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Celebrate like you mean it!

By: Carly Rivera

In a previous post I talked about how important Passion is, particularly in a sport where momentum often dictates who wins and who loses. And yet, often times you see teams that fail to capitalize on exceptional plays or important wins because they don’t celebrate like they mean it. Call it cultural, or call it what you will, but in Puerto Rico, and other Latin cultures, like Brazil and Cuba, people generally tend to wear their hearts out on their sleeves. When it comes to Volleyball, this spirit of celebration is very palpable.

When our Team VB Rags teams take to the floor, we celebrate with all the passion we have for the sport. As a matter of fact, our celebratory dances, a ritual after important victories, became an enigma for many watching our matches. I remember one time in particular, when we won the Lone Star Classic, probably the largest and most competitive 16 Open event that year (2010). Our celebration took on epic proportions, as a bunch of players from other teams, including Texas Advantage Volleyball (one of the best clubs in the US), ran to join our celebratory dance when we won the championship. It was such a large celebration (you will see it in the attached video-the last part of the clip), that the opposing coach (Asics Mavs, out of Saint Louis) filed a complaint with USA Volleyball claiming we were not conducting ourselves in a sportsman-like manner. I understood he was upset because he had just lost the finals, but to file a formal complaint with USA Volleyball because we were dancing our celebratory dance, as we had always done? Really? That was ridiculous. Luckily, USA Volleyball agreed with me, and the complaint was found to be without merit.

In the best of cases, when you celebrate like you mean it, even other teams will sympathize with you, and will share in the fun (as did Texas Advantage in the video, as well as Chicago’s Sports Performance-who also asked our girls to teach them how to do “our dance”…it is also on the attached video).

The point is, this sport is so much fun, you need to not only feel it, but also project it. That is what “living the experience” is all about. Be respectful of your opponents and officials. Then, Have fun, and don’t apologize for it…Celebrate Like You Mean It!


Anybody can coach, but can you be a MENTOR?

By Carly Rivera

In all my years involved with Volleyball, I have met all kinds of people.  One of the wonderful things about sports in general is its ability to bring people together, through a common bond. In this case, we are brought together by our common passion for this awesome sport, Volleyball.

I have had the opportunity to meet good coaches, some who were not all that good, and some who were outstanding.  Beyond their ability to transmit technical and tactical expertise, at least in my book, the difference between the great and the not-so-great ones is the fact that the “great ones” chose to be something more than just “coaches”…they chose to be Mentors. While some look to earn their “coaching stripes” accumulating Wins and Loses, no matter the price, others look for a way to impact people’s lives by using the sport as a vehicle to teach life-long lessons.

At every level, you see how so many people put Values second in the priority list, below Winning. You see it in Athletes, like those who cheated through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.  You also see it through coaches who, as in the case of the New Orleans Saints, looked the other way when their players intentionally injured opposing players…all for the sake of winning.

With enough hours of training, anyone can learn the mechanics of how to hit, pass, set, or block a volleyball.  With additional effort, they might even find a relevant way to transfer that knowledge to players.  However, when it comes to using the opportunity Volleyball gives you to teach Discipline, the value of Hard Work, the value of Perseverance, the value of Teamwork, the value of Conflict Resolution, the value of Sportsmanship, etc….often times at the expense of “winning” short term… that’s when you can appreciate who chose to be a “coach”, and who didn’t settle for “just coaching”, but chose instead to seize the opportunity to positively mold young people’s lives.

Through the years, our Team VB Rags program has been changing people’s lives by training talented, disciplined players who sought a college education through a Volleyball Scholarship in the NCAA.  Today, our players are playing at nationally ranked college programs, but more importantly, many of them will soon be graduating and becoming 1st generation college graduates in their respective families.  Lives are changing…and that is a far greater accomplishment  than all the matches, tournaments, qualifiers, and national championships we have won - and we have won a few ; )


Passion on the court is contagious, is yours worth catching?

By: Carly Rivera

Volleyball is a fast-paced sport. Once that whistle blows, there are many things happening at once, and most of them are things over which players have little or no control. You don’t control whether the opposing setter will set the right side, left side, middle, or back-row. If you are a hitter, you don’t have any control over whether the opposing blockers will take away the cross-court shot, or the line. There are a lot more uncontrollable variables, than there are controllable variables in Volleyball.

There is, however, a critical aspect of the game where players have 100% control. This critical variable that can help you win, or lose, the match. That variable is Passion. Believe it or not, Passion - which I define as a seemingly endless, and uncontrollable amount of joy and love - leads to Momentum. Momentum is the shifting, invisible force that seems to help one team and hurt another. Have you noticed that in a Volleyball match, most teams score more than one point at a time? As Passion builds on one side of the net more than another, momentum shifts. When both teams are equally as passionate, the match looks more like a tug-of-war. If the passion-meter drops for one of the teams, you can bet that momentum shifts against them, and unless someone on that team becomes a passion spark plug, the collapse, the loss, is inevitable. Are skills, and experience not important? Of course they are. But the point here is that passion can help you close some of the Skill/Experience deficiencies your team may have when compared against your opponent. Likewise, I have seen plenty of strong teams who lost to teams who were not equally as skilled or experienced, but had so much passion they simply refused to give up.

Lastly, Passion is something a team shares … or not. Because the emotional state of a team is basically the net sum of the individual passion of each player, it is a zero-sum game. If only half of the players are playing with passion, and the other half projects an emotional flatline, showing almost no pulse, the team’s passion, will be neutral at best … which is to say there will be no passion on that team. You, as a player, have a responsibility, every second of every match, to do whatever you can to make sure you are as passionate, as pumped up as you can for your team. Sometimes it all begins with one person, sometimes with one great play which ignites everyone else on the team. Passion will spread like wildfire, and before you know it, your team gets into The Zone (more about The Zone later).

My 18′s team in 2012 won the Puerto Rico National Championship riding high on Passion. Here is a clip of a 4 point blocking streak that defined the third set, and gave us the championship in 18 Open. Keep an eye out for #6, our setter, who put up a monster block for the last point of that rally. If that is not a spark plug, I have never seen one. What about your passion? Is it worth catching?

Gold Medal Squared vs The Art of Coaching…  Who’s Right?

By: Carly Rivera

If you live in the Volleyball Universe and are a student of the game, when it comes to training methodologies, it is likely you have run across two of the BEST MARKETED coaching schools of thought in the US; Gold Medal Squared and The Art of Coaching.  Each of these organizations market themselves through the use of prominent, respected coaches who preach their gospel in terms of how to teach the sport.  I have read and seen enough of their material to recognize that both organizations are contributing to the development of the sport, and our players.

My concern is that many coaches seem to think that either one or the other of these organizations holds the absolute, undisputed truth.  I must admit I much prefer the name The Art of Coaching, over Gold Medal Squared.  The reason is that I do see coaching as more of an Art than a Science.  However, I don’t think either of these organizations holds the exclusivity on THE BEST way to teach certain aspects of the game.  And, I don’t think they would make claim either.  I think your playing and coaching experience are the two elements that ultimately allow you to evaluate different teaching methods and understand what best works for your program.

When I speak to a coach who tells me he/she ascribes to 100% of what is preached by either one of these organizations, my first thought is to question whether the coach I am talking to actually has enough experience to be able to use critical thinking when exposed to the dogma coming from either organization.  In this day and age there are multiple avenues to help you develop as a coach.  Still, there is no substitute for your own experience, to figure out what best works…for you.  Get out there!