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Sports Volleyball Over The Net Spike
Sports Volleyball Over The Net Spike
Tiffany Meh / Spoon
Life > Experiences

How one coach can ruin a sport

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bradley U chapter.

Recently, my TikTok FYP has gotten extremely targeted. I don’t know if it’s a trend, but I have been seeing more and more videos about athletes’ quitting their sport because of a coach. These TikToks hit really close to home for me, as I quit the sport I loved so much — all because of one coach.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved the sport of volleyball. While in elementary school, I went to all the volleyball day-camps hosted by my town’s high school. When I got to middle school I joined the team. I even played on club teams from sixth grade through sophomore year of high school. Once I got to high school I played my freshman, sophomore and senior year. Because of the way these seasons lined up, I was playing volleyball basically year-round. My middle school and high school hosted “open-gyms” during the summer, the school volleyball season started in the fall and would end in mid-October, club volleyball season would start in early December and would end in early April, and school “open-gyms” would start in June. There was approximately three months each year I wasn’t playing volleyball in an official capacity; however, I was still practicing when I could find time. 

I will be the first to admit, I was not a superstar athlete. I had my strengths and weaknesses, just like any player, but let’s just say I wouldn’t have been able to go D1. Objectively, I had what it took to be an advanced athlete, but what stopped me from reaching that point was my non-competitive nature. I had no problem getting competitive while playing in a game; however, I struggled with the inner-team competitive aspect. I could never get on board with the underlying mindset of competing with your own teammates just to get ahead. That is what I mean by having the skill, but lacking the competitiveness needed to be an advanced athlete. Regardless of my playing ability, I want to be very clear, I did not deserve the treatment I received from one of my coaches.

I experienced more good coaches than bad, but the sad part of it all is no matter how many good coaches I had, it all came down to two bad coaches. My freshman-year school volleyball coach was perhaps the worst coach I ever had. I would say she was the first coach to make me even consider quitting the sport for good. However, it wasn’t until my junior year that I actually went through with quitting. When I finally quit, it was the program’s head coach to blame.

For the sake of clarity, I will be referring to my coaches by the word coach followed by a letter corresponding to what level they coached. So my freshman year coach will be “Coach F,” my sophomore coach will be “Coach S” and the high school’s varsity coach, will be called “Coach V.”

A lot went into my volleyball timeline during high school. I received an abundance of verbal and emotional abuse at the hands of Coach F. Before anyone rolls their eyes and says “that’s just tough-love coaching,” no — this was different. As I am writing this, I am coming to realize that I can’t remember a lot from freshman year volleyball. I never noticed just how much Coach F affected me until right now. Coach F had a good relationship with pretty much every player but me. Her coaching style was rarely tough-love, even with the only players. Her style with them would have been best described as stern encouragement. She had the stern voice of a harsh coach, but the word choice of an encouraging coach. I never experienced that coaching style with her. That description is from what I observed her doing with other players. Her coaching style with me wasn’t coaching, it was bullying. Coach F didn’t care about me or if I improved, excluded me, and put my psychical well-being at risk. She did various things to make it very clear to not just me, but everyone, that she did not like me.

You may be asking yourself, “Why didn’t you just quit after all of that?” Well … I thought about it nearly everyday, and I decided rather than quit, I would bring it to the head coach’s attention. Considering the head coach was Coach V (the coach I would end up quitting because of), that conversation didn’t get anything accomplished. By the time I got up the courage to say something, the season was basically over and I would have a different coach the following year.

I actually had a really good year during my sophomore season. This season is what made me confident in my decision to try-out during my junior year. I was so pumped to finally get all the perks of being a varsity player. I knew the varsity coach because my neighbor is good friends with her, so I would see her every once and awhile. I wasn’t all that worried about making the varsity team since there were plenty of seats available, and I was unaware of this “vendetta” Coach V had against me for some reason. I went through the entire pre-season during the summer and did all the “warm-up” exercises. Then, on the day we found out what teams we got put on, I was on JV. So I was going to be on the “sophomore” team.

I first found out Coach V had some secret vendetta against me on the day we got told our teams. For some context, while she was the head coach, every coach, assistant coach and volunteer coach would be in a “conference” with you to inform you what team you would be on. These meetings were basically a roundabout way of letting players know what the coaches thought about you in a very non-constructive way. In my meeting, I was basically told I don’t have what it takes to be on varsity, and even if I did, she would never let me on her team. I also got told that the only reason she was letting me stay in the program was because I had a fairly good serve. If I hadn’t been such a people pleaser back then, I probably would have realized she was just saying all this to get under my skin. I was so heartbroken and ashamed of myself, I went up to my mom’s office, laid on her floor and cried.

My mom is very much the “I didn’t raise a quitter” type of parent. Anytime I brought up quitting something, she would say to me “Josie, you signed up for this, and you are going to finish it! We aren’t quitters!” Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have a good reason to quit some of those things. However, my freshman and junior years of volleyball certainly warranted it. After I told her what team I was put on she could see how badly I was hurt and how badly I wanted to quit. She told me that I need to show my face at practice the next day, and as long as I gave it a fair chance, she wouldn’t be disappointed in me if I quit. So, that is just what I did.

For starters, I have sports induced asthma and need an inhaler when I run excessive amounts, otherwise I’ll, well, die! The next day at practice, we were doing our “warm-ups.” Let me clarify, these exercises did not do what warm-ups are intended to accomplish. We would run up and down “the river” before and after practice. This drill entailed running down and backs on the full basketball court a total of 10 times. So we did 10 before practice and 10 after practice. Professionals will often recommend against a high-intensity warm-up, since it is supposed to help your body prepare for the upcoming workout. Try-City Medical Center says, “a warm-up and a cool-down both involve doing exercises at a lower intensity and slower pace, which improves your athletic performance, prevents injuries, and helps with recovery from exercise.”

Now that I have explained how absurd this volleyball program was, let me set the scene. I got to practice and Coach V went through this whole monologue about how we need to work hard and prove to her that she made the right choice by keeping us in the program. Her main talking point was that she does not want to hear the phrase “I can’t.” After her monologue, we lined up on the basketball court and got our partners to run “the river.” Naturally, I grabbed my inhaler and water bottle. During my eighth down and back, I was having an asthma attack and could barely breathe. I finished running and started saying “I can’t breathe,” over and over again. After practice, Coach V pulled me aside and told me that she wouldn’t stand for this type of language and if I said it again I might as well not come back. I told her I was talking about breathing not trying. She told me that was no excuse to use that language. So, I knew this was my breaking point. Because I didn’t owe Coach V anything, after all she wasn’t actually my coach, I went straight to Coach S after that and told her I wouldn’t be able to participate because I needed to focus on school.

The only reason I played volleyball my senior year was because Coach V left her position after my junior year. I also wanted to be a part of senior night. Considering I played six years of volleyball and endured bullying from coaches, I felt like a senior night was the least the program could do for me. I didn’t expect to get much playing time, which was fine. I didn’t play volleyball for a full year, so naturally I was going to be rusty. I was ensured I would get to start on senior night and take part in all the aspects of senior night.

I never want anyone to go through anything like what I went through with my bad coaches. As weird as it may sound, the TikTok video I linked at the beginning and that trend are the best way I could explain how it feels to have a coach ruin the sport you love so much. When you have a bad coach (bad character, not bad skill), the experience typically goes from one extreme to the other. It almost feels like it happened overnight. This doesn’t mean that’s how it will be for everyone. A coach should be a role model, not the reason you begin dreading the sport.

Josie Smith

Bradley U '25

I'm a junior, journalism major at Bradley University! I love serving as this chapter's editor-in-chief.