What does it take to build a successful Men’s Volleyball Program?

Ohio State Men's Volleyball Coaches

“Focus on EFFORT and ATTITUDE.  Those are the only two things we have complete control over.” -13 Ways to Build a Culture at Ohio State Men’s Volleyball

There is a common theme among coaches today:  they want athletes with the ability to focus, overcome adversity, and make a positive contribution to the team.  At The Ohio State University, the coaches have a mantra “If you aren’t prepared to put the team first…you don’t play.”

We recently had the privilege to sit down with the Ohio State Men’s Volleyball Coaching Staff.   The Buckeyes were just coming off their 42 game winning streak, and Coach Pete Hanson had just earned his 667th win and his 1,000th match coached!  In addition to preparing for their regular season, the event they’ve been waiting for all season, the 2017 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship is on their radar as well.  The Buckeyes are the reigning NCAA Men’s Volleyball Champions, and they hope to defend the title on their home court at St. John Arena on May 4th & 6th, 2017.

What is The Ohio State University coaching staff looking for in a volleyball player?  Are there certain volleyball related skills or abilities they find most valuable?  The coaching staff shared their thoughts.

“Mental Resiliency” for one, according to Coach Hanson, currently in his 33rd year as Head Coach of the Ohio State University.   He believes having mental resiliency prevents players from becoming frustrated by a lack of immediate success.  He went on to explain that the guys on the other side of the net are trying as hard as his players are, and said, “Great players are going to make plays.  They are either going to block you, ace you in serve receive, or dig you on your best shot.”  Coach Hanson feels it is very important for players to have an ability to say, “kudos to you, you made a great play, but I’m going to come back on the next opportunity, and I’m going to make a better play!”

Volunteer Assistant Coach Michael Henchy, a previous OSU men’s volleyball captain believes having “grit” helps players get through those challenging moments when the game is on the line.  Coach Henchy says that grit is something the coaching staff strives to nurture in their team.  This current Ohio State Men’s Volleyball team has been playing with a great deal of it, according to Coach Henchy.

Work ethic and consistency are also important according to Assistant Coach Kevin Burch.  Burch, a recent 2017 AVCA Thirty Under 30 Award Winner, wants players to bring their best every day and to control the things they can.  He feels the best way to lead is by example, so he works hard as a coach to encourage his team to work hard as well.

Currently in his 26th year of coaching at The Ohio State University, Assistant Coach Tim Embaugh believes the ability to focus over long periods of time serves good players well.  He feels the guys that “stay in tuned over long periods of time, and focus on details” are the ones that become successful on the volleyball court.

Mental Resiliency, Grit, Work Ethic, Consistency, and Focus.  If the common theme among the staff seems to pertain to the mental aspect of the game, how do they suggest coaches build or inspire that type of mentality in young players?  Coach Hanson suggests putting young players in challenging situations in practice, and then talking them through the challenging parts.  They teach players not to get frustrated by another player’s ability, but instead to channel the frustration.  Coach Hanson said, “This is what sports are all about.”  He believes in turning negatives into positives, and keeping a positive frame of mind overall.

Coach Henchy suggests coaches of young players should “Foster their failure early.”  He says to show young players “if you practice hard and put in the work that is appropriate, then you will begin to internalize that mentality resiliency.”  He feels that’s it’s important to teach kids to “practice hard and do the right things when points don’t matter.”  Over time, those players learn that playing hard is automatic and they don’t need to think about it, therefore making challenging situations much easier due to their work ethic, focus, and mental resiliency.

How do Coach Hanson and his staff take their individual players and create a successful team that is prepared for matches and championships?

Coach Hanson reiterated the importance of an athlete’s mindset, and developing a strategy to create a strong mindset as a team.  He wants his players to have confidence they are on equal footing with any program in the country.   By pushing his program to play top notch teams across the country, he helped break the geographical barriers for men’s volleyball and psychological barriers for his team.  Hanson said of his current program, “We believe we are on equal footing with anybody across the country.”  He believes this “equal footing” helps players feel confident walking into matches.  Coach Hanson and his coaching staff are not only developing their players to be a part of a great volleyball team, but they are also preparing them for success in life.

For more information about the 2017 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Championship, visit: http://www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com/sports/m-volley/spec-rel/021517aab.html.