When I coached 11's a couple years ago, I met a girl I'll call Michelle. She was this cute, tiny little thing. Her teammates towered over her. The volleyball looked giant in her hands.
The first week, we worked on serving overhand. If you have never been to a developmental or younger volleyball players' practice, I will let you in on a little secret: overhand serving is one of those skills that quickly divides players into skill levels. Not intentionally but it happens. It is such an important skill at any level – after all every match starts with a serve – but at the younger age groups, it could mean the difference between a blowout game and a close, tight match.
Overhand serving is also one of the skills with an obvious success and failure rate, at least according to players. Coaches can see even the smallest improvements and adjustments which is how we measure success at this age. There are so many intricacies that may seem insignificant, but to a coach's eye, it is huge. However, players usually see overhand serving success like this:
Serve over the net = success
Missed serve = failure
It can be terribly frustrating, especially when other players may be getting it right away. Trying to teach players to trust in the correct steps and trust in the correct form even if it doesn't work right away is tough.
"Coach, I can get the ball over if I just my fist. Why can't I use my fist?"
"Coach, if I swing my arm sideways, I can serve it really far. Do you want to see?"
"But Coach, I usually serve with my other foot forward. Why can't I do it that way?"
(There are reasons…but, well, that is a blog post for another day).
Not, Michelle. She was very coachable and did everything we suggested. She tried and tried. Never getting frustrated and never getting upset. I never heard Michelle come up with an excuse on why she couldn't. After every practice and even after every match, if there was an open court, you could find Michelle practicing her overhand serve.
Even in matches, she never looked scared or frustrated. Our club had a rule that you had to try to overhand serve in the game. If you missed, you could serve underhand on your replay serve (the younger age groups automatically get another chance if they miss the first serve in the series). At practice, everyone practiced overhand.
In the beginning her serves didn't even reach the 10 foot line. In the middle of the season, they were falling very close to the net. Toward the end of the season, they were hitting the net but not going over. Michelle's attitude on the court never changed. If anything, we, the coaches, started to think she may run out of season before she got it over. Don't get me wrong, we always knew she could, we just didn't know the time frame. Maybe she would have a growth spurt to help out with the process?
Then one day it happened. She did it! It was a tight match where the loser went home. Michelle rotated into the server's position. The coaches all knew that improvement and progress were more important than a win on the scoreboard…but being athletes and competitors…deep down we all do. Michelle was almost a guaranteed sideout for the other side.
She took a deep breath. You could see the determination on her face. Step. Toss. Swing. She did it! The look on her face was something I will never forget. She was smiling from ear to ear as her teammates gave her high fives. I could see her mouth "I knew I could do it!"
Little Michelle was by far the smallest, but while she did not outwardly show physical strength, she showed that inwardly, she was the strongest of the all because…
She believed she could so she did.
It only takes one person to convince you that you can do anything you set your mind to. That person is you. Strive to always be that person. No excuses.