By Terry Pettit
Reprinted from “Talent and the Secret Life of Teams," which can be ordered at www.terrypettit.com
I like to imagine what Sun Tzu, the heroic Chinese general and author of The Art of War, would have written if his passion had been coaching volleyball instead of military strategy. It might have gone like this:
I. There are three ways to disarm the opponent with the serve:
1. Serve to the receiver whose eyes refuse to meet yours.
2. Serve to the receiver who has one arm longer than the other.
3. Serve to the receiver who looks for her mother to fill her water bottle.
II. Try to disrupt cooperation between the opponent’s setter and her quick attacker with one of the following tactics:
1. Have your team captain engage the opposing setter with an interesting story.
2. Have your blockers wear roman numerals.
3. Squint and pretend there is no danger.
III. If the opponent’s players march into the arena angrily and remain facing your team for a long time without serving or retreating, the situation demands a time-out with loud incomprehensible music.
IV. When the stress of the season starts to impact your mental health, realize this truth: the head coaches of Olympic sports are not fired until football has a winning season.
V. When the opponent sends out only small defensive players to hit in the warm-up, beware: it is a trick or you have scheduled a soccer team by mistake.
VI. If the campus you are visiting should harbor hilly country, large cardboard boxes, and hollow garbage cans filled with excessive paper, beware: the opponent has received a shipment from Nike.
VII. There are three dangerous flaws that may affect a coach and his team:
1. A lack of arm speed, which leads to an indifferent assault.
2. A senior who has fallen in love for the first time, which leads to aimless play.
3. Signaling on the wrong side of the clipboard, which leads to confusion for the server and great delight for the fans.
VIII. Fear the opponent who arrives by charter. Be suspicious of the opponent who arrives by motor coach. Schedule frequently the opponent who arrives in a Dodge Caravan.
IX. If over-matched with the opponent, do not invite the athletic director to watch your ineptitude.
X. In the recruitment process, beware the junior coach who has the logos of Final Four participants stitched to his warm-up.
XI. If the opposing setter tapes her fingers, she has spent countless hours in training. If the opposing coach tapes his fingers, he has spent countless hours in therapy.
XII. Regard your players as your children and they will follow you into the darkest valleys. Ask them to set aside their cell phones and they will consider you a stranger.
XIII. All volleyball is based on deception.
The setter hopes to deceive the middle blocker by moving her hips.
The outside hitter hopes to deceive the digger with a tip and an aggressive approach.
The coach hopes to deceive the fans by scheduling ghosts in the preconference season.
XIV. When the foolish assistant mistakes generosity for vulnerability in the countenance of the head coach, the assistant has begun the long, painful journey to another camp.
XV. When the head coach begins to believe that the system is the key to his success and stops recruiting great talent, he is on a path to becoming a barista.
XVI. When dust is rising on the horizon, it is a sign that the enemy is approaching or perhaps that we have once again been assigned to a building that revenue sports have abandoned.
XVII. When the opposing coach greets you with the phrase, “Welcome to the enchanted valley,” brace yourself from showing enthusiasm for the opportunity to wage a battle with the entitled.
XVIII. When calling a time-out consider the following:
1. Do not ask a rhetorical question.
2. Ignore the player searching for her boyfriend in the stands.
3. Do not identify the person that you do not intend to serve.
XIX. Experience is only valuable with reflection. A wise coach begins every evaluation with the phrase, “How did we do this to ourselves?”