In leadership, there are no words more important than trust. Luck favors the team that trusts each other.

- Mike Krzyewski

Eagle Volleyball

The Push

From 1981 to 2006 Penn State won one National Championship in volleyball. From 2007 to 2016, they won six. I was at the Sprint Center in Kansas City in 2010 when they won their fourth championship in a row (2007- 2010). They are the most successful team in college volleyball history. They’ve had the same coach, Russ Rose, for 38 years. What follows is from an article on Rose on a website Rose helped found titled The Art of Coaching Volleyball. “In the gym, Rose demands a lot of his players. When setter Micha Hancock arrived at Penn State as a freshman, he told her that she was going to hate him. She never did, but she sometimes wondered why he said that to her. Eventually, she came to understand that it was because he would continually push her to make her better. It worked out great for Micha. The senior from Edmond, Oklahoma credits Rose with making her the player she is – a two-time NCAA champion and the 2014 AVCA Player of the Year.” I (Coach Roe) want you to ask yourselves this question— Do you want to be successful? If you answered yes, ask yourself this one—Do you want to be pushed? 

I think the 2018 volleyball team has enormous potential. But potential energy can’t turn into kinetic energy without a push. We’re going to have a blast. We’re going to compete. And we’re going to PUSH. Let’s get ready.

  • The setter has to be a Rock. The setter will touch the ball—particularly in a 5-1 offense—significantly more times than any other player. She must be the most confident personality, the most consistent performer, and the best communicating leader on the team. She’s the quarterback of the offense, so she has to be able to take information from the coach and translate that into great decisions on the court. She has to manage the egos of her hitters, and constantly work to get them the sets that give them the best chance at a kill. She has to be steady; she can’t get too high and she can never look like she’s low. Her commitment level must be deep—she has to be willing to be the first to arrive and the last to leave. She has to want to be the one to blame—because she knows that means she’s in control. The team will go as far as the setter can take it.
  • The OH has to be a Stud. When we have to have a point, even the defense will know where we’re going with the ball. The OH has to want it at that moment. She has to be a dynamic athlete who spends her time in the weight room thinking about adding just two more inches to her vertical . . . she’s always thinking, “maybe one more round on the Vertimax.” She has to have a hitter’s mentality; even after an error, she has to believe that the next set will be a kill. She has to have great timing: we want to run shoots and slides to put blockers—who will always be keying on our OH—at a disadvantage. She has to want every ball to come to her—and she has to be the biggest cheerleader on the court when the Middle or RS makes a kill.
  • My M has to be a Beast. The M in my scheme is often the best athlete we have. She has to be able to hit the quick, the slide, the back “2,” and the high middle; she has to be able to read the pass and the setter and block all three hitters; she has to be able to step in and set as the auxiliary setter . . . she has to love working hard. She needs to enjoy getting sweaty. 800 m runners and 300 m hurdlers make great middles because of their curious relationship to embracing the pain. The M runs on intensity. Every block, every kill, every cover dig elicits a growl and a fist pump.
  • The RS has to be a Mercenary. In a 5-1, we only have an RS hitter in three rotations. So every ball that comes her way needs to be a kill. Her timing and body control have to be just as good as the middle quick—particularly if the RS is right-handed. The RS will also be called on to help us shut down a dominant OH from the other team, so she has to be able to get up and over the net and intimidate the opposing team’s best hitter with a strong block. When she’s not blocking, the RS has to cover the down the line attack from the opposing team’s OH, so the RS needs to be a fearless digger as well.
  • The Libero has to be a Black Hole. A black hole has an event horizon—a surrounding border from which nothing escapes, not even light. Any ball—no matter how hard it’s hit—that is played within the vicinity of the libero is her ball, and she knows she can dig it up. She’s best friends with the floor, she wears knee pads for a reason, and she’s the loudest “mine” on the court. The libero has to be fearless, ferocious, and laser-focused. She knows how demoralizing it is for the opposing team to believe they had a kill only to see the ball bounce up off her outstretched hand—and she loves that.
  • The Defensive Specialist has to be the Sunrise. Dependable. Almost every player has a bad passing day—but the defensive specialist isn’t allowed a bad day. When we have to have a side out, it’s the defensive specialist’s job to get a perfect pass so we can win the point and get back on serve. She has to be a great communicator and dialed into the server from the moment she takes the court.
  • The Serving Specialist has to be an Assassin. The serving specialist can’t be someone who feels sympathy for the opponent. We bring in the serving specialist to pick on a poor receiver, to float the ball into a tough passing zone, or to demoralize the opponent with a jump float or jump topspin. Obviously, she needs to have either great accuracy or a great pace. She also can’t be timid—we’re not bringing her in because we want the ball put in play. She has to serve aggressively with no thought for service errors. 

Volleyball might be the most teamwork-oriented sport on the planet. To reach our goals, we will have to find that sweet spot between fiercely competing every day in practice and wanting our teammates to succeed just as much as each individual. This year’s NCAA national champions, Nebraska, were underdogs in the tournament. The five seed, Nebraska had to fight through the top-seeded Penn State Nittany Lions in a grueling five-set match and then face the second-seeded Florida Gators in the championship. The Cornhuskers’ slogan for the season was “With Each Other, For Each Other” and that’s the way they played. That’s the way we have to play too.