Don’t Forget to Make Every Player Feel Valued

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.

Don’t Forget to Make Every Player Feel Valued

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 report 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.