When I was fortunate enough to be hired as a Teacher here at Notre Dame, I made it clear that I wanted to be involved in the Volleyball program. I played Volleyball in high-school (Hamilton, ON), where in my senior year we won a City Championship and placed second in the Golden Horseshoe Regionals. Those memories are still vivid for me, and I want to be able to impart what I learned that year, to the Volleyball teams here at Notre Dame.
With the confidence of Ms. Oswald, I was given the reigns of the Jr team here at NDRS, and immediately felt a sense of pride and excitement wash over me; this was my chance to help add to the structure of the volleyball program.
It was my first year coaching girls (for any sport), and the lessons I learned over the 3 month season were both vast, and at times, so very unpredictable.
I knew we had a team that included many of the girls who had been successful at both the grade 8 level, and their first year of Jr; however, I also knew that there was a string of unsuccessful finishes, which translated into lots of work ahead for the team.
We started with a 2nd place finish in the season’s first tournament at Harry Jerome; both an exciting day, and a disappointing one – I knew I had to work on my team’s confidence and ability to raise their individual level of play for future success. At some point, each team must achieve a major victory in order to solidify each individual’s self-belief; a sense of “we did it before, we can do it again”.
Our regular season started 6-0, as we beat teams such as STM and STP to head into the BC Catholics as a top seed. The girls really wanted to prove themselves; I could feel their passion for winning for the first time in the practices leading up to the big tournament.
With momentum at our backs, established through a solid (5-0) round robin record, we took on Immaculata in the semi-finals; another disappointment, another lesson to be learned, as we lost in 3 sets. It was a team we had beaten (convincingly) during the round robin game - so what happened?
We went back to work during practice, honing our serving, passing and defensive skills, while trying to develop a sense of confidence, which no team can be successful without.
We managed to be 10-0 as we reached the Nanaimo tournament. During my success in high-school, I remember winning the Brock University Invitational tournament, and that day truly helped us gain our confidence, and reinforced in us what it took to be a champion.
Once again, we completed a perfect round robin (4-0) schedule and the girls were ready to face one of their nemesis – STM, in the quarter finals. Once again, we had to learn a painful lesson in what it takes to overcome adversity and achieve a positive result in a tense situation; another 3 set loss, another disappointing result. It was now abundently clear to me that the mental aspect of winning was paralyzing the girls' ability to perform at a high level, during a big match.
No more tournaments left to build character, only 4 more league matches left to prepare for the CISVA playoffs. Our goal now – a perfect season of 14-0, and first place overall.
Chasing the Undefeated Season
On the last day of games, NDRS was up against both STP and STM; we practiced diligently to be ready for both these teams. STP was first, and played and excellent match, with few errors, to beat us for the very first time in league play. We now needed to beat STM to retain first place in the league.
The STM match was played at a much higher level than what we were accustomed to throughout the year; they took the first set, before we came roaring back to win the next 2 sets, and secure our first place finish. We ended the season at 13-1, which is a magnificent accomplishment for any team, at any level. I was elated for the team; they deserved this.
This was the win I believed would propel us through the playoffs and into Provincials. It proved, for the first time, that this team was capeable of elevating their play, in a crucial match. They were able to overcome any mental deficits, which had led to losses in the past - it was a huge obstacle to transcend.
The Playoffs & Commitment
After beating CHS in the semi-finals; it was time to focus on the one team that had played us the toughest throughout the season: STP.
It was the final lesson we would learn in 2013; in order to be a champion, you have to have the focus, determination, self-confidence, and belief in each other. You must be fully commited...
This brings me back to my original thought about all the many lessons I learned in my first year as a girls Volleyball coach; the most important one, in my opinion, is developing a culture in which everyone is committed to the goal. It is not a “win at all costs” ethos, but it does require a 100% devotion to the team over a 3 month period.
From the Administration staff, to the parents, to the players and coaches, there must be a full commitment to winning; anything less, just won’t work. There are two choices where commitment is concerned, 'you’re either IN or you’re OUT'.
As I plan for next season, I am developing strategies to help NDRS overcome some areas where gaps can lead to minimal success, and in order to transcend the disappointments, and become a solid, cohesive program.
This year ended in disappointment for me and my girls; but I truly believe that it was only the first step in what will become a culture that develops confident, enthusiastic, and committed players that don the Juggler’s jerseys for years to come.
I intend to be a part of the change here at NDRS, and look forward to future success on and off the
court. It will be a collaboration, and it will be succesful.
I also wanted to thank the following people for all their help and support throughout this season:
Dawn Oswald, Joe Garcea, Roger DesLauriers, Chris Gervais, George Oswald, all the parents, and of course, the 12 ladies who inspired me to want to be a better coach - much love.