By Kathy DeBoer
T’was the day before New Year, and all volleyball had come to a close,
Not a coach was recruiting or watching film or planning practice, not even Russ Rose.
Since volleyball is ‘a single semester’ sport, our seasons begin and end in the same academic semester with the female teams ending in the fall and most male teams in the spring. What this means pragmatically is that the vast majority of volleyball coaches in the United States take a break at the end of each calendar year.
The final point of the NCAA DI Women’s National Championship in late December marks the end of a season; the first point of a men’s match or a junior tournament in January marks the beginning of the next. This week, therefore, most of the American volleyball coaching community is at rest.
Not surprisingly, coaches ‘rest’ rather poorly. Those just ending the sprint of the fall eagerly anticipate a few days of unscheduled time, only to find that spending hours watching mediocre bowl games and blowout basketball games is harder than they thought. Those preparing for the spring season grow increasingly impatient with all the down time that might better be spent preparing for competition.
I consider it both a healthy reality check and a disconcerting discovery to be surrounded at Christmas dinner by relatives who think the final four is in March, that athletes are mainly thugs, and advent should trump ESPN. After an afternoon in this wilderness, I’m ready to return to the familiarity of my volleyball phone booth, pull down the shades, and say a hearty ‘bah humbug’ to the virtues of a balanced life.
It is this inability to ‘turn it off’, to ‘down shift’, to ‘ratchet back’ that is our professions’ greatest strength and also our biggest liability. On the positive side, our obsession means we keep pushing each other to get better, to keep up, to compete. On the negative side, the zero-sum culture takes out some pretty good coaches each year, some voluntarily, but most fired. On the up side, we model hard work, relentless effort and constant accountability for our players. On the down side, many of them, especially women, look at our lives and choose to pursue different occupations.
We cannot deny the strength of this liability, nor escape the liability of this strength.
2011: bring it on!