In 1979, at the age of 25 Russ Rose took the Penn State Women’s Volleyball Head Coaching Position. With three paid scholarships at the time he fielded a full roster of female student athletes. One of the first things he did as Head Coach was to establish the culture of the team: it was based on hard work, honesty and the student athletes putting team success before individual success.
Rose was the Head Coach from 1979-2021. He led the program to seven NCAA National Championships, first in 1999, then in each year from 2007 through 2010, and in both 2013 and 2014. He led the Nittany Lions to appearances in every NCAA Division I Women’s Volleyball Tournament, making Penn State the only program in the nation to appear in every NCAA volleyball tournament since its inception in 1981. Rose is the nation’s all-time leader in wins, winning percentage and NCAA tournament winning percentage.
To this day Rose credits the team’s success to the cultural foundation that was built and then fostered from the early years of the program, and then passed along from class to class, becoming a part of each player’s DNA. Rose continued to focus on culture four decades later, and believes that a program’s culture will attract certain players who exemplify that culture.
Whether you are a new club or an established club, a new volleyball coach or a long-time coach, here are 5 keys to Create and Foster a Winning Culture of Un-entitlement and Buy-In:
Instill hard work
Teach your kids how to work hard. If they work hard, your athletes will care more, and in return they will receive more. Teach them how to compete and be competitive in everything they do. Let your players know that it’s OK to compete. Compete with their counterparts, compete with the coach(es) and compete with themselves. Spend a lot of time on first ball contacts (serve/pass) and work really really hard at it.
Honest communication at all times
The key to creating a relationship with the student athletes is to be honest. Clear, concise and honest communication creates buy-in and trust. Your athletes need to be open to taking criticism, whether it is technical, emotional or mental feedback.
Playing time conversations are common during the season. You want players that want to play, however you want them to care more about the success of team than themselves. Use player meetings to address how the student athlete is doing, what his/her role is on the team and why, and have the meeting a few times throughout the season: prior to the first tournament, mid-season and post season. Everyone on the team deserves open and honest communication so there are no questions. Keep players on each team to a workable number so you don’t run into too many playing time issues.
Some athletes want to play at the highest level. Honesty can make a big difference during the recruiting process as the student athlete is navigating trying to find a college program to call home. The biggest home does not always mean the best home. Honesty is about finding the best home.
Accountability and taking ownership of personal growth
Setting expectations through open and honest communication sets the tone for accountability. Open the season reminding your club athletes and parents that they are paying to train verse paying to play. Everyone gets equal training. Address it early and often and consistently. One of the biggest reason clubs track stats is to explain playing time decisions, however it should be to validate an athlete’s personal growth and improvement, or non-improvement. Make it about the athlete achieving their goals and dreams.
Clubs should keep parents involved in the journey of their athlete. Don’t hesitate to speak to the parents, the consumer, the customer. Involve them to eradicate issues and help their athlete grow, after all, they know their child better than anyone else. Build trust through communication and honesty.
One can argue that student athletes haven’t changed, the parents have changed. Parents need to understand that when their child gets out into the real world, they will not have the protection of their parents, and will need to fight their own fights. Cultivate a supportive parent culture, and understand that at the end of the day your culture many not be for everyone. Stay consistent and hold your ground. Remember, you’re more likely to hear from the unhappy parent than the happy parent.
Surround yourself with quality staff and build relationships
It is difficult for culture to drive success without the support from the coaching staff and club leadership. Every player needs to feel like there is someone they can communicate with whether it is the assistant coach, head coach or club administrators. Do more off the floor to address non-volleyball priorities: Mental Training, Nutrition, Strength Coach, Academic Guidance, Time Management.
Make safety and the needs of the athletes a priority
The fact that volleyball is a team sport means that culture pays such a big role and can impact performance. We owe it to the student athlete to give them a quality experience, and a safe experience.
Culture is something that grows and develops over time. It’s the foundation of every program and is detrimental to the success of any volleyball team. Spend the necessary time coaching parents on how to allow their kids to be coached, coaching your coaches on how to teach their players to be coached, and teaching players how to be coached. The time you put into your club’s culture will worth it.
View the JVA Webinar: Create a Winning Culture of Un-Entitlement From the Club Level to College and into Life presented by Munciana’s Mike Lingenfelter and Former Penn State Volleyball Coach, Russ Rose.
View additional resources on establishing and building culture
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