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Culture Change

When Jamie Gill took over as Head Volleyball Coach at Tuloso-Midway (Texas) High School in 2013, she knew there was a lot of work to be done. The program had been revived in 2007, but apart from winning its first playoff match in 2011, it had not found much success. Now five seasons into the job, Gill has turned the team into one of the most successful in the region. And in a state dominated by football, volleyball has become the talk of the town.

Gill has led the team to a number of program firsts, including an appearance in the Region IV-5A semifinal in 2015 and the District 30-5A title in 2016, which was followed by a berth in the state tournament. She was awarded District 30-5A Coach of the Year in 2015, and in 2016 the team was undefeated in district play. How has Gill transformed the culture of volleyball at Tuloso-Midway?

 “When I first got here, the girls didn’t know how to win,” Gill says. “We had a lot of great athletes, but I needed to get them to believe in themselves so that we could build a winning culture. I had to stay positive and keep telling them that they can compete in this tough district.” 

One of the first things she did was put rules in place. “It’s very important for players to be disciplined on and off the court,” Gill says. “As a coach, you have to hold them accountable when they get caught doing something they’re not supposed to be doing. That makes them respect you and want to work hard for you, which opens the door to success.” 

Gill also focuses on teaching mental toughness. The season starts and ends with a lot of ball control and defensive training, but during the middle of the season she pushes her players to their limits.

“When we get deeper into the season, we have much higher tempo practices with competitive games,” she says. “I try to push my players to the point where they shut down mentally so they can learn how to pick themselves back up. It requires a lot of praise from me and I have to stay positive, but it prepares them for the postseason.”

Another method Gill has used is encouraging open conversations to strengthen team chemistry. “As a team, we discuss everything from relationships to problems at home and struggles in the classroom,” she says. “I talk a lot about how to move forward after making mistakes and we translate everything back to volleyball.”

Teaching players how to respond to each other’s mistakes has been another key to success. “Players have to be able to trust one another, even when they make an error,” Gill says. “For example, when one player gets a dig, the setter makes a great set, and then the hitter screws it all up, the team might be mad at her, but they have learned to pat her on the back and tell her, ‘Don’t worry about it. Get the next one.’

“Some of the girls aren’t around much outside of the season, but when we walk into that gym, we’re a family,” she continues. “Having a group that completely buys in and doesn’t settle for anything less helps you win games you are not necessarily supposed to win.”

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