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How To Approach Your New Team

When Will Raschke recently became Head Girls Volleyball Coach at San Dieguito (Calif.) Academy, he wasn’t the only change his volleyball team would be experiencing this season. The school has joined a new league after the varsity squad finished last season with a record barely above .500, and only five of the 14 players returned again this year.

Creating a supportive team environment is one of the most vital tasks for a new coach in any sport to achieve success, both in and out of the game. Raschke took numerous steps in a well laid-out plan that has worked in his favor. “The most important thing for me is creating an environment where kids know they’re going to be supported, know they can have fun and know we expect them to be cooperative internally and competitive externally,” Raschke tells the Del Mar Times.

Raschke’s strategy can be applied universally to teams of any age and skill level. Upon his arrival, Raschke set attainable goals and expectations that did not revolve around solely wins and losses. “From a typical viewpoint, we’d like to win more than we lose. But my vision of success is really based on what the girls think,” he says in the same article. “It touches everything from getting better, winning a certain number of matches, doing well in post-season or improving a particular skill. It’s a huge range and I can support all of those things. At the end of the season, if I ask our players if they were successful and they say ‘yes,’ I’m good.”

As high school athletes have more of a tendency to be hard on themselves after making a mistake, Raschke took that into consideration and gives his student-athletes an alternative outlet. “In our program, mistakes, losses and bad plays belong to me. It’s not about blame, it’s about ownership. I’m owning it—that’s my job,” he says. “I think that’s super important because as high school students, they have so much more on their plates than even I had 10 years ago. There’s very little mental down time and I don’t want mistakes unnecessarily adding to that stress.”

Regardless of level, Raschke strived for an inclusive atmosphere. “From freshman to varsity, we want an environment where the girls are playing together, feel positive supporting each other and are playing their best, knowing it’s not a cutthroat situation,” he says. “This will be a program where every girl knows they can come in, develop, try their hardest and have a shot at playing time.

“I don’t want players looking at it like ‘I’m out to get a starting spot and once I have a starting spot, I’m hanging onto it for dear life and that’s all I’m going to worry about,’” Raschke continues. “I’d much rather have them focus on everyone working to get playing time and be sure that everybody knows their potential for growth is respected here.”

To ensure the team’s supportive environment was serving its purpose, Raschke looked for specific signs in early season matches that would indicate room for improvement. How well do they play together in a competitive situation? Can they come back when they make a mistake or face adversity?

At the end of the day, it all depends on the persona the head coach exudes around his or her team. “My demeanor sets the tone. Everything that I do is reflected so I need to be disciplined and positive,” Raschke says. “My attitude is not the only thing that sets the tone but it’s the one thing I control.”

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