September 11, 2008

It is Just a Game

I received a compliment from one of our readers about this site, and in her e-mail, Stacy mentioned a choice she made that I believe is important to share:

"....while I’m a gym rat and can eat/breath/sleep volleyball (my husband tolerates it) after researching/obsessing/educating myself…………I’ve come to realize this is going to be a looooooong road, if she (Stacy's daughter) stays in the game?! So, I’ve decided to just enjoy the ‘ride’. Now, instead of interrogating my daughter after games/practices….I simply say “I LOVED watching you play and am so proud of you’. It’s making my life and my daughter’s life much more pleasant. As a former player…I have to say they’re hard habits to break…but, this is NOT about me it’s about her. The reason I’m sharing this with you is because after reading so many posts on your website…you often end with something along the lines of ‘enjoy this time’. And, I’m taking your advise!"

Anything that creates passion within us is something that should be taken seriously, but volleyball is still just a game. I think this philosophy should be most applied at the high school and club level. Too many times I have witnessed parents that are so far gone in the emotional investment (maybe because of the financial investment), that they don't seem like they are enjoying the experience. In the end, when their children are as old as the parents are now, what they will remember is being there - the wins and the losses will and should fade into a blur, but the experience will stick. Parents have such power to make it a positive or negative experience.

I am blessed to have a child and when I take time to express how proud I am, I can just see the joy swell up inside my little one. It really is no different for any age - even as an adult, I feel pride when my father tells me I did good and my mother says she loves me.

Coaches are not exempt from the admonishment to keep it a game - something that I have to remind myself of often. College Volleyball is still a game that is not pressurized - we don't earn million dollar packages, we don't have deep pocket alumni in our shadows, we don't have to answer to university presidents, we don't have sports commentators calling for our jobs or critiquing our team every day - I know all of us would like the perks that go with these "don'ts", but with these perks go lots of pressure and sacrificed family time.

College Football and Basketball are professional sports. Professional sport teams get special treatment, top flight facilities, extremely well paid coaching staffs and lots of pressure. This same explanation is easily applied to college football and basketball coaches. Don't get me wrong, I don't feel sorry for them because even if they lose, the money they have earned while losing and having an agent negotiate the correct contract, they should never have to work again (if they lived like volleyball coaches) - but they deal with professional pressure and it is much more than a game.

I believe the best coaches are those, at any level of volleyball, that keep things in perspective. They have passion, they have intelligence, but they also have perspective and balance. You can always tell when a coach is starting to burn out just a bit because they seem 'out of balance'. I know this sounds a bit new wave, but I know it is true because I have seen it a few times in volleyball and other college sports.

As a parent, it is such a positive thing to do what Stacy has done with her daughter - bring support and ultimately, balance. She has created a 'safe zone' for her daughter emotionally. Stacy may well know volleyball better than anyone who is coaching her child, but parents cannot be secondary coaches. Us coaches can be zany, obsessive, illogical, etc., etc., so having a parent who provides stability, balance and support could well mean the difference in a young player burning out or possibly taking her game to the collegiate arena.

Volleyball is an awesome game, but there are only two volleyball coaches in the United States that are professional and they both wear the USA flag on their polo's. The rest of us; players, parents and coaches of all levels, should revel in the sport we love, but still keep it just a game.