the edge/ outside hand.” His drills have a focus that he articulates before every drill. They go from this more technical drill that is still laden with contacts from several players into a hitting drill that is meant to make the blockers read and think. The focus on the drill is blockers footwork, “Blockers recognize- normal or load?”
Throughout the entire practice, no one yells. In fact the only ones raising their voices are the athletes themselves. Six foot six middle Katie Slay from
in on a bike
rehabbing a leg injury. After a good play she will randomly shout out, “I see
you Plummy!” speaking to Lauren Plum of the Penn
The coaches will pull aside a player who seems to be struggling with something
and on occasion the drill will be stopped for a very short consult with a
player. University of Oregon
The feedback from coaches is direct, short and usually starts with a question. At one point,
Thirteen different colleges and one high school are represented in the 19 girl training block. For most of the girls, they know it is a long shot for them to be playing in August in
in two years, but they work
hard, pushing themselves because just the thought that they might be invited
back is enough. They will all be better players after this training block and
one can only hope they realize along the way what an amazing opportunity they
are a part of at the moment. Brazil
The last 80 minutes of practice involves 6 on 6 waves in which bonus points are awarded for hitters tooling the block and for a defense that covers a block and converts it into a point. Also written on the board under the drill description is, “Flean is on.” Karch has been working hard to get his girls to serve tough. Serving and passing IS the game and every drill, every warm-up has had an element of serving and passing in it. “Flean is Karch’s word for how he wants his jump float serves: Fast and clean = “Flean.” The waves go on for almost 50 minutes, every player going hard, hoping to stay on and earn points. Karch calls out the serves that aren’t “flean” and the other team receives a point.
The practice ends with serving to the liberos and finally a servers v. passers drill. In this drill, players are expected to get 9 out of 10 serves in for their side. If during the drill 2 serves are missed, they goal is missed and the serving team drops to the ground for two crunches and two push ups, a reminder of mindfulness in what they do.
Exhausted, the team warms down. Surprisingly, the gym is as cold 4 hours later as when everyone arrived. Several of the players haven’t taken their jackets off for the last four hours and some have taken them off and put them back on. Yet no one complains. Most will go to lift and get treatment. The day isn’t over yet for these athletes.
Karch and his coaches gather and talk about the day. They are happy. Both Black and the other Assistant Coach Jamie Morrison told the team it was the best they had seen of this group. No dropped balls, better communication, more of a flow. The whole process will start again tomorrow at 8:10, but for today, smiles abound.
It starts with today, and next week, and next month.