I woke up Saturday morning at 6:00am. Its almost winter so the sky was still dark and the air was freezing. I took a few minutes to muster the courage to leave the warmth of my bed. A deep breath, exhale, one quick motion and WHOOSH the blanket is off. Cold air invades the space between my clothing and skin. My bare feet hit the frigid hardwood floor. Soon I will be on the road with the team I coach, Northeastern Women's Club Volleyball, to compete for a first place finish. If all goes well, I'll be home late. I started coaching my sophomore year of high school. I am 24 now. After 10 years I still get asked why I do it. A young guy with a good job, long time girlfriend, living in a bar-infested area of Boston with five of my oldest and best friends, why do I sacrifice so many weekends to coach a sport that holds barely any merit in the northeast and pays next to nothing? All fair points, ones I have contemplated as well. After a decade I finally feel I can answer. Here is the reason why I coach volleyball.
Like most coaches will tell you, coaching is the perfect way to stay around the sport you grew to love playing. Especially with limited media coverage and seasonal restrictions (being in the northeast), maintaining my exposure and relationship to the game could be the easiest reason why I coach volleyball. However, coaching means a lot more to me than being around a sport that is hard to find (unless you know where to look).
Seeing hard work pay off could also be the reason why I coach volleyball. Not just from myself, but from my players too. In the northeast kids grow up playing basketball, football, hockey, lacrosse, and soccer. Volleyball is very much a secondary sport that people dismiss as easy to master. Volleyball often adopts great athletes that unfortunately could not make it onto the teams of these other sports. The beauty of this is each player comes with a chip on their shoulder, and they learn quickly that although skills from other sports help get a head start with volleyball, the foundational skills are incredibly difficult and unlike many others. As a coach you will work hard to find the best methods for your players to learn, and as players they will work hard to train their bodies outside their comfort zones to fit your system. It can take a lot of time and effort for the system and skill set to synchronize, but when they finally do it's a beautiful machine to witness. Still, there is an underlying reason in this process that dwarfs this.
As a coach it's easy to get caught up in the sport itself. We often forget behind each jersey there are students going through one of the most important phases of their lives. Players are people with interests, majors, fears, and so much more. Through coaching you have the chance to impact a player's future and build a relationship with a very real and incredible person. To give you an idea, number 2 on my roster is not just a player. Number 2 is Andie De Werd. She is only twenty years old but already a licensed pilot. Andie is a finance major who will someday be an incredibly successful investment banker. Despite what you may think about finance majors, she has one of the warmest personalities and is always open to coaching critiques (an important trait for any coach that has had a stubborn player). Number 5 is Julia Parascandola. She is a health sciences major and team president. Along with the rest of the e-board (Rebecca, Alexa, Deanna) she is responsible for making tough decisions that come with heading the team. Having the maturity to put team interests above her own is something Julia and the rest of the e-board have shown repeatedly, which is a mindset that is incredibly rare and amazing at their age. Whether its a matter of personnel, finances, or scheduling, these girls begin and end each discussion with "what would be best for the other 11 girls". I could talk forever about current or past players, but the last shout out here is to number 9, Deanna Cortina. If you do not know, I was actually Deanna's first coach back when she was a freshman at Newton North High School. It has been 7 years since then. I have seen her develop from the gangly, uncoordinated but potentially athletic 14 year old to the absolutely dynamite outside hitter she is now. I was there each time she learned a new volleyball skill and was there when she finally mastered them too. I barely knew her at first, but can now say she is one of the few people guaranteed to make me laugh and brighten my day when I need it.
I always had an idea of how much my players meant to me, but a few weeks ago when Deanna went down with a tough knee injury I really started to reflect. I turned away for a second and when I looked back Deanna was on the ground clutching her leg. What raced through my mind wasn't anything related to volleyball, it was pure friend to friend concern. This person I interact with more than most other people in my life was in pain, and all I wanted to do was make it better. All the drills, tournaments, early mornings, late nights, they don't culiminate in first place finishes or gold medals; they culminate in genuine relationships. THAT is the reason why I coach volleyball. As corny as it sounds, in team sports the reality is success is not measured by wins or losses but if the coaches and players can actually become what they are defined as: A team. I have been lucky enough to inherit a team that loves being together, and always puts team above self. To my current team reading this, I wish I could have given each of you a personal shout out but don't worry, you will each get one during our season wrap up. You are all doing amazing and you each have an instrumental role in why our team has been so successful and positive. To my past players, thank you for setting the foundation for what we have today and adjusting so beautifully when a new coach (yours truly) was getting his feet under him. To our competitors on the court, we work so hard so that we can keep up with such amazing athletes like yourselves; and based on our brief interactions I can tell you are all incredible people too. And to all my fellow coaches out there, thank you for giving back to this incredible sport we love so much. Hopefully the reason why I coach volleyball resonates with everyone reading this, and inspires you all to do the same.
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